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.
Hall got the idea for the project about a decade ago, when he read that the federal government was reinvesting in catastrophe planning, which had languished after the Cold War. During the September 11th attacks, the Bush Administration activated a “continuity of government” plan, transporting selected federal workers by helicopter and bus to fortified locations, but, after years of disuse, computers and other equipment in the bunkers were out of date. Bush ordered a renewed focus on continuity plans, and FEMA launched annual government-wide exercises. (The most recent, Eagle Horizon, in 2015, simulated hurricanes, improvised nuclear devices, earthquakes, and cyberattacks.)
To answer that question, I found myself in the Siloam Cafe in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, seated across from Martin Fletchall, a disabled veteran who says God called him and his family to the Ozarks from Montana. He prefers to be called Fletch. Fletch is in his 40s, wears a white beard, a camouflage hoodie and matching hat and orders toast, eggs and steak, which costs less than $4. He agreed to meet me after a few weeks of exchanging emails and vetting that I wasn’t actually a “social justice warrior.”
Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
Built for the Kill (2001–04) Taboo (2002–13) Explorations (2003–04) Be the Creature (2003–04) Seven Deadly Arts with Akshay Kumar (2004) Interpol Investigates (2004–05) Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan (2004–11) Megastructures (2004–11) Naked Science (2004–11) In the Womb (2005–10) Hunter Hunted (2005–08) Is It Real? (2005–07) Extraterrestrial (2005) Paranormal? (2005) I Didn't Know That (2006) Ultimate Factories (2006–13) Wild (2006–12) Prehistoric Predators (2007–09) Trapped (2007) Critical Situation (2007–08) Lockdown (2007) DogTown (2008–10) Big, Bigger, Biggest (2008–11) Planet Mechanics (2008) Perilous Journeys (2008–13) World's Toughest Fixes (2008–10) Rescue Ink Unleashed (2009) Alaska State Troopers (2009–15)