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Going Stealth When Using Generators: Lessons From Venezuela

Avatar for Jose Martinez Jose Martinez  |  Updated: December 26, 2019
Going Stealth When Using Generators: Lessons From Venezuela

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Good times and bad times come and go. There is a hidden lesson, behind everything that occurs to us. In my life, lessons may have been few, but very powerful.

I´ve been shaken all over the place, just like Di Caprio in that movie with the bear. And didn´t get any awards, neither.

I´ve seen very close to me, how miserable some people can be in their behavior to others. Especially those who thought they had power in their hands and exerted it with cruelty towards those who, like me, just tried to do our job in the national oil industry.

We were just put aside, while people without minimal technical competencies were promoted to supervisory positions, just to function as political commissaries.

This degree of organization and purging is typical of some regimes

. We didn’t have a clue this is what we would have to deal with. We started to reject it, but it was already too late.

Those who fought harder saw themselves deeply affected, even with the justice on their side. 

Nowadays, the good news is, we the ex-pats have received a few rewards. A couple of those old fools who made it impossible for us, a group of highly skilled and trained engineers to pursuit a decent career, have contacted one of the members of my former group of colleagues (we’re still in close contact).

And you won’t believe this. The morons are asking for help to those of us who are in exile, to find JOBS for their sons, daughters, and relatives abroad in the countries we are living in because they can’t keep feeding themselves back in the homeland under the current economy with a state job wage. An economy they worked so hard to destroy the way it was. Go figure. 

With a big smile after learning that awesome news (sorry, I’m the kind of person who enjoys seeing those suffer that destroyed his life), I sat down, relaxed and prepared some coffee, and started to think about what income means could I have had if I had I stayed put. Because yes I sometimes dedicate a few minutes to extrapolate about what could have happened if I haven’t traveled abroad.

I refuse to be a poor migrant. My skills, mind setup, adaptability, and approach to a wide range of situations, added to my previous prepping, surely could have allowed me to overcome most of the situations I had. The only health issues I’ve had were generated here, me being along, and stressed to the limit. But that is another story.  

This long introduction is only meant to open your eyes so you can understand the attitude and behavior of the people who very likely will be roaming in the streets after or while the collapse is occurring. There will be some pockets where the situation won’t be that bad, but won’t be too many, and perhaps far away from each other. More about that in the next articles. 

Not all of your neighbors may be good.

Let´s go on topic now. I´m sure there is plenty of preppers around there with generators and a huge fuel tank. Many of us even with a propane system as a backup. Great. We all agree that, under some type of threat, and the power grid is shut down in our nearby area, we´ll turn on our generator, and start to count how many hours it´s on, and check the fuel level every few hours.

Hopefully, you´ll have a battery rack large enough to have some lights and heating on for a while, when the generator is off to save fuel. It should be possible to replenish the tank, after all. This will depend, of course, on every different situation. I know something for real: we can´t prep for everything.

But we can prepare for some general situations that are going to generate some type of scarcity. The difficult part here, and I speak from my own experience, is the calculation of how much time that contingency is going to last.

We were more or less prepared for civilian turmoil and general disorder that could make us bugging in. Time proved us wrong. Dangerously wrong. I´ve mentioned this in other articles, though. Let´s keep going with this. 

Cool. Let´s picture the following scenario now. Something nasty happened (God forbid and you, dear readers, remain protected from all evil), and we´re forced to start our shiny, perhaps brand new, well-maintained and trusty generator.

If we´re lucky to have prepared everything as it should have been done, most of our neighbors are not going to find out we have a generator running. There is an old ancient saying, which goes “A good neighbor is a treasure”. Chinese should know about this. Jeez, back on its day, a few homes away, we had some neighbors that we didn´t want to even know who we were.

Time proved us right. The owner´s daughter found herself a lowlife of a “boyfriend” with…” connections”, so to speak, with guys so ugly, I wouldn´t poke with a stick through a cage.

Therefore, the good neighbors are trustable ones living at a decent distance, and able to mind their own business, helpful and willing to receive a helping hand too. But if your neighbors see you´re sleeping with your air conditioning/fan watching movies in your DVD/surround system like if nothing has happened, while they toast themselves suffering mosquitoes bite all night long…trust me, this is going to generate bad feelings. It´s understandable, not acceptable, but it´s going to happen.

I´ve seen it. I had a gorgeous wife, a beautiful motorcycle, a good SUV, and a lovely family. Even when there were other guys in a much better financial situation than we did, we were happy with what we had, because we didn´t need that much. That made us being targeted with plenty of jealousy and envy.  

Being this said, let´s narrate what happened in some places in the worst of the (carefully engineered at first, and now a total mess because of the lack of especially labor-qualified personnel) collapse of the power grid. It is working half speed, nowadays, indeed, thanks to the stopping of a huge percentage of the industries, and the 5 million less of people consuming electricity. 

