One of that era's icons remains — a massive underground bunker designed to protect all 535 members of Congress and their aides against nuclear war. Dug into the Allegheny Mountains at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., it once had 75,000 gallons of water, a power system, medical and food services, 30-ton blast doors, art of the last days of Pompeii and a mural of Washington scenery that was capable of changing leaves on the trees, depending on the season.
He gave out supplies initially, but, when the neighbors returned with a crowd, he explained that he needed the rest for his family. The crowd turned antagonistic. The man scared them off with a shotgun, but it wasn't long before they returned throwing bricks through his windows in retaliation. He left soon after with as much of his emergency supplies as he could carry.
If marauding neighbours, starvation and the putrefaction of family members’ corpses wasn’t harrowing enough, the magazine also obsessed over the threat posed by vermin and feral animals that were expected to roam the nuclear wasteland. “A wounded rat can be very dangerous and may attack while you are trying to reload,” explained one article. “If it is necessary to deal with a pack of rats help may be required.”
At the time, Americans were marvelling at engineering advances—attendees at the 1893 World’s Fair, in Chicago, beheld new uses for electric light—but were also protesting low wages, poor working conditions, and corporate greed. “It was very much like today,” White said. “It was a sense that the political system had spun out of control, and was no longer able to deal with society. There was a huge inequity in wealth, a stirring of working classes. Life spans were getting shorter. There was a feeling that America’s advance had stopped, and the whole thing was going to break.”
Ugh, what a bummer! Your $250,000 underground compound was ready and rarin’ to go, a nuclear bomb was detonated and caused an EMP just like you said it would, but you didn’t get to say “I told you so,” because you died along with all of the idiotic unprepared. Just bad luck you weren’t near your EMP-safe bunker when this happened. You’re there 22 hours of the day, what are the odds? Hey world, I’d like a mulligan please!
Let’s get all the sophomoric jokes out of the way. In this context, the “pocket rocket” moniker refers to an ultralight camp stove that is perfect for backcountry hunters, long-distance hikers, bug-out preppers, and anyone else who may need to cook a hot meal quickly while off the grid. The Pocket Rocket 2 is half the weight of the first version, and it can boil a quart of water in only three and a half minutes. Of course, you’ll need a fuel canister to provide the heat (isobutane-propane fuel canisters are designed to fit this stove, and they offer great temperature and altitude tolerance). Once the self-sealing fuel canister is screwed into place, using the stove is a breeze. The serrated pot-supports can hold a variety of pots and pans. The adjustable flame can go low to simmer food, high for a fast boil, or anywhere in between. You can even use it like a blowtorch to start a stubborn campfire. The stove also comes with a lightweight case for protection, and it easily packs down to store in your cookpot (or your pocket).
People who are not part of survivalist groups or apolitically oriented religious groups also make preparations for emergencies. This can include (depending on the location) preparing for earthquakes, floods, power outages, blizzards, avalanches, wildfires, terrorist attacks, nuclear power plant accidents, hazardous material spills, tornadoes, and hurricanes. These preparations can be as simple as following Red Cross and U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommendations by keeping a first aid kit, shovel, and extra clothes in the car, or by maintaining a small kit of emergency supplies, containing emergency food, water, a space blanket, and other essentials.
“I started saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, what does the government know that we don’t know?’ ” Hall said. In 2008, he paid three hundred thousand dollars for the silo and finished construction in December, 2012, at a cost of nearly twenty million dollars. He created twelve private apartments: full-floor units were advertised at three million dollars; a half-floor was half the price. He has sold every unit, except one for himself, he said.
The 66-year-old tried starting his own spinoff meetup. Ozarks Resilience Group was to be a pragmatic organization that ran drills on real-life scenarios like hiking out of town with a bug-out bag. After six months of nonparticipation, he gave up. Allen estimates there are several hundred “hardcore preppers” in Springfield, but at most, there’s two dozen whom he would trust in an emergency.
