note: first appeared in December 2015
There are a whole lot of articles out on the Internet about bugout retreats, redoubts, locations, cabins, etc. Some authors even give specific locations, some provide maps, some do “rankings” of areas, and most of those people have no idea what they are talking about. Well, at least in my opinion.
Why don’t they know what they are talking about? Because they aren’t you, they aren’t in your situation, and they don’t know your needs. I am going to give you principles to help guide you through the process of choosing which bugout location is best for you to choose.
Because I feel you are the only person qualified to pick the bugout location for you and your family…or group.
As you well know by now from reading articles on this website that I see seven primary threat/risks that jeopardize you and your family during any emergency, disaster, or grid-down situation. Those same threats and risks apply to your bugout location as well. How you mitigate those risks/threats is what is really important!
Read more about “risk mitigation” < click here >
But, why not just pick one perfect location to begin with?
Ah, hate to tell you this…ain’t no such thing. Yeah, sorry, I just had to burst your bubble. Honestly, I don’t see any location as being “perfect” and here’s why. Every person, family, and situation is different. Your family is different than my family. So our definition of perfect is just as different. And your situation may change once the incident is underway. And you may need to judge different locations on the fly. However, the guiding principles are the same.
The common threats/risks are:
- Injury or Sickness
- Communications, lack of or poor
- Organization, lack of or poor
So let me briefly review each of those threats/risks in relation to a bugout location:
- Violence – There will be violence, you know that. Dealing with that violent is paramount, your #1 priority.
- Injury or Sickness – You may well be called upon to deal with broken bones, gunshot wounds, or tooth cavities. Being able to call upon qualified personnel is essential as well as having access to sufficient medical supplies.
- Communications, lack of or poor – You must be able to communicate with others. If nothing else, you have to be able to pick-up shortwave radio transmissions to know what is going on beyond your bugout location.
- Organization, lack of or poor – You must be organized in the way you go about buying and staffing your bugout location. How will you deal with all the demands of a self-contained mini-society?
- Dehydration – Without water you and your family will die within days.
- Exposure – Too much sun, too much heat, and too much cold will kill you. Not enough sun, not enough heat and not enough sun may kill you just as surely. You must be able to shelter from the elements.
- Starvation – You must be able to produce food. You can’t live off your food storage forever.
Now, let’s break it all down into brief neat little sections that go into the principles in each of the seven threat/risk areas outlined above. And how they apply to your bugout location.
Violence – No location is immune from the threat of violence. No location is remote enough to avoid all potential violence. So the location you pick needs to be defensible to protect you and your family from violence. That defense can be accomplished in a variety of ways. One would be to be in a community that is strong, united on taking care of each other, embraces the gun culture, retired veterans, trained folks, etc. And, you can have a location that is easily defended by a small number of folks. You must understand and be able to deploy things like “area deniers” and other defensive measures. Without being able to defend yourself and your family a bugout location is just another place for you to die.
The #1 aspect of being able to defend a location is “a plan”…period. You can have lots of guns, plenty of ammunition, great shooters, and all the latest tacti-cool equipment. But, if you don’t have a solid, realistic, practical plan on what has to happen and who is to do it…you will fail in protecting your family. Develop that plan and train with it. If you don’t feel qualified to develop that plan, there are folks who can. Look for former military veterans who have actual field combat experience. Stay away from security guards, mall cops, and the average police officer; they are mostly clueless in this area but may sound knowledgeable.
Injury or Sickness – Whatever location you choose must have the space and storage environment for you to safely and securely store sufficient medical supplies for your needs. Additionally, you must be in a location where there is more advanced medical care available than you and your family can provide. In my little group of camping friends we have a paramedic and two nurses. Sweet! They can handle a whole lot of issues. But what about taking out a spleen? Or how about taking care of a compound fracture of a leg? Then there is the nasty broken tooth. Who will take care of those issues? The closer your bugout location is to more advanced medical facilities or personnel the better off you and your family will be.
