Preparing for a Non-Nuclear WWIII on the US Homefront
Europe is potentially on the brink of another continental war, the blame for which can be laid at the feet of the Obama Administration’s ill-conceived backing of a coup in Ukraine. The Moscow-backed president was ousted in the 2014 Maidan Revolution. With a pro-Western government in office, Putin felt threatened and sized Crimea and the first breakaway regions in Eastern Ukraine. That all set the stage for Putin’s second invasion in 2022 and where we are now.
Like something out of a Tom Clancy novel, the NordStream2 pipeline was sabotaged. Even more grotesquely, the United States might have done it to punish Russia and prevent wishy-washy European countries like Germany from running back to Putin, begging for natural gas, when the winter turns cold. Now NATO is barking like a small dog that doesn’t know when to shut up. China is openly broadcasting its intentions towards conquering Taiwan while North Korea rattles its cage.
The point of all this is that we could be at the brink of WWIII. The world already feels like the late 1930s anyway but you never know when it’s actually August in Europe (both world wars began in August/September for those of you who don’t get the reference). A life-altering world crisis could break out virtually overnight and I’ve barely brought China up.
Assuming a more major crisis doesn’t go nuclear, a third world war will have immediate repercussions in the United States that will affect and hurt the average American. These will be far more than refusing to serve borscht, dumping out your vodka, renaming Russian dressing to “Freedom Dressing” or “Liberty Sauce,” and renaming Chinese food “Mainland Taiwanese Cuisine.”
Should things go pear shaped, cyberattack s will certainly occur and will target the American public one way or another. Ransomware attacks may be unleased as governments sanction rogue hacking groups. Blatant state cyberattack s will target infrastructure and to disrupt commercial business operations. We have seen the effect of large food operations shutdown by malware in the last 1-2 years.
Unlike my nuclear war/EMP novels, not all enemy action on our shores will be nuclear or even kinetic. Attacks causing technological rollbacks in the United States will be the main way the homeland is affected. Prepare for life to suddenly return to the 1980s. That means cash, no cell phones, and no Internet. We’ll survive just fine but someone the younger and dumber people will have a hard time adjusting.Money
Expect to return to using cash for all purchases. Don’t rely on electronic payments as credit/debit systems may be down. Use cash instead of relying on debit/credit cards and certainly not paying with your phone (Apple Pay, Google Pay, Venmo, etc.). Pull cash out of the ATM, enough for two weeks’ worth of expenses (groceries, gas, and other things you buy in person). If you can sock away more, do it. Keep small bills on hand as business may not be able to make change for large bills. Order paper checks if you don’t have any just in case you need to make large purchases or pay bills by mail.
I wouldn’t worry about your bank balance going to zero because this information is backed up and cyberattacks are likely intended to hinder usage of the system, not destroy information. Saving your last statement can’t hurt but won’t help if the entire banking system is trashed. A total loss of banking data means the loss of the digital banking system, so your paper records are worthless if the bank no longer has its zeros and ones.
Even if an EMP happens, cash will probably still be king for some time. Why? Not many people carry large amounts of cash anymore. ATMs run out quickly and many bank branches have, at most, a few tens of thousands of dollars in cash available. If you want a large cash withdrawal, banks often have to arrange it. Most branches have around $15,000-20,000 on hand at any one time.
Your gold and silver coins won’t necessarily be accepted right away or as freely as you might think. Most people won’t recognize or accept it as payment. You can’t eat silver and gold so someone trying to barter the gasoline you need in exchange for food won’t want your Krugerrands if edibles can’t be had at any price. Precious metals should only be used for wealth preservation in a true end-of-the-world situation, a hedge against hyperinflation, or as a tertiary means of saving excess wealth. Never go into hock for precious metals or put them before food/ammo stockpiles.Communications and information
Have an AM/FM radio (preferably shortwave capabilities too) to gather news. If you can receive over-the-air TV in your area, get an antenna. Cable, satellite, and streaming TV may go down but broadcast TV will probably remain up. Radio certainly will be a working, viable source of information.
