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Published On: Tue, Sep 17th, 2013

Your Mini Storage Bivouac Lifeline: What To Look For And Why

TND Exclusive / By Prepper Jack / images

To read part one in this series, click here.

In the first article of this series, we discussed the various bugout options and general reasons why it’s important to have more than just a “Shelter In Place” strategy of hunkering down at home.  By now, maybe you’ve made some decisions on whether to have a secondary location.  In part two of this series, we’ll dive deeper into the strategic options, and take another look at risk factors associated with different locations.

This outline is not intended to be exhaustive, but it should give you some solid ideas. Logistics do not necessarily have to be complex.  Your geographical location, weather and access to services may dictate some of your decisions.  Adjusting to the particulars of your area will be personal, reflecting your immediate circumstances. Once you’ve thought this out, you’ll have another level of assets that can deal with dangers in an effective manner.

As we’ve seen over the last 10 years, natural and man-made disasters can make the call to relocate a top priority.  You might have the luxury of several hours to even a day or two to make the decision.  But just as often, there is a knock at the door.  Law Enforcement or emergency responders tell you it’s time to leave. The incoming disaster mandates fast action.

The reasons to leave your are manifold.  They range from  sudden violent weather, relentless snow, hurricanes, tornadoes, chemical spills, fire storms, floods, earthquakes, civil unrest, riots or something as simple as the electrical grid going down in a specific region — that’s happened a few times in the last few decades.

Back in 2001, 8 million people in California and Arizona experienced what it was like to some extent to move in an instant from the 21st to the 18th Century.  A  primary power station ceased operation. A rolling, total blackout occurred on a multi-state basis that lasted anywhere from 24 hours to 3 days.   There was more than just an absence of lights to homes.  Power to water pumps and gas stations stopped supply — for 3 days, in some cases.

Considering Urban, Suburbia and Rural Locations

There are places you don’t want to be when “Grid Down” happens.  These locations become choke points or areas without any resources to sustain you and your family.

The first and most obvious one is the urban or city core. With few resources and often hundreds of thousands of employees and residents, the city is a wonderful place to work and live until there is no power.  Cities are completely reliant on gas and electricity.  Without those resources it becomes a wasteland of tall buildings.  The urban core is also what some call a “Food Desert.”

Most cities have a VERY limited supply of food and water.  The concrete canyons become desolate places with little to eat or drink.  You do not want to be there when this happens. The permanent residents become restive in very short order and chaos can break out within hours.  If you have enough warning, maybe it’s just simply a matter of not going to work. If you live in a city, leave before the worst hits you. Don’t dally.

The second place is the suburbs.  Less congested and possessing more food and water resources, you could stay in this zone. The problem is the stores will be depleted with 24 to 48 hours. If you haven’t prepped you’re stuck without the basic resources to survive. Crowds become very dangerous, gasoline is in short supply.  If you wait long enough you are  trapped in the suburbs.   Power may or may not be available for days.

When the power outage hit California and Arizona, millions were stuck in their homes without even the most basic supplies.  Power failed at all corners.  People had to just wait it out.  This was frightening to many and showed how vulnerable they were to this total loss of utility services.

There are other areas that might prove problematic if you are not prepared. Your home might be a long distance from any resources. Most long time residents of small towns know to be self reliant. But millions of city slickers have moved to the countryside. They bring their non-prepping bad habits with them.

Disasters could easily isolate you from emergency services, food or utilities.  Living in an isolated community mandates that you have sufficient supplies to be self reliant for weeks.  The people who live in these areas often form associations to help with the basic necessities.

You can’t count on that in emergency situations that force you to flee unexpectedly.  The farther you are from a large town, the less likely you are to receive timely assistance.  It’s quite possible to become just as isolated by the ravages of natural disasters as it is to be trapped in a high rise building or a suburban pocket with limited resources.

Any one of these situations might compel you to give serious consideration to having a fall back position.  It’s not a certainty that you’ll need it.  However even a cursory review of county and statewide emergencies clearly shows that no matter how much the first responders want to rescue you, its quite possible that you are on your own.

With those cheery thoughts in mind, let’s examine the potentials of a mini storage and how it can add to your layers of self preparedness.