Hall led me through the garage, down a ramp, and into a lounge, with a stone fireplace, a dining area, and a kitchen to one side. It had the feel of a ski condo without windows: pool table, stainless-steel appliances, leather couches. To maximize space, Hall took ideas from cruise-ship design. We were accompanied by Mark Menosky, an engineer who manages day-to-day operations. While they fixed dinner—steak, baked potatoes, and salad—Hall said that the hardest part of the project was sustaining life underground. He studied how to avoid depression (add more lights), prevent cliques (rotate chores), and simulate life aboveground. The condo walls are fitted with L.E.D. “windows” that show a live video of the prairie above the silo. Owners can opt instead for pine forests or other vistas. One prospective resident from New York City wanted video of Central Park. “All four seasons, day and night,” Menosky said. “She wanted the sounds, the taxis and the honking horns.”
In the beginning, you might decide to buy food a bit at a time when you make your weekly trip to the grocery store. If you think your budget is just too tight to spend extra money building your reserves, consider this: Skipping the morning latte or the on-the-go-breakfast at the drive-thru can save you $100 a month if you're only spending $5 a day, five days a week. That's about $1,200 a year—plenty to get your emergency supply built up and invest in essential equipment and gear.
When he gets up to show me about his cabin, Pense stands with the height and permanence of the dignified trees that encircle the property. He doesn’t say “um,” or “well”—the slow, deliberate syllables that emanate from his jowls feel like historical record, perhaps with a sprinkle of Americana, but not quite jingoism. Listening to him talk about his life is like having R. Lee Ermey recite your high school American studies textbook, but gentler.
GPS is great but what happens when your battery dies, and you don’t have a portable battery handy? The compass is the one piece of survival gear that will never let you down. Sure, it can’t tell you if there’s a town nearby but it can prevent you from wandering aimlessly in circles. The Eyesky compass is designed specifically to help extricate you from emergency situations. It features conversion charts to measure distances, a rotating bezel ring to determine your heading and adjustable sight lines to plot your course. It’s also built to last. It will take you all of an afternoon to learn how to use the Eyesky compass and it may turn out to be the most valuable afternoon you ever spent.
The movement received another boost from the George W. Bush Administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. Neil Strauss, a former Times reporter, who chronicled his turn to prepping in his book “Emergency,” told me, “We see New Orleans, where our government knows a disaster is happening, and is powerless to save its own citizens.” Strauss got interested in survivalism a year after Katrina, when a tech entrepreneur who was taking flying lessons and hatching escape plans introduced him to a group of like-minded “billionaire and centi-millionaire preppers.” Strauss acquired citizenship in St. Kitts, put assets in foreign currencies, and trained to survive with “nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back.”
Most preppers don’t actually have bunkers; hardened shelters are expensive and complicated to build. The original silo of Hall’s complex was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to withstand a nuclear strike. The interior can support a total of seventy-five people. It has enough food and fuel for five years off the grid; by raising tilapia in fish tanks, and hydroponic vegetables under grow lamps, with renewable power, it could function indefinitely, Hall said. In a crisis, his SWAT-team-style trucks (“the Pit-Bull VX, armored up to fifty-calibre”) will pick up any owner within four hundred miles. Residents with private planes can land in Salina, about thirty miles away. In his view, the Army Corps did the hardest work by choosing the location. “They looked at height above sea level, the seismology of an area, how close it is to large population centers,” he said.
Preppers don't buy that. Jay Blevins, a former deputy sheriff and SWAT officer in Berryville, Va., says social unrest from a financial meltdown could be devastating. He has formed a prepper network of family and friends, people with varying skills such as knifemaking. They'd help one another in such a calamity. He says his Christian faith drives him to help others prepare, and although he is not certain the end is near, he thinks getting prepared is an act of personal responsibility.
Volume 34, 2018 Vol 33, 2017 Vol 32, 2016 Vol 31, 2015 Vol 30, 2014 Vol 29, 2013 Vol 28, 2012 Vol 27, 2011 Vol 26, 2010 Vol 25, 2009 Vol 24, 2008 Vol 23, 2007 Vol 22, 2006 Vol 21, 2005 Vol 20, 2004 Vol 19, 2003 Vol 18, 2002 Vol 17, 2001 Vol 16, 2000 Vol 15, 1999 Vol 14, 1998 Vol 13, 1997 Vol 12, 1996 Vol 11, 1995 Vol 10, 1994 Vol 9, 1993 Vol 8, 1992 Vol 7, 1991 Vol 6, 1990 Vol 5, 1989 Vol 4, 1988 Vol 3, 1987 Vol 2, 1986 Vol 1, 1985