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Summer Survival Council: Home Security
How to stay secure when it hits the fan or even if it doesn't.
You know things are kind of nutty when The Guardian is asking if the United States is on the verge of a civil war. Even if we don’t reach that point, tensions have been rising for years, crime is on the rise, and as the United States nears a recession (if it’s not already in one), things are only looking to get worse.
So this week’s question to the summer survival council was: How do you defend yourself and your homestead?
You might think this is a post about guns, but the commonality in most of the answers was a focus on community.
I’m also switching up the format this week. Folks have told me these posts are too long, so I’m integrating the bios into the answers to tighten things up a bit. (You can’t say you don’t get your money’s worth out of Unprepared.)
Ashley Colby is an environmental sociologist who lives with her family on a homestead in Colonia, Uruguay where she runs study abroad programs for Rizoma Field School. She also organizes online classes for adults like Homesteading 101 and Homeschooling 101 via her Rizoma School Gumroad. Ashley co-founded Doomer Optimism, a podcast and Substack that explores topics like homesteading, regeneration work, and preparedness. You can follow her on Twitter @rizomaschool.
When considering where to live, we thought deeply about safety and security. In historical periods of social disorder, it is not wise to be in close proximity to a large city, so we were seeking a place that was rural enough to not be the first or second target of fleeing urbanites. Likewise, being in something like a gated community makes you a mark for crime. More often than not, the security in a middle-class gated community is not going to stop determined criminals. Being foreigners settling in Uruguay, we accept that to some extent we are going to stand out, and have heard many stories of fellow expats being targeted for robberies, for example.
From the beginning of our time living here, we have made a very intentional point to integrate ourselves into the community and become known to others. We send our kids to the public school, we attend local markets and concerts and festivals, we volunteer for fundraisers, Patrick coaches our kids' basketball team, and we participate in school activities. Being a known and active community member brings a kind of security. People want to help and protect you, and criminals won’t see you as a worthwhile target.
Finally, and this is a tricky subject to discuss delicately, but living in a place with a decently robust economy and safety net will certainly lower your chances of encountering criminal activity. Our particular part of Uruguay has a decent agricultural economy plus several different local public-private cooperatives to keep the economy successful in this area. The whole country has universal basic healthcare and access to education. This ensures that even those struggling economically will not resort to crime if they have their basic needs met.
Patrick is an American teacher from a city who now lives in a rural area of western Uruguay in South America. With wife/sociologist Ashley, he started Rizoma Field School in 2017 to promote and study resilient, sustainable practices and livelihoods. He is particularly interested in agroecology, disaster preparedness, and informal community building (aka being a good friend and neighbor). You can follow him on Twitter @RizomaAt.
At the moment, we do not own any firearms, but we will in the future. I agree with the idea that being well integrated into the community and knowing neighbors in an already low crime/violence area is a pretty robust defense against violence or theft, but having said that, it still is a good idea to know how to defend yourself with your body and simple weaponry.
Having knives and knowing how to hold and wield them could potentially be the difference between life and death for you or a loved one, and I am thinking from dog attacks just as much as people attacks honestly. Bats, sticks, clubs are also simple weapons that one can learn to use to great effect without much practice.
Editor’s note: Pepper spray is a good choice here, and works well against dogs.
I know a limited amount of martial art-related self-defense techniques, but realistically only enough to deter a capable attacker long enough to run away from him. I am increasingly interested in teaching our children basic martial arts and high-leverage self-defense moves to limit or avoid physical harm.
As to dogs for defense, your dogs are usually going to operate as doorbells at minimum, and they can often scare off people who are on the fence about trying to come on to your property or not. Even a BEWARE OF DOG sign coupled with benign pooches can be enough to deter a would-be crime doer. I'm personally not planning on training any of ours as attack dogs, but this is another realistic option depending on your situation.
The only other physical defense I have considered for our homestead is electric fencing. Though I hope it will not become necessary, I would be prepared to install a fence around our house that would require an amount of effort more than what most petty crime perpetrators are willing to give in order to breach it.
