Building Resilence By Design

Hurricane Sandy is of course, in all the news right now, with a still-unknown amount of total devastation and number of people killed. I’ve been keeping quiet on this one, due to the huge amount of media coverage this storm is getting.

Doing more then just massive power outages, flooding and wind damage, many, many homes have now been burned to the ground, fueled by high winds and tornado-like conditions.

This is very tragic for all of those involved.  It does little good to tell people how to prepare after their entire lives have gone up in flames, but even so, some of them could have.

Resilience is actually “by design”, especially when it comes to things humans have built, like our cities, neighborhoods and homes.  Much of America is constructed with economy and profit in mind, and when massive climate-changed induced storms virtually wiped this out overnight, the need for resilient designs and home readiness becomes quite apparent.

I’m personally far away from Sandy, but just last week had my own resilient design “tested”.  We lost power to our well, and to the alarm that would have notified us of this fact failed.  It wasn’t until the water actually stopped running did we even realize we had a problem.  A critical wire had shorted out somewhere in a 300 ft. underground run, which I couldn’t locate.  It was also raining in a major way, flooding the ground.  Now wasn’t the “time” to belatedly wonder if I had any backup systems in place (I did).

A 3600 gallon cistern system had been built, but actually not for something quite like this.  Early in the design, I’d envisioned other problems, such as even the well going dry, or needing to share water with a neighbor and vice versa, and I built in that capacity in the design.  I even powered the entire system from two separate sources, one for the cistern pumps (two), and one for the well itself.  An elaborate network of lines, tanks (three), pumps, and valves (lots) permitted the system to accommodate this need, but now here I was, the “designer” without  water.

Once we figured out what had gone wrong, refilling the cistern came easily, we just had to find a way to repower the well (first priority), then find the broken wire, dig it up and repair it (not a small job).  This took about 40 ft of a 4′ trench.

The well wire had lost insulation and had shorted out rather badly.  This was my fault, I realized, since it had actually been a previous repair (splice in the wire) that had failed. I’d broken it several years ago running equipment.  It was impossible to redo the repair again, the wires were now much too short after the damaged section was removed, thus a new 40 ft trench to lay in a entire new wire to the meter box was required.  This time, the splice was triple-wrapped in heat shrink and waterproof electrical tape, and encased in PVC pipe, sealed at both ends with gobs of silicone.   I even encased the rest of the line in pipe “for protection”. It shouldn’t ever fail again.

It was only until afterwards that I realized that the original design had actually worked better then I thought.  For a week or more, I’d had no well power, and didn’t even know, but I did have water the entire time until the cistern finally ran dry.

My place has a fair bit of redundancy in its “design”, a place we had built (family and I) from scratch, taking virtually raw land and carving out homesite, roads, buildings, root cellar and now a greenhouse.  If I hadn’t designed it — I’m certain that there would have been other problems, since efficiency and cost are usually the “design” you get, but not much redundancy and resilience.

I actually have three wells now, two which are networked together by the system above with over 1000 ft of buried pipes.  Depth prevents me from hand-pumping either well, so power backup is essential. A generator system does the trick.  The cisterns are “backups”, with three 1200 gallon tanks, and two pumps and two pressure tanks to balance the system.  It’s not the non-electric design I’d have liked, but that’s always going to be limited by the depth of your well.  Generator, solar panels, wind power / battery backups are all options to create essential power (or even a wood-gas generator, another wish-list item).

I even have a pond now, which takes the flow from an extensive french drain system surrounding all the buildings. The pond is for fire suppression, something I hope I never need.  The pond still needs some bentonite clay to seal the bottom, which I’ve not been able to do yet since I actually keep expanding it, it’s about twice as big as it was last year, although still modest in size.  Other things I’ve done is fire breaks (also useful for shooting marauders), brush piles, clearing dead limbs up trees (heavy forest here) and trying to keep the fuel loads down.

Let’s see, there’s more.  Gravel pit, burn pit, log decks, wood piles, fuel tanks, gates, fences, equipment, materials and spare parts (usually) abound. A new fruit orchard was planted this year, now surrounded by an 8′ high deer fence that should last forever.  These vicious varmints will eat you alive (all your crop / gardening efforts), I’ve lost all love for “Bambi” these days.  What I grow is mine.  I planted acres of wild seed to feed them, but they do prefer the tender greens that come up from the once-unfenced garden.  That should no longer be a problem with the greenhouse and the new fencing.