Cell phones may not work and even your old POTS phone on the wall probably won’t work. Virtually all landline networks have been upgraded to digital systems that could be taken down through various means or even a power outage. Have radios to communicate with friends/family around town. CB radios are one option because they are still rather ubiquitous. I suggest GMRS because the license requires no test, is $35 for 10 years, approval is 1-2 business days, and it covers your whole family.
GMRS compatible radios will range from the FRS bubble pack radios at Walmart to programmable units that will take better antennas and work GMRS repeaters. They also interface with Baofeng radios. You can put a 50 watt unit at home as a base station or in the car. Handheld units work fairly well across level urban terrain up to three miles with a better antenna. I cover the entry-level radio options and what you can do with GMRS in detail in my book Basic SHTF Radio.
Back up any data you have on your computers on to archival grade DVDs, external hard drives, or thumb drives. Keep multiple and update them on different days. This is to avoid data becoming infected or corrupted by “zero day” viruses that a malign nation-state might release to harm an enemy’s personal computers. If one day’s backup is infected, you can use another day’s clean one. Always run a good anti-virus program (I use ESET).Travel
If a crisis is imminent, avoid traveling long distances. Stay within a gas tank of home if driving and don’t fly anywhere. Go home early if you have to. Consider evacuating before the crisis begins in earnest and everyone else wants to evacuate. A strained highway network and empty gas stations make a nightmare scenario.
Have paper maps. Satellite attacks or disruption to the GPS and cell networks will disable turn-by-turn directions. A paper map of your local area, anywhere you may need to travel, and any potential bug-out routes will replace GPS navigation and electronic maps. Do not rely on your phone. Even older maps will have basic streets and routes, especially in older areas without a lot of recent development.
Fill up your vehicle’s tank, keep it above ½ a tank at all times, and fill up your portable fuel cans as well. Fuel prices will likely skyrocket in the event of a war and refineries may be targeted for kinetic or cyber attacks. Plus everyone else will panic and buy gas. Get your gas cans before people start panic buying. Also consider storing propane if you use that as it will face similar supply challenges.Electricity
The electrical grid could fail. This may be due to cyberattacks (very likely) or kinetic attacks. The average person is well aware of the potential impact a person with a rifle can have on a substation. These well-placed shots disable critical equipment. A handful of sleeper cells could do this all over the country and cause outages that might take weeks to repair. Sabotage may damage long distance transmission lines. Whole power plants might be struck if submarine launched cruise missiles are used (unlikely).
A cyberattack on the US power grid is the most probable attack vector on electricity (or other utilities). This would be intended to demoralize Americans, hamper industrial production, and delay military movements. Communications would suffer and so would commerce. The economic damage of having large parts of the country dark and unable to work would really hurt.
If you do not have a generator, get one ASAP. Have one large enough to at least charge some devices and keep a small fridge/freezer cold. Don’t let your frozen food go to waste in the event the electrical grid goes down. For critical devices, get battery operated models and plenty of rechargeable batteries. A small scale, portable solar system is not a bad idea either. All of these are quick purchases that can be made locally.
Battery packs, both large and small, can be charged off a generator, solar power, or a vehicle inverter. Large packs can power small household appliances and serve as a reservoir for what a solar system might produce. Battery backups like Goal Zero or computer APS systems can charge on off-grid power between brownouts. Small booster packs can power cell phones, tablets, and games for children. Rechargeable batteries like the Eneloop brand are cost-effective, efficient, and are better than stockpiling tons of single-use batteries.
Food and stuff
Fill your pantry. Ordering and shipping systems for the food and grocery sector may be badly disrupted; recall the ransomware attacks on several food processors in 2021. Russia or China will certainly do this in order to mess with the US economy and scare the public. While nothing is going to happen to the food, working around a dysfunctional computer system may cause huge issues in getting deliveries to your local stores.
Food shortages as part of a cyber or traditional war will likely be a lot worse than in 2020. Random things will go missing for reasons ranging from hacking, messed up orders, or delays in distribution. Staples will face panic buying. Scared shoppers will be looking to stock up and raid the shelves. Quantity limits may be put in place to stop hoarding and limit the ability to stock up.
