Off grid, fall out shelters, underground shelters, radiation havens

The meltdown in Japan has a lot of people worried.  They have reason to be.  But in addition to the realistic and reasonable worries, based on facts, there is also the work of scare-mongers and doomsayers coming into play.  It’s really hard to separate truth from their gloom and doom predictions.

I’m not a radiation expert.  I grew up during the Cold War, where our worst fear was a “nuke” attack from Russia.  The Cold War is over, but now we have new fears.  Fears of a Chernobyl in a very densely populated country that was also the victim of the first atomic bombs to be used in war (and hopefully the last too.)  In addition, its directly upwind from the United States and that breeze we call the Jet Stream.

I’m also not a meteorologist.  I don’t know a lot about the jet stream, but I know it carries stuff an awful long ways, and it’s pretty high in the sky. It’s one of the important things that affects North American weather, I’d seen that every spring in Northern Arizona when the winds came around Easter.  The jet stream would dip south, with its southerly edge into Arizona, and the winds would start.  I used to make jokes when I worked in tourism there, telling people that “we used to have the Rockies here, but they blew to Colorado.”

Those winds were part of our spring routine, but they could be terrible.  I’d seen Interstate 40 closed on numerous occasions because trucks were being blown over from the gusting winds.  I’ve seen mobile homes tumbled like a child’s toys, and parked motor vehicles tossed over cliff edges.  Bricks would be torn from buildings, and if something wasn’t fastened down securely, it would be ripped loose.  Typically, wind measuring devices start being destroyed when gusts are hitting about 150 mph.  On occasion, gusts in excess of 200 mph have been recorded in the region.

All of that was courtesy of the jet stream that now has a new package to deliver.


Should we be worried?  Should I be buying potassium iodide?  What should I be doing?  Or  not doing?

I’m in Mississippi, far from the West Coast.  The voice of reason says that a whole lot of people on the West Coast are going to be very sick before there is much effect on me or my neighbors.  I don’t need to panic.  I remember Chernobyl, predictions then had us all mutating into green slimy slugs with boneless limbs.  I have little faith in media or government agencies to tell us the truth.

So that’s lead to people talking about underground shelters to protect themselves from fall out.  Is that necessary or wise?

Well, I’m not digging in at this point myself.  I’m not convinced that turning into a tunnel dwelling rat is going to preserve my hide, when every bit of food I would eat would come from the above ground world.  I don’t think I need a subterranean home because of what is happening in Japan.

So what would I build, if I had the ability to build whatever I wanted?

That’s easy.  I’d build a geodesic dome with a basement beneath it.  The best of both worlds–weather resistant structure and a subterranean structure, all in one.

Then again, if I stay on the coast, I’d likely go with an alternative idea.  A floatable dome.  Then, if the water rises, I’d simply be able to float, instead of having to wait for the water to recede and shoveling out the muck it left behind.  Crazy idea?  I’m not so sure of that.

There is also the issue of utilities, especially when  faced with solar storms, rising costs, the environment, and an uneasiness about the future of our current society.  A lot of people seek to go off grid.  At the same time, I question what they are doing, since they aren’t modifying their lifestyle to accompany their choice to avoid public utilities.  Instead, they are trying to support an inflated energy usage lifestyle with substandard equipment, resulting in excessive need for a fossil fueled generator.

Face it, if you want off grid, you have to give up some of the things we love.  I have lived off grid.  Granted, it was about 30 years ago now, but I can tell you…it isn’t easy or convenient.  It also is not cheap.

We had propane lights.  I had one in the kitchen and one in the living room.  Any other room, we used a kerosene lantern or a flashlight for.  We didn’t have an indoor toilet, and we didn’t have hot water either.  I did have running water indoors, to both the kitchen and bathroom sinks, as well as the bath tub.  I had no washing machine, and had to visit a laundromat every couple of weeks.  I battled scorpions, rattlesnakes, black widows, pack rats, and other things that went bump in the night, and I refused to visit the outhouse after sun down or before dawn.  The critters had it during the night time.  Once…was enough for me.

