>Site Evaluation Checklist

To determine if a retreat site is suitable, you might find the following criteria useful.

No single criterium determines the suitability of a site for a survival retreat - it is the combination of them, especially the critical ones. The following items cannot all weigh equally in your decision to accept or reject a site. Decide which ones are more critical and evaluate a site with those at the top of your priority list. The top three: Location, location, location.

1. Distance to nearest major city (probable flow of refugees) - farther is better. Not a theory, it happens, so it's history. When a major disaster or disturbance threatens a major city, people try to leave (evacuate), either because they were told/asked to or because they want to avoid being around when disaster strikes. Many people leaving at the same time create gridlock on roads and highways - the linear parking lot. Those who do escape often don't have a clear destination and may have had little time to prepare for their trip, so they will need food, water, fuel and rest and may not have enough money to sustain themselves on the road for a long time. Oh, and they might be armed. Some of them, when deprived of food, water and rest, may forget to ask before taking what they need - they become looters or worse.

The first days after a disaster, most people are able to cope with hardship and even help others, but as supplies dwindle and hope of normalcy wanes, people who usually behave well may be unable to resist becoming antisocial, as they tend more to think of themselves first and not care about the welfare of others. You don't want to be on the lines of drift from major cities, as towns along these roads will be hit hard by hordes of people, some of whom might not be friendly.

2. Distance to nearest town (for supplies) - Your retreat is stocked, but you may still need some supplies.

3. Distance to nearest medical facility (if required) - If you are diabetic or have any condition which requires regular medical attention or medications, consider the proximity to a medical facility or pharmacy, and you may not be driving. If fuel becomes scarce, consider a bicycle.

4. Minimum size of land met? (Five acres, 10 acres... you decide what you need) - Even though you will probably not occupy much land with your actual retreat facilities, you may want a buffer zone around you, to keep some distance between you and neighbors. Or, you may just want to have control over that zone, to design it for security.

5. Slope/exposure. Mostly south-facing best, west acceptable, east marginal (poor), north cold. If you want solar exposure for your shelter, you want south-sloping land, or at least part of it where you plan to build. West-facing is better than east for growing food, because the half of the day you will have exposure is warmer (afternoon). North-facing land is cold, period.

6. Soil - can you grow food there? Make Adobe? Depth of soil? (Build underground?) - Examine your soil carefully, do the 'adobe test', and see if it will suit your needs. Can you make it work? Can you import soil, in case you have to?

7. Water. Well, spring, river or creek; seasonal or continuous; drinkable? Salinity, minerals? Your water source is among the most critical features you will examine. No well? Water table too deep? Don't give up on that land, until you learn about the potential of rainwater collection (see my web site (www.CatchSomeRain.com). I have installed a pair of systems at my retreat in the desert where rainfall averages about 7 inches, and right now I have 4000 gallons of water stored. As with any limited system, like solar electricity, the place to begin your deign is conservation - how can I reduce my demands on this system? How can I re-use water (see Graywater)?

How far down to drill, and the cost? Power requirements? Too deep for solar or wind power?

Is area suitable for rainwater catchment's (minimal slope, mostly even or level) plus storage tanks?

8. Trees/vegetation -- local or imported? Types suggest water table depth. Shade, windbreak. Make a note of the kinds of trees and shrubs you have. Some of them may have uses you didn't know about, edible, medicinal or otherwise. How deep are their roots? Where do they get water?

9. Wildlife friendly? Carnivores? Deer? (fenced in vegetable garden required) - You want to know what kinds of animals live on and around your property. Do they threaten your safety? If you have small children, this will be a critical evaluation - coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, rattle snakes - you must know your wildest 'neighbors'.

10. Neighbors, how close? Friendly? Noise level (chainsaws?) - Neighbors can be a blessing or a curse. Like-minded, hospitable and survival-ready neighbors might be candidates for a 'neighborhood watch' or other type of security arrangement. Strength in numbers, 24-hour watch - you might need them. Other neighbors can be trouble. Find out who you might have as neighbors before you decide to settle. If they are far away anyway, it may not be a concern.

11. Air quality; traffic nearby? Factories? Smog drift from a distant city? - Constant exposure to even low-level pollution can destroy your health over time. Does your land lie downwind of any factories or commercial agriculture (chemicals), or a coal-fired power plant? Major road?

12. Gun friendly state? Can you defend your retreat (if attacked) with the firearms allowed in your state? You can safely assume that looters and other unfriendlies will be armed, possibly armed well, and possibly in groups. Are you equipped to handle that? Does your state allow you to own the weapons you will need to defend your retreat?

