Discovery Channel TV Series: The Colony - Week Nine

This is the ninth installment in a series of 10 articles about the Discovery Channel Series The Colony [airing Tuesdays at 10PM ET/PT], which follows 10 volunteers living in a simulated post-catastrophic environment.


In last night’s episode, the Colonists have almost reached their breaking point as their food, water, and other essential supplies continue to dwindle. An angry internal conflict develops, and marauding foes start to harass them from outside the warehouse, pushing the Colonists to work even harder on their scout vehicle and an escape truck. In order to survive, the Colonists believe, they must leave their temporary warehouse refuge and look for more sustainable resources and a safer place to live in what is now a vast and, to them, unknown wasteland “outside.”

The Colony experiment started with the question of whether 10 strangers could rebuild a working society in the wake of a global catastrophe – and not only survive and function, but maybe even thrive (however that optimistic but rather vague word might be defined). More than eight weeks later, the Colonists already have been exposed to a myriad of dangers and challenges that most Americans, even under the best of circumstances, would find exceptionally difficult. Now, as the experiment winds down (only one episode remains), the volunteers have learned, and have imparted to the program’s viewers, many valuable lessons for surviving a globally catastrophic disaster. Many of those lessons have come directly from the projects and tools the Colonists themselves designed and built for survival.

They started with little more than the clothes on their backs and a small amount of food and water, but their multifaceted skills as a group – combined with sometimes incredible ingenuity, hard work by all hands, and a strong instinct for survival – have improved their lot substantially. At the nine-week mark, despite the junk and scraps of former civilization all around them, the volunteers have repurposed, refashioned, and recycled their way into a meager but at least “livable” existence. To date, the Colonists have completed some truly amazing projects, including, but not limited to, the following:

  • Creating a continuing source of filtered water – With only contaminated water from the Los Angeles River and/or rain runoff to drink, the team built a working water- filtration system using cheese cloth, playground sand, and crushed charcoal.
  • Securing a reliable and continuing power supply – The Colony team took advantage of the abandoned cars and car batteries found in and around the warehouse to create a power storage cell. They started by converting the stored DC energy into AC household current by passing it through a power inverter they also had found. They then were able to charge the bank of batteries by creating a generator out of an old pressure washer and a car alternator. Later, using some scavenged solar panels, they were able to harness an efficient and renewable source of energy to power the warehouse lighting system and use the power tools (which they also found in the warehouse) to start and/or continue most of their other projects.
  • Building a wood-fired gasifier – Using a century-old technology (that was commonly used in Europe during WWII), the team created gas from wood, and used the gas to fuel their generators; they are now using the same technology to fuel the vehicles they plan to drive in making their escape from the warehouse.
  • Building ovens and stoves – Instead of using wasteful and inefficient open fires, the Colonists used old barrels, scrap metal, pipes, and bricks – all of which they found either in the warehouse or in the large yard just outside the warehouse – to build not only “hobo stoves” but also brick ovens in which they could prepare their food.
  • Building a solar-heated shower – One of the few luxuries the Colonists gave themselves was to devise a way by which each of them could take a short but socially (and perhaps medically) desirable, and at the same time energizing, hot shower. By combining the abundant heating power of the sun with the force of gravity, the team used an old water heater – which they had lifted to the roof of the warehouse – as a water-storage and -heating device. They even captured the gray-water runoff from the shower to water the vegetables they were growing in their garden.

The principal lesson learned from the preceding examples is simply this: What might appear to be junk or garbage that the average American citizen would today normally discard, the Colonists used to take a second look at how the same items could be turned into survival resources. An old fan, a bag of sand, a car battery, an empty 50-gallon drum, a stack of wood pallets, or even a half-full propane tank may at some date in the distant (or perhaps near) future become the keys to personal or group survival in the wake of a global catastrophe.

Additional information on each of these projects, and other survival tools the Colonists built, can be found at:

Adam Montella

Adam Montella is vice president of homeland security and preparedness services for Previstar Inc. and a nationally known emergency-management and homeland-security professional with more than 23 years direct experience in both government and the private sector. He served as the first general manager of emergency management for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in the period following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and has served in many other emergency-management positions at all levels of government. A former member of the House Operations Recovery Team of the U.S. House of Representatives and of numerous local, state, national, and international emergency management associations, he also is a well known public speaker in his chosen field and a former recipient of Harvard University’s prestigious Innovations in American Government Award.



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