If store-level rationing begins, you must shop daily at multiple stores. Switch it up so that each store thinks you are just doing your normal once-a-week shopping with them. Buy what you can find when you can find it. Consider buying items you wouldn’t buy normally to barter with.
When you get home, hide what you purchased. Most Americans have about three days worth of food on hand. After that, people become desperate. Do not let your neighbors know that you are a prepper. Don’t tell them that you’ve stocked up, what you bought, or allow them to see your pantry. An inconsequential thing as seeing a garage shelf full of food may come to mind when they are desperate enough to break in and steal from you.
You cannot afford to save the neighborhood. Do not offer to give out food even if you have some to spare. Find a way to anonymously give, such as through a food bank. Perhaps, coming home from the grocery store, you can claim that you went shopping and were able buy a little bit extra. You must appear to be hurting as badly as they are.
Have some bottled and stored water put aside. The taps are almost certainly not going to run dry. Worst case scenario, cyberattacks damage water treatment plants or pumping facilities and it takes a week or two for the damage to be undone, creating a temporary water shortage. Contingency water supplies should be kept on hand. Yet, escalation and shortages can conspire to make a hysterical panic turn into a dire situation. Let’s say a nuclear war showed up on the horizon and the freaks that bought out the bottled water for no reason in 2020 had already emptied the shelves now that you need it?
Fill any prescriptions and consider talking to your doctor (sooner rather than later) about getting an extra 30-90 day supply of medication. China makes a lot of medication and that flow will stop if there is a war. Supplies from other Asian countries like India may also be disrupted by cyberattacks, sunk shipping, or port attacks.
In the event of a war with China, buy any cheap Chinese stuff you need now. That includes things like Baofeng radios or new electronic appliances. The stuff might not be made in China, but components may come from there and unrest in the region may affect shipping from other countries like South Korea and Japan.
Remember this could include stuff like water bottles and plastic bowels from Walmart and Taiwanese products. There are probably a few weeks in the supply chain for stuff that has already sailed clear of any conflict zone before it is sold out, but demand will be high and supplies short with a very-long lead time on re-stocking. Sequential effects will cause issues with other product lines, such as how the chip shortage led to the new and used car shortages.
War on US soil
Foreign troops are not going to be landing on US soil. No country has the sealift capacity we do to get enough marines or soldiers across the sea to land here. As weak as the US military has become, we could at least defend our shores against a landing party. Amphibious invasion fleets are very noticeable targets that would take weeks to cross very perilous oceans. Not to mention every red-blooded American would love to play “Red Dawn.”
Special forces raids are, on the other hand, quite possible. Targets beyond military bases would include undersea communication cable landing stations, satellite control/receiving facilities, data centers, power plants, electrical substations, and natural gas facilities, among others. Terrorist attacks against the population are not outside the realm of possibility, nor would foreign intelligence officers stirring up domestic political unrest.
Military bases could see small-scale acts of sabotage, infiltration, or guerilla-style attacks. Hit-and-run raids might occur to damage aircraft or kill gate guards to harm morale. More serious attacks could target naval ships at anchor, fuel storage, or weapons storage areas. Targeted assassinations may occur against high-ranking officers or specialist military personnel. If you are in the military, work on base, or live immediately adjacent to one, begin to consider possible effects.
Martial law may also result. I have a chapter on this subject in my book Suburban Warfare but suffice it to say that the military can exercise very broad powers in the realm of national defense. Homeowners near a military base may be evacuated or subject to search. Checkpoints could be put up anywhere there is a national security need or whole areas of, say, the West Coast declared off-limits.Conclusion
In conclusion, preparedness for WWIII affecting the mainland US is about redundancy and self-reliance. Rationing’s limitations were overcome or eased through storing up, gardening, and bartering. We lived in a world without the vast array of technological advances and can do so again with some adjustment. The main survival key is a positive attitude and willingness to adapt. Build your cushion now while you can because it looks like the window is rapidly closing.
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office and author of Nuclear Survival in the Suburbs, suburban/rural defensive guides, and several post-apocalyptic novels. Visit www.donshift.com.