Lots of people ask where should you go in an apocalypse, but I have a different sort of question. In a post-apocalyptic world destroyed by WW3 (nuclear warfare, anarchy and the like) If you were in a small group of survivors with ages of 14 to almost fifty on the outskirts of a city, where and how could a base be constructed?


  • Can be constructed from easily attainable resources

  • Suitable for long term survival (Not just a lifetime... GENERATIONS)

  • Can support 20 people

  • Defensible against other people with improvised or scavenged weapons.

  • Expandable in case of greater populations

NOTE: Electricity is not an option unless you figure out a way to generate it. Please inform me if you are in need of more specifications.

  • $\begingroup$ Was there anything important I forgot to mention? $\endgroup$ Oct 8 '16 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ The book and trilogy The Rule of Three: ericwalters.net/novels/the-rule-of-three might offer some ideas. $\endgroup$
    – makeworld
    Oct 8 '16 at 16:10
  • $\begingroup$ You should clarify if you want to defend against a close nuclear strike (e.g. against a leadership target in the city center) or just anarchy. And does your story envision defense against government forces trying to impose martial law? $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    Oct 8 '16 at 16:24
  • $\begingroup$ Can you expand a little on the exact type of dangers you must defend from? If that's part of the question, I can suggest what I think are the most likely sources of danger, but if you have a specific threat profile in mind we'll want to work with that. $\endgroup$
    – hexagon
    Oct 8 '16 at 17:08
  • $\begingroup$ I do not think #2 is feasible. $\endgroup$ Oct 8 '16 at 19:59

The classic "motte and bailey" fortification would still work in this situation. Basically a central building surrounded by a wall. Placement is key, it has to be up on a hill or other defensible earthwork. Since this can be made of wood, just a few people with chainsaws could construct it in a few weeks. If they have access to a small bulldozer or cat then they could heap up earth to form the motte very quickly. Of course using concrete or cinder-blocks would be better, but they would need access to those supplies. Since you want this to be a long term fortification, it needs to be placed where there is water, preferably a well INSIDE the walls so it will be secure in the event of a siege. Access needs to be controlled, either via an open and easily watched approach or by a double gate system (only one door is open at a time so visitors can be examined and searched prior to getting inside).

Another option, especially if the geography isn't favorable to the M&B, is something like Fort Caslop (build by the Lewis and Clarke expedition). Basically a C shaped building with a gate closing off the "C", making a protected courtyard. The exterior walls have narrow windows to allow for defensive fire. This was built by a handful of men with axes and saws, so well within the capability of your group.

Are guns/explosives still around? Explosives will make short work of anything with wooden, and even stone, walls. In that case you need sloped earthen walls that can absorb an explosive blast or at least deflect incoming solid projectiles. Guns mean snipers. So you will need to clear EVERYTHING from around your fortification. No trees, bushes, small buildings, NOTHING for at least 500 meters around. This way you can enter and leave with little risk of getting shot and no one can approach undetected.

Using an existing structure would save you a ton of time. Big buildings with few windows out in more remote areas are what you are looking for. Fortunately warehouses and distribution centers fit this criteria. Find where grocery stores and places like Sam's Club get their stuff. Usually some big building on the outskirts of a city, away from residential areas, with easy highway access. The buildings are large, have an open layout inside, and have few or no windows but have long loading bays with rolling doors. Then you can reinforce the entry points, guard the access road, and put observation windows wherever you want. Of course without electricity to run the A/C things will get hot in the summer but hopefully you have a little nuclear winter going on to help with that :) You can even add skylights to let in sunlight so you can grow plants indoors (assuming there is any sunlight). Collect the rain water runoff in cisterns (if it is potable and not filled with radioactive fallout).