Hamilton is a tradesman, father of three, and homesteader in the Missouri Ozarks. With over a decade of vegetable-gardening experience, he recently expanded to a broad-acre farm operation with animals including chickens, geese, and pigs. Follow on Twitter @Watchman_motto.
The best defense is to be hidden.
A home with an ostentatious fence is an easy target because it advertises that you have something worth taking.
Which is partially why we keep the home and barn surrounded by tall trees and thick brush. Of course, we aren't completely obscured, but we also aren't out in the open. It's a long gravel road to get to the house and that's the only way in.
I don't think we will ever see post-apocalyptic movie scenarios with marauding gangs, but if we do, a good long rifle or two would do the trick.
It should be your first priority to be a good neighbor and help those around you as much as possible. Because even small acts of goodwill demonstrate your value to others.
The goal should be to convince your community that you are worth more alive than dead, both in terms of what you can offer immediately and the systems and skills that you can share over the years.
And I suppose now after the recent Supreme Court decision would be a good time to begin concealed carry if you haven't already.
Stay safe and be prepared, but my biggest piece of advice is to make friends with the people who live near you. It's better to have many hands and eyes on your side than to go alone.
Tom Rader was the Managing Editor for The Prepared and former Editor in Chief of The Firearm Blog. He travels all over the country in a self-sufficient overland vehicle teaching wilderness medicine, tactical things, off-road recovery and driving, and other outdoor-related subjects. You can follow him on Twitter or Instagram.
Defense is really a layered approach thing and it is hard to easily detail in a short post. I suppose the first point is “What are you defending?” and “Is it truly worth defending?” Many people make the mistake of assigning a subjective value to something that is really not tactically efficient to defend.
Once you have identified something worth protecting, then you need to do an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the target, and a threat assessment of what an attacker is likely to want to do. You really need to learn to think like an adversary here. How would someone that wants to assault your target carry it out? Are they looking to break in and steal? Do they want to kidnap/kill you?
A layered defense allows you to harden the target in such a way that an attacker might choose something else. This applies personally too. Putting a lock on your door (and using it) is what many people think about as a way to secure their property. But the problem is that an attacker has to get up to the door to see that—and that is really not all that much of a deterrent these days.
So maybe you add an anti-kick plate to the door jamb. Cool. Except you have a nice big glass window. Maybe you put bars on the windows, or an embassy-grade blast film. Maybe you add an alarm system. Cameras. Strong lighting around the property. Ranging markers with known distances. Plant pyracantha bushes on the perimeter and under windows. Create choke points only allowing one way into your property. Maybe install a chain link fence. Maybe a laser perimeter fence to let you know when someone crosses the boundary. There are so many possibilities, and situations are unique, as are most peoples’ budgets and resources to work with.
As far as personal defense? Concealed carry is always the first go-to that people think of. But that is rarely a good choice—it is really the last choice, when everything else has failed. If you are in a car and being attacked, use the car to get out of the area (unless it is disabled). There are plenty of less-lethal devices you can use—things like pepper spray, and high-lumen flashlights. You can change your body language to be less like “prey” by demonstrating awareness and making non-challenging eye contact.
But the best defense is avoidance. Subscribe to actual news that tells you of events in your area. Maybe don't go “downtown” to watch that protest. Maybe don't go that seedy bar in the bad area of town. Get advice from the locals if you are traveling. Hotel clerks will be more than happy to tell you places to avoid. If you see a large crowd forming (or formed and moving your way) find an immediate exit route and leave the area.
I also think there are many nuances that are hard to stay abreast of—security is ever evolving. And the reality is that most of us don't have the time to devote to the craft. I personally recommend consulting with an expert in the field—I use Quiet Professional Defense, specifically firstname.lastname@example.org. They also provide top-tier combative training.
