You have a perfectly set up 72 hour kit/bug out bag for each member of your family. They are located in vehicles or in a grab and dash spot so you can be on the road and on your way within seconds. Now what? Where are you going? Generally speaking, an evacuation plan should include a few set locations that you and those you are bugging out with are familiar with. One common solution is to head to a family member’s house some distance away. This solution might work in some scenarios, but in many circumstances you might find that you’ve placed a burden on your family by bringing more mouths to feed in an extended crisis. In other situations you might find it difficult to get to your family member’s home due to distance, lack of fuel or inaccessible roads depending on the nature of the disaster that has caused you to leave your home.
When starting your journey down the rabbit hole of preparedness you’ll often see terms referenced such as GOOD (Get out of Dodge), BOL, BOB (Bug out Location, Bug out Bag) and other acronyms that hint at evacuating an area should there be a disaster, civil unrest or many of the other events that we prepare for. One question that can’t be answered by a simple acronym however is WHERE?
My nearest family is about 10 hours away and in either highly populated areas or in areas with limited access in a disaster, so my family needs to consider something more local for our evacuation plan. We decided that as part of our general preparedness efforts we would like to work towards obtaining a property to eventually build a bug out location as well as provide a place for our family to camp and enjoy nature on a frequent basis. I’d like to share some of the things I learned in this process on creating your own bug out location.
You hear it all the time when anyone talks about real estate. Location, Location, Location. But what does this really mean? While everyone would love the ideal 5 acres with a wood lot, a small year round stream, a nice house site and a pasture that is a dream out of reach for most people. In reality, particularly for my area in Northern Utah, a bug out location will probably be located in the local mountains and be well under 5 acres. And when was the last time you saw a stream and wood lot on affordable land here in Utah? Here are some other location considerations to take stock of.
One of the primary considerations I had in finding some property was that it should be located no more than 1 to 3 hours away by car. Since this property is meant to serve both a recreational purpose as well as host a bug out location, I also didn’t want it too close to any large populated areas. A property within this range can also be easily visited during Summer on a Friday after work with some daylight left to set up camp. Any farther than this and getting to the property particularly if there are fuel shortages could be a challenge.
Another consideration when you are reviewing potential locations is how accessible the property is in different seasons. Can you get to it should you need to bug out in Winter? What about the “mud season”? Many rural lots are only accessible via dirt roads. In the Spring and Fall, these can become impassable to most vehicles. Some locations have well maintained roads, others may not have been serviced in a decade. Will you be able to safely get you, your family and your supplies to your property without destroying your vehicles and equipment?
The populated areas of Utah are typically in the desert where we get our water from the snow fall in the mountains. This means that there are likely a number of streams and rivers up in the mountains near our bug out areas. While this is great from a water access stand point, it can complicate how accessible a property might be. Ideally you will have multiple ways in and out of the area where your property is located. Should there be a flood that knocks out bridges along the way you should still have at least one more route to get to your property by vehicle. Keep your eyes open when you are on your way to look at property in your chosen area. Take note of any bridges, dams, likely landslide areas, and other hazards that could impede you getting to the area.
One final thought on accessibility is Operational Security or OpSec. Many hard core preppers go to great lengths to ensure that their bug out location is difficult to find and easily defendable. Choosing a piece of property based on this principle is a very personal decision and can greatly limit the areas where you’ll be looking for acceptable land. Keep in mind though that even barring post apocalyptic fantasies, your bug out location will be vacant for stretches of time so vandalism can become an issue. There are pros and cons to either argument. Google Earth, Google Maps and topographical maps can provide you with valuable information without leaving your home. However, nothing beats actually standing on a piece of property and surveying it with your own eyes to determine if it will meet your needs.
County Specific Rules and Building Codes
Laws on land use vary by county so you’ll need to check with your specific county first to know what the rules are. Here are some things to think about and plan ahead for when you are starting to narrow in on a location for your future property.
Some counties in Utah have requirements that a structure cannot be built unless the property has a functional well. This can greatly increase the cost of your bug out location as water rights and well drilling are expensive propositions. Without a well in these locations, you are limited to “recreational” property which can severally limit the improvements you can legally make to your land. There are few subdivisions that may be classified as “Dry” subdivisions where you may be able to build without a well or public water.