  • $\begingroup$ If a few people with chainsaws can built it, a few other people with chainsaws can chop it down rather quickly. $\endgroup$
    – Innovine
    Oct 11 '16 at 14:59
  • $\begingroup$ @Innovine Not if you are shooting them :) Almost impossible for just a few people to build something that is passively impregnable. Any wall can be climbed, any door can be breached. Even something like one of those converted missile silos or mine shafts could be dug into given time and persistence, if the occupants do nothing to stop it. $\endgroup$
    – Jason K
    Oct 11 '16 at 18:41
  • $\begingroup$ This sounds awesome! There is no nuclear winter, so you are right about the A/C. But Suppose you could have some ventilation shafts. As for the other comments above, Jason is right. The only way anyone could get close enough is if there is nobody watching. Also chainsaws are loud so that would be a dead giveaway :) $\endgroup$ Oct 12 '16 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ As a side note about chainsaws, once you have a wooden wall constructed, you could spike it with nails, rebar, or chains to make it much harder to cut. Plus we have modern fire retardant spray as well. Wood is a much more viable long term construction material than in the past (especially if you can use pressure treated wood at least for the base). $\endgroup$
    – Jason K
    Oct 12 '16 at 17:55

Basically you are asking for the design of a fortress.
Obviously, you want to build it around a source of fresh water, or more precisely, a well, since streams can be dammed, poisoned and whatnot.

After that, a lot depends on the ability of your survivors, the tools they have available and are able to use, and the threat they anticipate.

Most of their food source will lie outside the fortress, but living quarters will clearly be inside, as well as storage facilities.

You will want high, robust, forbidding walls on the outside as soon as you can afford to build them, and windows, balconies and whatnot on the inside to make best possible use of daylight.

Most likely you will have one and only one entrance, and you will want this entrance to be as narrow as possible, and you will add defense positions around it.
Everything else is really a question of taste, imagination and possibilities.

So i guess this fortress will change a lot over time. It will grow not only to accomodate a hopefully growing society, but also to reflect the fact that building fortresses takes time.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks you, you have brought some other stuff to mind that I didn't think of. I think you could eventually grow food on the inside however, but while constructing the fort they would have to scavenge so you are right about that. $\endgroup$ Oct 12 '16 at 12:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MeviorAlstrad I don't think it will be feasible to grow food inside your fortress, at least not all of it. Your fortress would grow very large if you did, and most of the time it should not be necessary. $\endgroup$
    – Burki
    Oct 12 '16 at 12:36

I would not go hide in a grocery store because of the large expanses of glass. Imagine what would happen if you came under fire. Schools would be a good idea because they are designed to keep shooters out. The school cafeteria would still have some food in it and you can stock it. Electricity would be tricky.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think you are answering question as asked. Or if you are, you are answering poorly. After apocalypse, schools will have no fresh water. They are not designed and build with generations in mind, not most of them, at least. And outside USA and Near East schools are not built with shooters in mind - most of the world have no need to. Also, how can you imagine food supply? How do you imagine repelling full-blown attack, instead of single-shooter incidents by people not prepared to be opposed? $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Oct 20 '17 at 14:31

The best buildings to repurpose would be records repositories. They are warehouse like structures which are sealed and (so long as there is power) climate controlled. They are generally built out of concrete, are fireproof and have few windows to the outside world. A records repository building in the city where I live is on the outskirts of town and is identifiable from the other buildings in the industrial park by its rather fortress like appearance (even compared to warehouses and light industrial buildings).

Of course being inside one is a bit of a drag, it will be dark and musty (although you will have millions of boxes full of paper records to burn for fuel whenever you ned to cook or heat the place). You will also need to drag in all the supplies you will need for your group, and potentially build a tank or storage pond to hold a sufficient supply of water. Since the repository is likely surrounded by a large fence, you can potentially repurpose the rest of the space (and tear up the parking lot) to create a farm, so your long term survival should also be taken care of.

So be on the lookout for a records repository near where you live or are setting your story. Insurance companies, hospitals and governments all require repositories, so if there is a sizeable hospital or insurance company in the vicinity, it is likely there is a repository nearby as well. Government repositories will come in all sizes, from small "county records office" structures to elaborate underground fortresses in salt formations for federal records.

  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like the building from the first episode of the series that inspired my book: youtube.com/watch?v=y2vSmje7rhQ Only the structure you describe seems much better. Thank you Thucydides! $\endgroup$ Oct 23 '17 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ No problem. However I don't want to find you hanging around inside a repository....get some fresh air! ;-) $\endgroup$
    – Thucydides
    Oct 24 '17 at 3:27

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