MINI-STORAGE:  A solid option to consider

There are 4 clear benefits that come with this strategy, which can serve as:

1.  A primary place for your main prepping supplies;

2.  A secondary or backup location for these supplies;

3.  A temporary home-away-from-home site if your home cannot be occupied;

4.  A base camp and re-supply site if you are mobile in an RV, camper or motor home

Anyone considering the leasing of a self storage has to take into account the added cost burden. I’ve looked at the monthly fee of a typical 10×15 space, or better yet, two spaces.  The reason for two spaces is discussed further in this essay but two can be about the same price as one yet offer much greater utility.

A firm called SpareFoot Storage has an online database that can help you find self storage across the entire US.  Hit their website.  You can research self storage facilities, amenities and prices.

One particular concern expressed in a large-scale  2 year study involving 12,000 customers and 3,467 units was security.  Sparefoot found that these units are quite secure. Theft and crime is much lower in a storage building than most neighborhoods.  Crimes that did occur usually happened when people took up long term lodging in the units or owners were lax in locking units.  The crime was petty but aggravating.  But it was statistically insignificant.  In reality the crime stats for self storage are almost nonexistent.  While security is a concern, we’re primarily talking about a short-term residence option.  Other considerations should take precedence.  I’ve examined several nearby self storage facilities and nearly all offered several qualities that made them a sound choice.

Let’s consider the “pros” of this option in more detail:

1.  Remote from urban cores:  When you opt for this strategy, you’ll be able to pick a good location.  You do not want to lease a space on the edge of the Food Desert.  Your location could easily attract scavengers. You could easily be too close to whatever it was that motivated you to leave your home in the first place.  You want distance between your home and storage unit —  20 miles is the minimum. More might be warranted, depending on the population density of your town or city

2. Outside the suburbs:  The reason for this is there could be a lot of hungry people looking for what you have. You may not be far enough from the disaster that forced you from your home in the first place. Impacts from floods, fires, earthquakes and violent weather can easily spread over thousands of square miles.  You want to be some distance from those intense problems. You should be more than a day’s walking distance from home base as well. Sadly, most people are not fit enough to sustain a full day’s march with a back pack.

3. A low rise building:  Stick to storage unit buildings that have no more than 2 stories.  It makes for easy access. A building of this height is less likely to suffer from high winds, earthquakes and violent weather such a major snow storms. These units are HEAVILY  constructed to sustain hundreds of tons of stored items so they have to be strong and durable.

4. An elevated unit:  On a related note, you should stick to the second story, and look for complexes that are also on higher ground. This prevents floods from reaching the building.  Water flows away after a snow melt.  Higher ground presents a better position for viewing surrounding terrain so you can see who or what is out there.

5.  In or near open space:  This is an important consideration.  Nearby forests or lands heavily covered with dry brush is a recipe for problems. Even if fire is not an immediate danger, smoke can be intrusive and cause health issues.  Open space also gives you room to secure and bury waste and garbage that inevitably accumulates. Open space allows you to shovel and bury waste safety.  Open space allows you to see long distances, thus providing greater security from undesirable elements

6.  Commercial zones:  Somewhat counter-intuitive at first glance, selecting a location in a business area might be preferential since most people seeking shelter and goods would not normally seek it in a commercial zone.  Commercial zones have water taps.  Water is life.  But keep in mind the need for low population density surrounding the commercial zone.

7.  Population considerations:  Drilling a bit deeper into the question of population concentration, you would be best served by being some distance from retail centers, and basically places where people might congregate in large numbers.  Public schools and places that had a high concentration of traffic are best avoided.  Whether you plan to use your space for storage or temporary living quarters, the less traffic and people the better. Immediate access to good roads is important but being off the beaten path is better.

8.  Security:  Security is next to last on the list.  Since virtually all modern self storage places offer security.  You need to assess who has the best offerings, and be aware that with more security comes higher unit costs.  The best options are those buildings with total building fence coverage.  One gate with a  card lock or key pad systems for entry and a people door is a must if all you want is to come and go as you please.  The ability to slow or stop ingress by those who have no right to be on the property is a ‘must have’.  It creates a Hard Target site.  Security is a broad subject, worth of detailed review.

Security Considerations in Detail

Like your home, almost all units have multiple layers of passive security, even if they do not have 24/7 on-site management.  Good locks make good neighbors. A complex manned 24 hours a day is not ideal given one key reason.  If you are staying in your unit, you do not want management to see you living there. Unless you have some sort of handshake agreement with management, finding you living in your unit, even on a temporary basis, is less than optimal.  Selecting a unit with day time management is a good idea.  They are the organic line of defense against trespassers.