13. Local economy, food producing? Self-sufficiency part of local culture? - Location, location... If you can have everything you want in a location, being part of a farming community might appeal to you. After all, the local economy has a future - food will always be in demand. If you don't plan to raise much food, this could be a real plus. Even if you do produce food, you could probably barter your goods for others locally.

14. Local building codes apply? Will you be inspected, forced to comply? Prefer to build what you want? - For me, this is huge and an absolute top-of-the-list item. I have my own ideas about what will work and what I want to build, and I don't want any nosy inspectors telling me I can't do this or that, or that I have to file a plan or pay fees. To my relief, other homes in the area have never been inspected, and they all have access roads, and all are built by locals.

15. Do you like it? Can you make it work for you? Meditate there. Good vibes? - Seriously, sit down comfortably on your potential property and close your eyes. Listen, inside. How do you feel there? Instead of thinking about the slope, the soil or any single feature, try to just feel the land you're sitting on. With your eyes closed, let your mind merge with the land. Does it feel friendly, inviting? If it does, then consider the strengths and weaknesses, and decide if you can make it work for you. It won't pass all tests - soil, location, security, water, building materials - but weigh the pros and cons and see if you can make it work for you.

16. Security/exposure to public. Vast topic - can it be made secure? see Security - Your biggest threat will probably be people who want what you have (unless you have big carnivores roaming your area, they might just want you). So consider how invisible your retreat is or can be made. If people can't see or find you, they will probably not bother you.

17 Climate/rainfall/altitude, can you make these work for you? The fact is, weather is everywhere, and if you can adjust with your weather, you have one less issue to bother you, but one you still have to deal with. I have spent considerable time making a desert climate work for me. Why? 1) Property in the desert is cheap. 2) Refugees escaping major cities, in search of food and water, will probably not venture into the desert on rough, dirt roads, trying to find what the desert, by its nature, lacks. 3) Privacy - I have several square miles to myself. They are not mine, but nobody lives out there or even visits. 4) Freedom - I build what I want, the way I want, no matter how outrageous, creative or non-conforming. 5) Security - My property is not visible from any road. These all count big for me, so I accept the climate and landscape to get what I want.

18. Natural disaster prone? Earthquake, tornado, hurricane, flood, acceptable risk? Check this out to your satisfaction, then accept whatever risk you have, or look elsewhere.

19 House/barn/shelter present? Usable? If your land already has structures on it, examine them well. Are they well-made? How long will they last? Will they stop an attack, or do they need some 'help'? Do they add value or need to be torn down?

20. Amenities? Gold Mine, coal or natural gas, forest, deer (fun to watch), view, pond, lake. These features may not be high on your list of priorities, but they might add considerably to your property's value and enjoyment, possibly to your survival potential.


It's probably not perfect, for one or more reasons. Expect that. Can you make it work for you? Here are some thoughts to consider:

1. You can create soil on barren land. It's hard work, but it can be done. (see Manure Harvesting) Creating water is challenging, but if there is regular rainfall, a rainwater harvesting system can be built. (see Water Supply) If I can make this work in the desert, you can.

2. No access road is an obstacle that might have a solution - you might be able to build a road. However, a road invites visitors, inspectors, possibly looters and more. Consider whether you absolutely need a road, or perhaps the road ends far from the house and you shuttle supplies in with an ATV, possibly through a locking gate. see Access Path

If the access road already exists and goes to the house, consider obstacles you can install to stop or slow traffic, even foot traffic, to the house. Consider using the existing access road during construction and for stocking supplies, then remove the part closest to the house and create obstacles to traffic: trees, shrubs, boulders, gates, fences, pits, mounds, walls, etc.

3. Property located on or near probable lines of escape from major cities could be inundated with refugees. However, if the property is invisible or difficult to reach, or if it is only reached by dirt roads in an area that appears lacking in water and food, refugees will probably go right on by and not risk ambush or car trouble or getting stuck on a 4WD road in the desert or other barren landscape. This is not a promise or a guarantee, but if it feels right to you, it makes a lot of cheap land near major highways usable for retreats. But towns on these lines of escape could be hit hard.

4. If a property is visible from an existing road, visitors intent on looting or other trouble, if determined, will find a way into all but the most formidable defences. So aim for invisibility, by planting vegetation, creating false boulder walls or by making the place unattractive to others. One way is to erect false walls around a house and then burn them to look like the house was torched. Or disguise the actual walls to look like that - looted and burned out.

These are strategies for dealing with an imperfect retreat site. Whether or not they apply to your situation only you can decide. Approach your prospective site from all possible directions, so you know what lies beyond your boundaries and what visitors from those directions will encounter. If your property is visible from a direction where there is no road, don't assume that people will only use a road - they may walk in, if they see something they need. Get a copy of Holding Your Ground for ideas on making your retreat invisible or uninviting (burned out, looted).

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