Let’s see another reason if you allow me:

A loud generator can mask someone´s arrival

It´s astonishing to learn how silence can rule over the land when there is no electricity. When we were still living in Venezuela, the worst of the blackouts (even for me, a lover of peace and quiet) was the silence. It was good for some purpose, though, because sometimes it would allow to detect early presence of undesirable or threatening individuals, like those running in small Chinese motorbikes all over the place, with two guys, the one in the backseat generally armed with a 9mm or a .38 revolver. Those would rob everyone within their reach.

Once a small engine motorcycle is detected, everyone looks for getting out the way in Venezuela. If your generator is too loud, you won´t hear inside your home what can be happening outside, and we can’t be monitoring our CCTV surveillance cameras (and if you don´t have them, get them. Now, when they´re on the cheap, and PLEASE conceal them. Don´t be a smart a$$ and leave them in the open as a “deterrent” to someone knocks them down with a silenced .22 and blind your eyes outside). If you are nearby the sound source it´s very likely you won´t be able to hear anything going on around. This is a very powerful reason to think carefully about where we put money in. There are quite expensive generators, liquid-cooled, where the coolant act as a soundproof layer, and with specially designed casings to quieten the sound. Of course, you can imagine how expensive these machines are. They worth it, though, for those who can´t or won´t bug out to a secluded location and prefer to stay put in their place. I can accept that.  

Let´s elaborate now with the 3rd reason. 

You´re going to be targeted sooner or later

This is true. The reasons for the collapse are plentiful. These reasons are based on geopolitics, and I need to make a huge effort to avoid analyzing from that approach. So, let´s focus on the consequences. 

The lasting of the longest blackout was 80 hours. 8-10 million of people without the ability to communicate, without power, nor any kind of power generation. For 3 days in a row. Many of them were even more time after that 80 hours, but they were fewer people.  

I received reports of many people all over the country. The nature of our collapse has been slow. The destruction of the power grid has been progressive and steady. Somehow predictable, so to speak. No wonder why the migration movement has been so massive. However, not everyone was willing or had the need to migrate.

With my particular approach, I didn´t migrate. I bugged out. Some people, as usual, simply tried to get something out of the situation. Everyone´s got the right to put some food on their table.

Some side business was generated while the country was sinking into the shadows.  Business owners with large generators and fridge started to work with open doors, and big signs “Ice for Sale – 10$ a bag”. BIG mistake. 

In the worst part of the blackouts, in several cities, like Maracaibo, people trying to make some income this ice selling, cold drinking water, beverages, and other stuff was quickly targeted by the self-called “authorities”. They immediately were stomped on (“treason to the Venezuelan people and speculation”, were the charges), butt-kicked and thrown in jail. 

But this is the really interesting part because I have reports of how they operated to catch those who were under such activity.  

They would locate the noise of the generator, in the dark, silent nights, while patrolling the streets. After that, it became just an armed operation against civilians, executed by military personnel. 

Call it as you prefer. We know what that kind of regime is called. 

These were big generators, suited for business, over 4-5 kW or more. The larger ones were to the governor´s house and other “official” facilities. This is all over social media. There were a lot of people in jail, just because they refused to give their machinery to some anonymous unidentified gang.  

Let´s elaborate a little bit on the lessons learned, OK?

First, this was more patent in larger cities. 3-4 million people cities. The best lesson I can get out of this is: Don’t use a generator in a place where over 10000 people around you do not have power.

But being an engineer (and a stubborn one, with plenty of crazy ideas and always crossing information, tracking back data, and making all kinds of odd relationships) I arrived at the conclusion that it could have been possible to run this equipment more or less undetected. 

Why? Check this out: 

  • Rigging an old, huge, truck silencer, or as I´ve seen in some places around there, an entire setup of a manifold going from the exhaust through a couple of steel barrels filled to the half with some rainwater, to dramatically quiet the hammering of a big generator, was possible. Just some research and trial and error, and detection from someone in the streets, roaming in a car would have been avoided. 
  • There is a lot of materials that could have been used to make a soundproof casing, available for free (remember that cardboard material where eggs came on? It’s still used in Venezuela when eggs can be found). 
  • You don’t need to run the equipment all the time, provided you had large fridges, preferably in the shadow, and certainly not running it at midnight, when you can’t mask the noise. 
  • The selling operation, given the circumstances (and greedy MFers roaming in the street armed with AKs), had to be made underground, cash on hand and through a little steel window. You know what I mean. 
  •  If there’s no alternative and the generator has to be put to work during the day, masking the (already dampened) sound with music could have been another possibility. 

After having read the reports of my friends, acquaintances, and family living there about all of this in real-time, suddenly my love for nickel-iron batteries started to grow exponentially. Especially in a place so sunny like my beloved homeland. With a large generator, a good battery rack and a proper modification to some of the equipment like freezers, plenty of energy can be saved. 

I hope in the future to be able to post some articles with practical, field-tested technical advice. 

Stay tuned, the best is yet to come. 



