Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”
During the dinner rush, the Pizza Hut on Glenstone Avenue is a kinetic juxtaposition: fast-moving people behind the counter, slow-moving people in front of it. Carbohydrate osmosis, I assumed. Earlier that afternoon in the Starbucks down the road, Randall told me Andrew:’s meetup group might be here. He’d been hosting meetups in the gymnasium of the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Belview Avenue, but the church disinvited the preppers after clergy leader and RN Janis Hall witnessed Andrew: deliver a scathing diatribe against modern medicine. But here, judging by the veterans’ hats, overalls and waistband cell phone holsters crowding the salad bar, I knew I was in the right place.
This group is concerned with the spread of fatal diseases, biological agents, and nerve gases, including swine flu, E. coli 0157, botulism, dengue fever, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, SARS, rabies, Hantavirus, anthrax, plague, cholera, HIV, ebola, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, sarin, and VX. In response, they might own NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) full-face respirators, polyethylene coveralls, PVC boots, nitrile gloves, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Over the years, Huffman has become increasingly concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest. He said, “Some sort of institutional collapse, then you just lose shipping—that sort of stuff.” (Prepper blogs call such a scenario W.R.O.L., “without rule of law.”) Huffman has come to believe that contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work. While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”
Ten months after the election, “Hillary For Prison” shirts have yet to go out of style, but what sells at any given show largely depends on what’s going on in the world that week. “I have noticed the radiation guys across from us this week,” says Mike Nocks, owner of Lebanon’s White Harvest Seed Company and one of the show’s guest speakers. “In years past, I haven’t seen much radiation stuff, but since the Korean guy has been doing more nuclear stuff, I’m seeing more interest in nuclear detectors.”
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Monetary disaster investors believe the Federal Reserve system is fundamentally flawed. Newsletters suggest hard assets of gold and silver bullion, coins, and other precious-metal-oriented investments such as mining shares. Survivalists prepare for paper money to become worthless through hyperinflation. As of late 2009 this is a popular scenario. Many will stockpile bullion in preparation for a market crash that would destroy the value of global currencies.
Every year in the US about 150 people die while out and about in national parks, more than 1,000 die in hunting-related incidents and thousands of backcountry enthusiasts get in deep trouble and require a Search and Rescue team to save them; with dozens of those folks dying while awaiting rescue. Most fatalities are the result of poor preparation. Bad weather descends and people get lost. They wander without water or shelter, often injuring themselves in the process. If they survive they often suffer frostbite, hypothermia, dehydration, trench foot or some combination of them all.
This past September, Wise Company’s products proved lifesaving in a very urgent sense: Strapped for rations following the double whammy of Harvey in Texas and Irma in South Florida, FEMA placed an order for 2 million servings of food to relieve Maria’s victims in Puerto Rico. On a typical day, though, its selection of 72-hour, one-week, and one-month survival kits, packaged in boxes that can easily fit under a bed, seems more geared toward everyday Americans looking to prepare for the unknown.
Then, for two hours, Andrew: just tells stories. The time he went after Jesse James’ buried treasure, the time he was held at gunpoint while prospecting for gold, the time an 8-inch centipede fell on him while caving in Japan—each story adorned with cliffhangers and near misses. Andrew: can talk. If he couldn’t, Darryl, a regular attendee, would’ve napped for longer than he did.
Stories like this, according to Charles, happen often when "sh—t hits the fan." One prepared person warns others in the run-up to a potentially dangerous event and others don't listen, expecting someone — the government or a friendly neighbor — to provide during a disaster. It's what Charles calls "the entitlement problem," a phenomenon talked about ad nauseam on prepper blogs and websites.
There are two scenarios everyone—prepper or not—should count on: losing power and being stranded in your car. I’m a big believer in backup power. I keep an emergency power supply plugged into an outlet in my apartment; it has a trickle charger so I can forget about it until my block goes dark. In my car, I keep extra blankets, a LifeStraw portable water filter, lighters, and Millennium energy bars. It’s not the Four Seasons, but at least my family will be able to survive 48 hours in our Honda Pilot. One thing to consider: You need to be with your gear when a disaster strikes. When Sandy hit in 2012, our whole family was in Connecticut while all my gear was in Manhattan. My wife had a good laugh. These days, my everyday bag is a waterproof Showers Pass backpack where I stash a small set of screwdrivers, multitool, glass breaker, three flashlights that use the same type of batteries, and a spool of Kevlar thread, all sorted in plastic bags. There’s a spoon and fork in there, too, because if I have to eat an MRE for dinner, I might as well look civilized while I do it.—Wylie Dufresne, Michelin-starred Chef, Owner Of Du’s Donuts, Prepper