But what about the building itself?  Selecting the second story is important for security as well.  It’s less likely to have uninvited visitors. In winter months, it is warmer as well.   Most first floor units are dedicated to larger spaces with roll up doors. That is not best for you.  The most desirable is the unit on the second floor situated on an interior corridor.  That corridor is lighted with solid metal doors at the ends of the hallways and fire doors along the corridors.  Fire doors can be secured at night with a door wedge.  While this is not a locking mechanism, it can keep the door closed and would not attract suspicion if used.

The door to your unit should be a swinging type with a strong latch.  Most doors are a durable metal, thus making the entrance to your unit much stronger than most home doors, even the solid core types.  The only modification you’ll make to this door is a hook or sliding lock to enable you to keep the door secured from the inside at night.

Locking from inside the unit takes a bit of planning.  You need to maintain the appearance that it’s locked from the outside.  The BEST type of lock is the disk. Made of hard metal, this lock is very difficult to peel or break. The hard shell and strong brass key way make this type of lock pick and break resistant.  You are the only person with the key and thus the only one with access to the unit.  Even the owners and managers cannot come and go in your unit. This is an extra layer of security not available in apartments, HOA units, hotels or high rise condos.

The best way to conceal the fact that you are inside is to attach the lock to the hasp but do not slide the bolt fully into the wall slot.  Securing the lock in its locking hole prevents the bolt from being slide in. The door is unlocked but the disk locked in place prevents someone from locking you in but you maintain the appearance of the unit being locked from the outside.

Your minor McGyvering of the inside of the door with either a couple of hooks or sliding bolts gives you the ability to lock door from the inside while appearing to have locked it from the outside. Only a close examination would show otherwise. This isn’t a perfect situation, but adequate given the circumstances.

Cost:  Breaking it down

You always have to cost-justify opinions.  It’s one of the important ways to compare and contrast strategies.  Think along the lines of this Mini Bivy as representing the third garage and fourth bedroom that didn’t come with your house when you bought.  With a Mini Bivy, you don’t have to think about an expensive RV, boat or motor home. You chose a 3 bedroom 2.5 bath 2 car garage because it cost $75,000 less than the upgraded home model.  That  extra $75,000  could easily equate to $700 more in mortgage payments, taxes, maintenance and other home ownership overhead.  That was a sacrifice at the time and probably a wise one.  Consider that one or two units at $150-200 a month and you quickly see how a Mini Binvy can be quite effective.  After long and hard thought, I realized that two units presents the best solution to the living space idea as well as the more pure storage aspect of your Mini Bivy.

Living Considerations

Of the four reasons to have a place like this, the one element that is different from ‘just’ a storage place for your stuff is that living in this space for anything from 3 days to 2 weeks presents logistical challenges that must be addressed. In the simplest terms, you sleep in the larger unit while using the other for bathing and other bodily functions. The best solution for two units is having an adjoining door between the two. The next best is having two side by side.  One unit of 10 by 15 feet is larger that most second bed rooms and bathroom combined.  Two side by side can be on the order of an 8 by 10 foot living and storage space with a 6 x 10 for bathing, storage and bodily functions.

Some might ask, what about ventilation?  The unit doors do not seal tightly. The doors are loose and air flows easily into and out of the unit. All have a single light which allows you to put in a dual lamp outlet with 2 or more electrical plugs.  The door should be sealed at night as light discipline is vital. While noise cannot be eliminated, you can reduce light leakage entirely with weather stripping and duct tape, which also helps keep heat in the room.  The door covering can be a furniture pad, often sold through the storage business or a thick blanket.  These are a couple of the most basic parts of the set up.


Thus far we have established some of the best qualities to consider, location and other reasons setting up your own Mini Bivy makes a lot of sense.  If you see the value to having an offsite location for the bulk of your preps, this provides an excellent solution.  If this unit gives you an extra layer of protection to secure those items most important to you in a Grid Down situation, you know you have a fall back place to store all your stuff and it’s accomplished it’s purpose.

If you set up a temporary Mini Bivy that allows you to move from your home in an emergency you are now even better prepared for the worst that Mother Nature can hand you.  Finally, if you do have other homes, people you want to assist or a rolling home away from home, this site can provide you with a re-supply depot without the constant trips to the store or warehouse for additional supplies.

In the third part of this series, we will be discussing what you might expect after your relocation, as well as the actions you may find yourself taking once you are set up in your Mini Bivy.

Thank you for reading these essays. I hope you enjoy them and find them useful and thought-provoking.


Prepper Jack.


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