At first, I had to cook on a Coleman two burner camp stove that burned white gas.  It leaked and scared the hell out of me with its weird behavior.  I had to cook outside when I was using it, as we were terrified it would start a fire indoors.  Eventually, they got the propane stove indoors fixed, as well as the 1940ish propane refrigerator.  I was ecstatic to have the refrigerator working–when it hits 120 degrees F. in the middle of the day, the luxury of a cold drink is incredible.

From about 9 am until about an hour before sun down, it was impossible to be indoors.  It was a mobile home, and the indoor temperature hit about 140-160 degrees.  Once, I had forgotten something important indoors, and had to go in during midday.  I could literally see the sweat squirting out of my skin in an attempt to cool me down.  Staying inside for more than a few minutes would have been fatal.  I worked outdoors all day anyhow, so it wasn’t difficult to simply not go inside.  Who wanted to go indoors into that oven anyhow?

Imagine what it was like trying to sleep at night, with nothing more than the cooler nighttime temperatures of the desert air coming in through the windows to cool the trailer house down?  I typically had trouble sleeping, often not able to drift off until around midnight, and since I had to be up at 4 am…well, sleep didn’t happen much.  I can’t imagine what it would be like in Mississippi, where the nighttime temperatures don’t drop but maybe 4-10 degrees during the night and the humidity is like a sticky candy wrapper around you.  To me, it’s amazing that anyone lived here before air conditioning.

Forget the glamor of being off-grid.  Forget about saving money.  Propane is always more expensive than gasoline, and believe me, you will buy plenty of it, even if all you run is a refrigerator and stove.  You will have to learn to improvise, make-do, and maintain.  You’ll have to be smart, creative, and ingenious to make it work.  It also helps to have a nice fat bank account.

You won’t have a television or a dryer.  You might do movies on a small screen portable player.  Forget a desk top computer, but you might manage a laptop.  You won’t have a lot of things, and because you don’t have that all important connection to the public utility grid, you might have trouble getting a lot of other things.

Like financing, permits, and septic tanks.  Government officials don’t like things that vary from the norm, and they are the ones that provide necessary permits.  Bankers aren’t much more creative about their feelings about the out of the box thinking you’ll have to have.

That’s one of the reasons we’ve gone to the travel trailer.  It’s not financed by a bank, it’s portable, and because of its portable nature, it’s exempt from a lot of rules.  We aren’t committed with a McMansion and McMortgage either.  We hope to find a piece of property where the well, septic tank, etc. can be installed, along with a “shed” which may have a basement (depending on location, not all locations here can have such a thing because of the water table) and be used as our base, with an eye towards building a small home suited to us at some future date.  We don’t want homeowner’s association covenants and restrictive codes that prevent us from working that way.  Neither does anyone wanting to do things a bit different, such as being “off the grid.”

Pay attention to restrictions on a piece of property before you buy, especially if your goal is to build your subterranean home/fall out shelter.  Don’t buy, only to discover you are going to be forced to build within x amount of time, and must do a, b, c, d, etc. as well.  A lot of subdivisions, even in rural areas, have very restrictive covenants that will not be conducive to you using your property the way you want to.

Do your research.  Decide what will work for you in terms of self sufficiency, practicality, costs, and maintenance.  These power systems aren’t easy or simple to use.  Hopefully, they will get there…but for now…they aren’t.  They are also not cheap.  Don’t make an expensive mistake.  Research costs a lot less than making a mistake does.


About giascott

Writer, blogger, cook, grandmother, mother, wife, radio personality, outdoor enthusiast, dog enthusiast, crafter, artist, and part-time nut~~I've earned a lot of t-shirts in my day! I'm one of those crazy independent women who can cut down a tree, build you a shed, sew you a dress, cook your dinner, make some soap, pitch a tent, build a fire, catch some fish, dig in the garden, chase a kid or two, write you a poem, paint you a picture, and a dozen other things...just don't ask me to sing! I'm also embarking on a relatively new portion of my life, one of being disabled. I'm learning some lessons along the way about a lot of things too.
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