What about sickness? Honestly, along with violence, the #1 threat to members of your family is sickness from poor sanitation. You must be able to handle two main issues; 1) sewage, 2) clean hands. Being able to properly handle sewage with a septic tank, outhouse, latrine, etc. is essential. Then making sure people keep their hands clean comes next. That means lots of hand sanitizer and anti-bacterial soap. Along with those two priorities you must add plenty of training in this area, as well as someone willing to nag people day after day after day about the importance of sanitation.
Communications – I cannot stress enough how important communications really is. If your family or group can’t communicate you will fail. And in the cases of emergencies, disasters, and especially grid-down…failure could equal fatality. There are two general areas of communications that I will rate as critical; 1) internal, 2) external. You must be able to reliably communicate within your family or group. And you must be able to communicate with the outside world. Otherwise, how do you know what is happening beyond your very small bugout location society? How will you know what is coming? How will you know when it is unsafe? I will tell you that all the great Ham equipment is 100% worthless! Well, that is true if you have no ComPlan. You must have a plan for both internal and external communications. The plan is just as important as the equipment. Well actually, the plan is more important.
There are many forms of communications, such as Ham radios, FRS/GMRS radios, SW radios, CB radio, but there are also notes, flagging, mirror flashes, signs, etc. Establish many ways to communicate. If there was ever truly a case for redundancy, it is with communicating in times of needs. View any potential bugout location in terms of communicating. There is the obvious, “Is there an elevated piece of ground for a radio repeater?” But don’t neglect, “If radio communications is non-operational, how long to get a message to town or the next closest family or group?”
Organization – This is probably the least applicable area to a bugout location. Why? Because your organization should be the same model (ICS) regardless of location. Granted, you might have to add positions or personnel, but the organizational model should be the same. And yes, I am speaking of ICS (Incident Command System). The bottom line to “organization” is that you must have it! You can’t just bring together a family or group and think that magically everything gets done, coordination takes place, and operations are successful. You must be organized, responsibilities must be assigned, and people must be accountable for getting their assignments accomplished in a safe and timely manner.
People in any potential bugout location must be organized…or willing to organize along the lines of a successful system. And FYI…a military organizational chart will not work in a civilian setting…it has been tried and failed numerous times.
Dehydration – This means water. Water must be available at any potential bugout location. There are a number of ways that can happen such as; river, creek, well, rain catchment, etc. But, you must have a supply of water. And I strongly suggest you have redundancy in this area as well. For example, if you have a well make sure you also have a rain catchment system. Why? Ah, what happens if the well runs dry? So, if you only have a rain catchment system? Well, (no pun intended) I suggest you seek out the closest river or creek, or start digging a well. But what if you have a big ole river? Yeah, rivers run dry too…or are dammed up.
Now, once you have a supply of water with a back-up supply, you will need a way to make it safe to drink. You can filter and purify it, any other option is not practical. You say, “I can always boil it!” Well, theoretically yes you can. But for how long? What I am referring to is…till your fuel runs out; the fuel I am referring to is the fuel it takes to boil your water. Yeah, we could debate this, but trust me, you want a way to filter and purify your water vs. just boiling it.
So, you have a water supply, a back-up water supply, and a Monolithic Ceramic water filtration system. How many replacement filters do you have? Do you have a way to pre-filter the sediment out? Do you have back-up “socks” for the filter? What happens if the spigot breaks? Answer…the filters and parts are very inexpensive…buy plenty of them and store them securely!
Note: When talking about a rain catchment system I am speaking of not just the capability to catch rain, but the ability to store a minimum of 3 months of water, preferably 6 – 12, along with just catching it.
Exposure – This simply means that your bugout location must be able to provide sufficient shelter to keep you alive. And yes, it would be nice if it kept you comfortable as well, but that is secondary. You can have a full-blown retreat cabin, or you can have a tent. Just make sure your shelter is; 1) large enough for everyone, 2) sturdy enough to handle the elements for years, 3) you have a skills, tools, and materials to make basic repairs to it, 4) you have some sort of back-up plan.
If your cabin burns down, do you have a tent to live in while you rebuild? If you have a tent, do you have the tools to build a rudimentary cabin or reinforce your tent?