Square footage/footprint requirements
I know of one county that requires a permit for any building larger than 200 square feet. 200 square feet and under is considered a shed and cannot be inhabited. The minimum size for a habitable structure is 20 by 20 feet. At this size the property can’t be a year round residence. At 24 by 24 feet, a structure is legal to be inhabited year round.
For inhabited structures you’ll generally also be required to hook up to a city sewer system or install a septic system. Either of these can drive up the price of building your retreat. Some areas don’t allow composting toilets either.
Your county will have specific rules for what permits are needed for the area your property is located in. If your property is within an HOA you’ll need to follow their rules as well. Depending on where your property is located you may also need to get special permits from the fire department and the health department in order to build and occupy a structure. You should be aware that generally the use of an outhouse seems to be illegal, but I have seen a number of them in different areas, so this could be a sanitation option. Be sure to understand and comply with local laws so you stay out of trouble.
Producing or storing food
Some of your bug out locations may not be in the mountains, but rather in the desert or in an isolated agricultural valley. How well you can produce food on your land will therefore vary widely depending on climate, soil conditions and access to water. If you are planning on growing your own food in the event of an emergency you’ll need to seriously look at these factors. If you are planning on caching a supply of food on your property you should still be aware of how well your land can produce food and the effort involved in doing so. In addition to supplementing your food stores, gardening can be a fun activity.
Finally, take into account the animals that frequent your bug out location. Deer can jump over surprisingly tall fences and love to destroy entire gardens. Find out what pests might exist in your area and take steps to reduce their impact on your food plans.
Finding available land
You’ve decided you are ready to purchase some land to begin prepping for your bug out location, you have a list of everything you want in a property and have narrowed down a specific area. How do you go about finding your own piece of prepper Valhalla?
One of the best ways to find some land that meets your needs is to know someone familiar with the area. They can provide invaluable first hand experience, places to avoid and common pit falls. They may even be able to help you find land for sale that is not available on the open market.
MLS and a good local realtor
Assuming you have a specific area where you are focusing your search, Real Estate sites (select your county, nearby city and choose the property type) can provide you with an idea of properties available for sale in an area as well as an idea of the going price for properties in the area. MLS listings also generally have information about what services are available on each parcel such as power, water, sewer, telephone, etc.
A local realtor can often provide many of the same benefits as knowing a local. Finding the perfect realtor can be challenging. Be sure to ask lots of questions. They should have some familiarity with the local building codes, water issues as well as other local issues that you should be aware of. A realtor is there to advocate for you, the purchaser so be sure to take advantage of their local knowledge. Also, don’t feel obligated to continue using a particular realtor even if you’ve spent a lot of time with them. If they aren’t doing their best as an advocate for you, find someone who will.
The KSL Classifieds is another potential source for finding property. As always with classified ads, caveat emptor. Be sure to take precautions to protect yourself. If a deal seems too good to be true it probably is.
Once you’ve found your dream property, be sure to look before you leap. I highly advise that you take your time in the process. If you feel pressured to quickly close on a deal that is probably a warning sign. I recommend visiting the area during different times of the year to see how the seasons change the landscape. A forested lot in mid-summer may be a shadeless nightmare from Fall through most of Spring.
After you’ve purchased your land and before you make any concrete plans you’ll want to watch the land over the period of a year. Determine where any run off might go and adapt your plans accordingly.
I am not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV so take this amateur advice for what it is worth and consult a professional should you have any questions. In order to obtain ownership of your property, you’ll need to have a deed filed with the county recorder’s office. There are two different types of deeds that I am aware of.
Sellers typically prefer to transfer title this way. They essentially Quit or give up their interest in the property, whether they actually own the property or not.
Buyers generally prefer to have the title transferred in their name this way. A warranty deed provides the buyer with an extra level of protection should the ownership of the property by previous title holders come into question. Along with title insurance this seems like a bullet proof method of ensuring legal ownership.
Depending on where you property is, you may need to have it surveyed in order to determine exactly where the boundaries of your property might be. This can have a huge affect on how you make your plans as there are generally rules regarding building setbacks from property lines. It should also help you identify where any easements (if any) lie on your property. It is better to plan ahead than to be forced to move or tear down a structure later.
I’ve attempted to provide information that I have gleaned by going through this process myself. I plan on doing more posts throughout the year as my family and I begin to improve our property. We are also hoping to get a guest post from Chris Jaussi of Zip Kit Homes to talk about bug out location building alternatives.
Are there any specific subjects or themes you would like to see us cover?