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9 Responses to “Going Stealth When Using Generators: Lessons From Venezuela”

  1. Dear Hawkeyes,
    In crappy unstable countries (in the 60s commies and guerrilla was a huge problem in Venezuela, that´s why your relatives lived in such a fortress) wealthy people has usually fortified their places. On the other hand, I understand that, but using discretion is as important as that. A high wall means something valuable to protect inside. I´ve seen holes opened by thugs with a small hammer, coming at night and working as silently as they can, to open a hole in a cement wall just to peep inside, and see what can be stolen. Using our brain is the best defense.

  2. Buenos Dias Jose! Feliz Navidad! For 20 years two of my relatives lived in Caracas. He was a supervisor for a drilling company working on Lake Maracaibo. He was there for 20 years pumping oil out of one end of the lake, filling tankers and moving the oil to the other end and pumping it into salt domes. Twenty years! Can you imagine how much oil that was? And where is it now? Probably still there. Yes, he was working for “that” company. You know what I mean. And this was in the 60’s.

    Their home was a “villa”, surrounded by a 3 meter rock wall, topped off with broken glass and they had 24/7 armed guards. That was 60 years ago. I can only partially imagine what the difference of then and now is. But, the emergence of americanos even back then would cause problems. Especially “wealthy” americanos.

    I can only say to you Jose that I feel proud that you are still surviving. You and your family. From reading your articles I have the feeling that you will survive. Your family will survive. You have the will and knowledge. And I feel that you can be a royal pain in the a$$ to the dumb-butts making your life not so fun. Thumbs up, mi amigo. I read and remember your writings. Keep safe and watch your six.

  3. Hi Jose,
    Good to read your articles in other locations. I didn’t know you were on patreon. What is your channel called. Good article on generators. We have one and it is so noisy.

  4. Dear Darrel,
    Please watch this links I found in my research

    I did not dare to provide them in the article for the following reason: in Venezuela we have high temperatures, and leaving a generator working at full sunlight is to kill it, in the first place. On the other hand, making a soundproof enclosure would increase the risk of fumes generation and later accumulation inside the enclosure, and a potential risk of explosion, even with what we engineers call forced ventilation (fan induced). This could be done in both sides, though, with a couple of 12V fans running with the same genset 12V outputs. Many small or medium size gensets are not water cooled but air cooled, and these are the ones where we must guarantee good amount of airflow. However, your suggestion will be taken in account and as soon as I can come back to my house (I had to leave for a while because of a family situation), one of my articles will be dedicated to this, because it’s quite necessary for me. It’s going to need internal temperature measurements, and some way to measure the amount of fumes accumulation inside the box, in order to it operate with the less amount of risk possible, but it can be done. This will be published possible first week in March 2020.
    Stay tuned!.

  5. This comment is for Darrell. What I’ve done here at my house may work for someone else. I only have a Predator 2000 watt inverter generator I purchased from Harbor Freight. It’s pretty quiet on it’s own. I figured when the power goes out, I can run the fridge and window ac during the summer. In the winter I can run the pump for the hot water radiator for heat. I also can charge 210 AH battery bank with it. Thinking about getting at least 200 watts of solar panels just for the battery bank.

    Anyways, getting back to your concern of making a generator quite. I thought about how I can make the generator even quieter. When I re shingled the roof, I put in a pipe that from the outside looks like a vent pipe for the house plumbing. I attached the generator with flex pipe and hose clamps to that extra pipe. The exhaust is shot through the pipe straight up into the air at approximately 35′ above ground. I can’t hear the thing running with the second floor window open. And I can’t hear the thing running from the ground at all. I do have a carbon monoxide detector in the attic and another in the second floor. Have tested the set up and works well for my situation.

    Looking on the internet people have attached car mufflers to larger 5 -8 kw generators to suppress sound. Some have made insulated boxes that cover the generators to suppress sound and to protect them from rain. Where theirs a will,, theirs a way.

    P.S. I chose a small generator that was already quite and fuel efficient. I only have 30 gallons of fuel set aside and try and keep both cars as full as possible at all times. Rotate fuel out into my main work car to keep fuel fresh. it’s a little extra work, but provides some peace of mind. Hope you figure out something for your situation.

  6. A lot of interesting information but would have liked more specific info on quieting generators. Or at least some links to good content on making a generator quieter.

  7. Hi Jose,
    I can fully relate to your experience. I live in a country just north of the collapse spectrum of Venezuela and Zimbabwe. My advice for people with generators is to silence it of course, but to never run it at night. Only run it during the noisy hours of the day, but only for as long as is required to keep the fridge cold enough and to charge some essential batteries. I keep on buying small, seemingly useless, garden path solar lights when available and bring them inside the house during nighttime power outages. They work just fine and dont solicit undue attention from the thugs.
    Good luck to you and stay safe.

    • Dear tripple dot,
      Thanks for that awesome comment. Indeed, it is a good, cheap way to light for some time. However, I have found that their batteries won’t last long under everyday usage. I’m working in a few useful designs, and once they are field tested for some time, will publish blueprints for my patreons, or will assembly and ship. My designs will be focused in low tech, affordability and a long service time, specially made for preppers.
      Stay tuned!

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