Security can be overwhelming and people tend to fall into normalcy bias—”it won't happen to me.” Complacency is what gets you into trouble. By the same token, you do not have to live in a fortress and walk around town like a tier-one operator. Put some forethought into where you are going and what you are doing, and make yourself and your stuff less attractive of a target.
Dave is a former Navy SEAL (but not the kind who thinks that makes him cool) and aspiring homesteader. He and his family live in an old schoolhouse in the Pacific Northwest where they garden, care for a small orchard, and raise chickens. Say hi to Dave on Twitter, where he is @aspiringpeasant.
I know what you’re thinking: “The Navy SEAL guy is gonna have some cool ways to set up interlocking fields of fire on the homestead!”
If we’re friends on Twitter you saw this coming a mile away: There are things far, far more important to defending your homestead (and far, far more rewarding) than cool guns and fortified fighting positions.
The single best thing you can do to protect your family and your home is to be an integral part of a cohesive community. If you are worth more to your neighbors alive than dead, you’ve turned your primary physical threat into a defender.
Your best defense is to be useful and have a lot of friends.
Bonus: if nothing bad ever happens, you’ve led a rich life full of meaningful relationships.
Double bonus: while warfare is primarily the domain of dumb young men, the “being useful to your community friendly person” schtick is the domain of everyone, from little kids to the elderly.
It’s what we’ve always done. Until very recently. We’ve made things and repaired things and raised food and prepared food and built shelter and been hunters and healers and storytellers and, yes, warriors. Not everybody can be everything but if enough people are some things then you have everything.
We’ve always supported the people we live with. Raised barns, had parties and feasts, celebrated births, and mourned passings. It’s only recently that we’ve been trained to channel our primary productivity toward our employers, and not to one another. It’s only recently that we’ve related more to our coworkers than the people who live in the same landscape as we do.
But when the veil drops away, the only real thing will be you and the people around you and what you can do for one another.
So learn skills. A lot of them. Learn to garden and dress a rabbit and sheer wool. Learn to spin the wool and to make things from it. Learn to build housing and barns, how to manage a woodlot, and how to coppice for fuel wood. Learn to hunt and fish and fix a 2-stroke. Learn to sharpen your knife and use a ham radio.
And, yes: learn to maintain and handle firearms. You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL or an Army Ranger, but those might be useful people to have in your community.
Make friends. Lots of them.
And remember that people are more than a list of their political affiliations: some of your neighbors voted for the guy you hate for reasons you find revolting. But when it comes to defending your valley or helping your neighbors out or fixing a shared… well, people are different.
We are better at that scale. Real life brings out the humanity in people just as as social media brings out the demons.
And there is strength in building a diverse and resilient network of meaningful human relationships with the people all around you. This is the most valuable “networking” you could ever do.
The best defense is to be useful and have a lot of friends.
Joseph — Homestead Padre
Joseph has been homesteading for over a decade and specializes in small-space homesteading and intensive gardening systems. He is married with three children, one grown, and is co-owner of The Smith Homestead with his wife Melody. He also owns a cottage food bakery out of his home, servicing his local community with homemade and artesian breads.
First and foremost it's location, location, location. My homestead sits well back from the road hidden by another house and a group of trees. My driveway itself is an unmanicured dirt drive that from the main road, looks like a dirt road heading off into the woods. There's a house with a very kind older gentleman and his wife up the road and my house is often mistaken for theirs. In other words, I'm pretty well hidden to begin with.
Here soon we will be placing a fence along the pond with a gate going across the driveway. The picture is of my front yard looking up my driveway.
Our second layer of security revolves around our Great Pyrenees, of which we have four.
We have four in the pasture with the animals and one that roams the whole property. He tends to hang out up front mostly and offers deterrence to unexpected visitors.
Third, we have driveway motion sensors that set off an alarm in the house if anything moves past them, as well as trail cams on the back of the property.
We just replaced our fencing with electric netting to provide more security from intruders and to better contain our animals, as well as a recent purchase — but not yet installed — barbed wire fencing that will stretch all the way across the woodbine in the back. Strands set at four inches from each other and eight feet high.