This clearly isn’t New York City or Atlantic City here. I’m definitely “on my own” when things go wrong.  And it’s important that I know what to do, how to fix it and what could be done in the first place to prevent a problem.  I’ve also noticed something that I consider a major drawback: increased complexity increases necessary redundancy (and costs).  A simple non-electric lifestyle would have actually suited me just fine, but I can’t run computers, servers, and my business without it.  One day, if the “lights go out”, I’ll be out of business (and so will all of you), but until that day comes, it’s necessary for me to work with (and take advantage of) electrical power.


Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about resiliency — and what this is going to mean as resource depletion / food shortages increase all of the world.  Hundreds of millions of Americans have zero resiliency built into their lives, making “this place” and others like it very desirable.  Hurricane Katrina showed just how incredibly fast looting, rape, robbery and murder descended upon an entire region — and hunger.  I cannot hardly imagine what it would be like to be dependent entirely on what is found in the grocery store. America’s just-in-time delivery system fractures every time there is a major disaster.  Many Americans still think that “food storage” is what’s available at McDonalds at 2:00 am, most have never gardened or planted a seed or harvested anything.

Resilience can only come “by intention”. You must plan ahead for it.  It’s pretty clear that nobody else is going to do this for you. Remaining dependent upon society for what keeps you alive, safe, fed, clothed, warmed and sheltered simply means your dependent and vulnerable, having no backup plans or system in place to save yourself.  It’s much more then just “having a plan” (such as “drive to grocery store, buy food”), but a mental attitude and skill set along with actual preparations that will save you when you need it most.  It was once very common in America, with our pioneer spirit and heritage, but no more.  Corporation have now taken over, controlling what we buy, eat, wear, use and own, even our own attitudes towards “preparedness”. Most of it is pure crap, unadulterated b.s., designed to get into your pockets and make you feel “better” about being “prepared”.  I rarely venture opinions on this issue, more or less giving up to disgust and disbelief at what I see regarding the prepper culture being co-opted by unscrupulous and irresponsible hucksters.

It’s also four letter words, as in “hard work” to be prepared.  It does NOT come easy. I have literally worked myself into the ground, unable to hardly move on some of my major projects. But it’s necessary and essential in my opinion, and provides me a great sense of “security” in knowing that I’ve taken this path and provided for my family.  The future is only promising to be much worse then it is today — and the ONLY solution that I have ever seen identified is to take responsibility for your own welfare and security.  As much as you are able.

Community solutions with built-in redundancy, cottage industries and “locally grown and owned” will be ABSOLUTELY CRITICAL steps for EVERY community (worldwide) to embrace.  American neighborhoods and cities are woefully prepared to do any of this, relying instead upon just-in-time delivery systems, massive food, water and energy imports and everything else.  Right now, over 250 American factories per day are being shuttered in America, a sure sign of how bad things are getting. Jobs, manufacturing, industry and skills are literally disappearing from our nation.  This can only lead to one inescapable conclusion: COLLAPSE and the desperation of hundreds of millions of Americans (nearly 50 million are on food stamps NOW). It’s going to get WORSE.

Now is the time to get busy, get skilled and get versed on how to take care of yourself, build in some resiliency and self-sufficiency, and independence into your own life.  It’s not too late — just harder then is was last year.  Things cost more, we’re closer now then ever to catabolic collapse, and just figuring out how to “stay alive” these days at your nine-to-five doesn’t leave much left over for preparations.  But that’s the entire point — its very clear that we’re in ongoing decline, and if you don’t prepare now (finally), when will you find the time or money or the desire?  After it all falls apart for you?  Hardly.  That will be be the balls-to-walls, bare-knuckle “survival” time, the worst time of all to learn the critical skills, experience and develop the plans and preparations you need.

Do it now — by design, by intention.  Your resilience is an act of will that has to come before disaster strikes, not after.  You may “find it” later on, but then you’re also have to deal with whatever disaster has struck — and destroyed neighborhoods, product shortages and outages, long waiting lines and angry, disillusioned and totally unprepared people.

People do not have to be victims — and it most often happens because of ill-preparation.  Major regional disasters will always affect everyone, but even these are quite survivable and can make a huge difference to those around you, if you are properly prepared to deal with them yourself.


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