Starvation – Your bugout location must be able to provide multiple food sources. One “source” must be the ability to grow food such as vegetables. Fruit would be a great addition. You can use above ground garden boxes or conventional gardens, but you must be able to grow food. The other “sources” would be things such as wild game in the area. Yes, deer and elk would be nice, but are there squirrels, rats, and ground hogs, etc.? And please…don’t go killing everything the first year. Be reasonable and leave enough of each species to reproduce.
A side note of caution concerning hunting – protecting your hunting area. There are only so many animals in any give area. If you are going to use that area to hunt in, who is to say someone else doesn’t have the same idea. If you are going to count on hunting as a primary source of food you are; 1) foolish, 2) probably going to get into a firefight with someone else that has the same idea. Neither is a good option.
There is also the option of domesticated food animals. Stay away from large animals such as cattle, they eat a lot, require a lot of attention, and draw attention. Pigs are one idea because they produce a lot of off-spring but require a lot of attention and can be very destructive. Chickens, rabbits, and other small animals are probably a better bet.
You might be wondering how in the heck are you supposed to buy a bugout location that excels in, or at least is marginally acceptable in, all of these areas? You might even be wondering how in the world to rate multiple bugout locations against these criteria and against each other. The second question is much easier to answer.
- Violence (worth 20 points) 1 = no provision at all, 10 = moderate ability to defend, 20 = no one is getting near us
- Injury or Sickness (worth 20 points) 1 = no medical facilities or personnel within 75 miles, 20 = medical facilities or personnel within 10 miles, 20 = within 5 miles of doctor and/or medical facility
- Communications, lack of or poor (worth 10 points) 1 = very limited communications capability, 5 = repeater hill and within mirror flash of neighbors, 10 = hardwired communications with neighbors, etc.
- Organization, lack of or poor (worth 10 points) 1 = we have a loose organizational structure, 3 = we have our own organizational structure, 7 = we use ICS, 10 = we use ICS and are trained in using it
- Dehydration (worth 15 points) -20 = no current water capacity, 5 = only rain water catchment system, 10 = well/river/creek, 15 = well/river/creek and rain catchment system (or any two dependable sources of water)
- Exposure (worth 10 points) -10 = no shelter and no tent, 4 = tent only, 8 = cabin, 10 = cabin and tent
- Starvation (worth 15 points) -5 = no ability to grow food, 5 = above ground garden boxes, 10 = established garden plots, 14 = fenced established garden spots with small animal raising capability, 15 = fenced established garden spots with small animal raising capability and at least 1280 acres of exclusive hunting land
Now, take the rating system above and personalize it if you wish. You can add in some other features and benefits between the rating numbers I already put on the scale for you. Example: Dehydration –
-20 = no current water capacity
3 = rain water catchment system and 3 months storage capability
4 = rain water catchment system and 6 months storage capability
5 = only rain water catchment system with 12 months storage capability
6 = seasonal river/creek with 6 months of storage capacity
7 = seasonal river/creek with 12 months of storage capacity
8 = well/river/creek, well has a AC pump with propane generator
10 = well/river/creek, well has a solar pump with 6 months of storage capacity
15 = well/river/creek and rain catchment system, well has a solar pump with 12 months of storage capacity
I will leave it up to you on how to enhance the rating system. But, when you are done looking over and rating a potential bugout location add all the points together you will get a relative score vs. 100 points. Choose the best location based on its point score. Or, better yet, rank each potential bugout location based on points and have redundant bugout plans based on the ratings of each potential location.
Multiple bugout locations? Doesn’t that get expensive?
Whoever said you have to buy a bugout location?
In times of emergencies and disasters I doubt many people would object enough to a family or small group using a public or national campsite, park, etc. There is a lot US Forest Service and BLM land out there. And in times of grid-down…well, I don’t think it is as important as who owns it compared to who occupies it…and their ability to defend it. But, I don’t want to detract from the basis of this article. I will let your ability to be creative guide you.
You now have a rock solid method to identify the best bugout locations. Go do it!
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