Surviving a Societal Breakdown

“…little electricity or gasoline…” reports an eyewitness from The Washington Post, visiting Sendai, Japan. “Nearly all restaurants and shops are closed…roads blocked…supplies depleted…the devastation is catastrophic.”

“Fuel almost non-existent…survivors will spend a fourth night in near freezing temperatures without food or water…”

We were elaborating on the benefits of having a family stronghold…a retreat…a bolthole somewhere. When the going gets tough, you need a tough place to go to.

Oh yes…dear reader…the world is a dangerous place. Just so far this year, we’ve seen two big blow-ups – one in the Arab countries…the other in Japan.

Neither was expected. What’s next?

Obviously, we don’t know. If it’s a big, nasty surprise, we hope we’re not here in Bethesda, Maryland, when it comes.

Why? Because the supermarkets would be cleaned out in minutes…the gas stations would run dry…and we’d be trapped in a hostile environment. We’re only here temporarily, while our youngest son finishes high school nearby. We have no family. Few friends. And none of the deep roots you need to survive a prolonged period of crisis and breakdown. Here, we are just anonymous passers-by… We would have to depend on the kindness of strangers and the competence of government officials.

What do you need to survive a disaster? First, you need access to water. As we’ve seen in Japan, even the most developed and sophisticated infrastructure in the world can collapse when it is struck by an earthquake and a tsunami. Public water pipes break. It can take weeks or months to replace them – assuming the government and local utilities are still functioning.

That’s why it’s a good idea to have your own private source of water – a spring, a well, a small, clean stream. Failing that, you should have enough water stocked up to last at least a couple weeks.

Then, you need to worry about food. How long could you live on what is in your refrigerator? We could make it for about 24 hours. Then, it would be slim pickings. And what if the supermarket were closed? What if the 7-11 were stripped bare? What if trucks couldn’t make deliveries?

Well, surely the president would call out the National Guard. Yes, if everything is working as it should…and the National Guard doesn’t have more important things to worry about.

Just as a precaution, you should maintain a stock of canned goods and dried food. Enough to last two weeks is the minimum. A month is better. Then, rotate your stock – don’t leave it untouched for so long it goes bad.

Having an inventory of basic foodstuffs and water is essential. It will keep you calm. You won’t be in desperate straits. It will give you time to carefully assess the situation and choose your best option.


Well, yes. What if the breakdown stays broken down for months? War…hyperinflation…a full collapse of the financial or political system – the crisis could take many months to run its course. In the meantime, supply and distribution systems may be severely or completely interrupted. You need a strategy.

And that’s where the family stronghold comes into play. First, you must be able to get there. When we were confronted with the Y2K crisis more than a decade ago, we lived in Paris. Maybe the French bureaucrats would be able to maintain order…and maybe they wouldn’t. We just kept our tank full of gas, just in case. It only took one tank of gas to get out to our country house. We figured we’d wait for the desperate mobs to leave the streets. Then we’d drive out of the city and make our way to the country. Once there, we had food stockpiled in the pantry and firewood ricked up to the eves in the barn. There were cattle on-the-hoof in the fields and chickens in the henhouse.

Your stronghold should be a place where you can live almost indefinitely – on local resources. It doesn’t mean you have to have everything you need on your own property. But you have what it takes to trade with your friends and neighbors to get what you need. You may have to barter for a cow…or vegetables…with the local farmers, for example. You may have to improvise with tools and machinery. You will almost certainly get your hands dirty. And you should keep on hand some small gold and silver coins. They could be useful.

Of course, your standard of living will surely go down – at least in money terms.

But some people actually yearn for simpler, more “authentic” lives. Some find genuine satisfaction in small community life, with heavy emphasis on self-sufficiency and survival skills. As for us, we’re never happier than when we’re cutting firewood or planting a garden. Keep your laptops and your hard drives. Give us a wrench and a hammer! Dining “al fresco” on “dinde aux groseilles” at a fancy restaurant is fine…but we’re just as happy eating a turkey sandwich outside in the yard.

A breakdown in complex civilization? Bring it on! Well, maybe not…


Bill Bonner
for The Daily Reckoning