Last year we had animals stolen from us in the middle of the night and the thieves approached from the woods in the back. We're hoping to make that difficult for the next set of thieves that want to try.
And finally, we are armed. My wife and I both have concealed carry permits and we are armed in case an intruder tries to enter our home. Her and I both were in the Army and we fall back to our knowledge from there.
Being in hurricane country, we have the threat of weather as well. Since getting our homestead wiped out by a storm two years ago we have more consciously built infrastructure with storms in mind, as well as a contingency plan for if we ever have to evacuate.
We review this twice yearly. Once at the beginning of hurricane season and once at the peak of the season.
I am a planner. My decade-long corporate career in logistics trained me to always have a plan and always be prepared to act upon it.
Travis J I Corcoran
Travis J I Corcoran is a software engineer and an author. He lives on a 56-acre farm in New Hampshire with his wife, dogs, livestock, and a variety of lathes and milling machines. He raises and butchers his own pigs, sheep, and poultry, and grows a variety of fruits and vegetables in his gardens, orchards, and vineyards. His two-volume homesteading magnum opus is available on Amazon: Escape the City Volume 1 and Escape the City Volume 2. …as are his two award-winning science fiction novels: The Powers of the Earth and Causes of Separation.
Sun Tzu said that fighting and winning 100 battles is not the acme of skill; accomplishing your goals without fighting is.
Massad Ayoob said something similar: it's far better to avoid a gun fight than to win one.
While I've got the usual prepper / homesteader assortment of firearms, and while I've rushed outside a handful of times with either an AR-15 or a pistol (to verify that the coyotes were keeping their distance, in one case, and to make sure that the neighbor's akitas would leave without attacking my dogs a SECOND time), I don't tend to think about defending myself and my homestead, so much as avoiding conflict.
The key to avoiding conflict is to live in a low-crime area, and not interacting with violent people.
I live in one of the safest towns in the second safest state in the US. In the last twenty years, there have only been two shootings in my town (once, when the police decided to create some excitement for themselves by setting up a sting and luring an alleged drug dealer in from a city half an hour away, and ended up shooting him “in self defense,” — although no gun was found — and once again when the police responded to a domestic disturbance and reasoned with a distraught man by shooting him “in self defense”).
So my three pieces of advice:
own firearms and know how to use them
live in a place where there's almost no violent crime
avoid all interactions with police
Roxanne Ahern is a homesteading, homeschooling mother of five and the author of “Holistic Homesteading: A Guide to a Sustainable and Regenerative Lifestyle.” She has been growing food and raising animals for more than 12 years and consults on the topics of permaculture, regenerative homesteading, and holistic nutrition.
When we think about ways of protecting ourselves, it can be easy see everyone else as a potential threat, when really one of best things that we could do to protect ourselves is to do what we can now to make sure that our communities are as resilient as they can possibly be. Desperate times make desperate people. When someone doesn’t have any other option they might do things they would never normally do. Learning skills like how to grow and preserve food, how to forage, and how to produce things, is empowering and life-changing.
If you are someone with skills in any of these areas, I encourage you to get out there and teach them to as many people around you as possible. Your neighbors. Your family and friends. Offer a gardening class or a foraging walk. Teach some people how to bake sourdough and share your starter. Plant some nut and fruit trees. If things did get bad, at least the people in your immediate proximity would be better able to care for themselves than they had been before.
And if you really went out of your way to teach people in your immediate vicinity life skills, it’s possible that they would be interested in protecting you if things did go really badly. There are many people whose whole career it is to the answer this question more tactically and create home and neighborhood protection strategies — this is not my area of expertise at all! We do have strategies to protect our farm and family if necessary, but I am primarily focused on being proactive in these other areas.
So my advice? Learn skills. Become more resilient. Share those skills. Make others around you more resilient. Be aggressively generous and helpful. Be valuable to people around you, as a protection strategy.