At seventy-seven, living on a tugboat in Sausalito, Brand is less impressed by signs of fragility than by examples of resilience. In the past decade, the world survived, without violence, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; Ebola, without cataclysm; and, in Japan, a tsunami and nuclear meltdown, after which the country has persevered. He sees risks in escapism. As Americans withdraw into smaller circles of experience, we jeopardize the “larger circle of empathy,” he said, the search for solutions to shared problems. “The easy question is, How do I protect me and mine? The more interesting question is, What if civilization actually manages continuity as well as it has managed it for the past few centuries? What do we do if it just keeps on chugging?”
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.”
Zombie apocalypse: Used by some preppers as a tongue-in-cheek metaphor for any natural or man-made disaster and "a clever way of drawing people’s attention to disaster preparedness". The premise of the Zombie Squad is that "if you are prepared for a scenario where the walking corpses of your family and neighbors are trying to eat you alive, you will be prepared for almost anything." Though "there are some... who are seriously preparing for a zombie attack".
Experts worry most about the grid’s nervous system: 2,000 extra-high voltage transformers. They’re 200- and 300-ton behemoths, individually engineered to meet specific power demands, and on average, they’re 40 years old. Notwithstanding the fact that 85 percent of transformers are imported, the U.S. Department of Energy says it takes between 5 and 16 months to replace a single one. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, an attack that destroyed nine of the 2,000 transformers would “cause a protracted nationwide blackout.” There’s no national cache of spare transformers.
Untold numbers of people wind up suffering frostbite, shock or hypothermia every year because they didn’t have adequate survival gear when the weather on their wilderness adventure took a rapid turn for the worse. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The Titan 2-sided Mylar Survival Blanket is light as a feather and yet capable of retaining up to 90% of your body heat.
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 both his book Rawles on Retreats and Relocation and in his survivalist novel, Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse, Rawles describes in great detail retreat groups "upgrading" brick or other masonry houses with steel reinforced window shutters and doors, excavating anti-vehicular ditches, installing warded gate locks, constructing concertina wire obstacles and fougasses, and setting up listening post/observation posts (LP/OPs.) Rawles is a proponent of including a mantrap foyer at survival retreats, an architectural element that he calls a "crushroom".
Regardless of whether everything is going swimmingly or you’re lost in a whiteout above tree line your boots are one of the most important pieces of survival gear you have. You need them to stand up to the elements and keep your feet dry and comfortable. Irish Setter Men’s Waterproof Hunting Boot is a fine example of the state of the bootmaker’s art.
However, if some tales of survivalist stockpiling are to be believed, our nutty neighbors have enough of the social lubricant squirreled away to hold the most epic end-of-the-world-party of all time outside of Edgar Wright's social circle. It might not be practical, but who needs practical when you and everyone you know is doomed to die from radiation poisoning or cancer?
That doesn’t mean that some companies aren’t marketing freeze-dried food as an innovation. After eating the Wise Company meals for three days, I switched to Thrive Life’s Simple Plate program, a Blue Apron–esque service that teaches you how to cook from the company’s store of freeze-dried ingredients, which customers can also get mailed to them in recurring shipments. Unlike Wise Company, Thrive Life’s website makes no mention of emergency preparedness, instead emphasizing the sorts of qualities, like saving money and avoiding waste, that might have appealed to Lydia Maria Child in her time: “These foods won’t spoil in a few days... You won’t be thawing, degreasing, or cutting raw meat. You won’t be chopping veggies or washing and peeling fruit.” I reached out to Thrive Life’s founders to hear more about their rationale for marketing freeze-dried food for everyday use, but didn’t hear back.
One major upside of freeze-dried food is its convenience. Since all its water content has been removed—via a process that involves exposing food to subzero temperatures, while removing the resulting water vapor with a vacuum—it’s easier than canned goods to transport on the fly. To “cook” Wise Company’s six-grain Apple Cinnamon Cereal, you just boil three and a half cups of water, dump in the powdery contents of the bag (minus the oxygen absorber), and cover the pot for 12 to 15 minutes.
“I’m actually responsible, indirectly, for the end of the meetups,” Dr. Shealy tells me inside his Springfield clinic off Chestnut Expressway, and not just because he thinks the earth is more than 6,000 years old. (Andrew: says you can’t trust anyone who believes that.) He sports a red crewneck, navy blue sweatpants, a stretchy metal watch and rectangular glasses. The 85-year-old—he’s more energetic than most people half his age—specializes in holistic medicine; the first thing he asks me is my birthday, and do I know what my astrological sign means. On my way out, he asks if he can hug me, and when I oblige, a toothy grin pulls wide the spritely doctor’s cheeks. “I believe it’s an important part of human contact,” he says.
For now, he broadcasts Monday through Friday, 9 to 11 a.m., and Finelli invites “instructors”—doctors, dentists, survivalists, a man who carries no identification, an Australian woman who talks about seceding from the government—anyone who has something relevant to preparedness. To Finelli, there’s little that isn’t relevant. He doesn’t sell merchandise or accept donations, as fellow GCN hosts such as Jones do.
Bob Kay, a nutritional scientist in Southern California, is prepping for environmental destruction due to massive earthquakes; politician Joshua Wander is preparing for a terrorist attack, teaching others about prepping and stocking up kosher foods (matzos and mre's); Ryan Croft is prepping for a global financial crisis by cultivating alternative food sources like spirulina and earthworms.
The reëlection of Barack Obama was a boon for the prepping industry. Conservative devotees, who accused Obama of stoking racial tensions, restricting gun rights, and expanding the national debt, loaded up on the types of freeze-dried cottage cheese and beef stroganoff promoted by commentators like Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. A network of “readiness” trade shows attracted conventioneers with classes on suturing (practiced on a pig trotter) and photo opportunities with survivalist stars from the TV show “Naked and Afraid.”
In 1980, John Pugsley published the book The Alpha Strategy. It was on The New York Times Best Seller list for nine weeks in 1981. After 28 years in circulation, The Alpha Strategy remains popular with survivalists, and is considered a standard reference on stocking food and household supplies as a hedge against inflation and future shortages.
Before I headed back to Wichita, we stopped at Hall’s latest project—a second underground complex, in a silo twenty-five miles away. As we pulled up, a crane loomed overhead, hoisting debris from deep below the surface. The complex will contain three times the living space of the original, in part because the garage will be moved to a separate structure. Among other additions, it will have a bowling alley and L.E.D. windows as large as French doors, to create a feeling of openness.
Also in 2011, Finelli started running the Get Prepared Expo series at the Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, bringing in hundreds of exhibitors and more than 70 preparedness seminars. Before doors opened, he’d host a get-together at Ziggie’s Cafe on North Glenstone, which he soon moved to Jimmy’s Egg on East Battlefield to accommodate the crowd. At Jimmy’s Egg, Finelli found another platform from which to preach preparedness. He started drawing a crowd—more than 330 on expo weekends—so Finelli made Jimmy’s Egg a weekly affair. On Monday nights, his radio instructors showed up or Skype’d in to mold the minds of 50 to 100 students. The meetups—a name borrowed from Ron Paul’s 2012 community get-togethers—were also social events, although Finelli kept the BS to a minimum.
In our current economic environment, prices continue to rise. The best time to start investing in your family’s health and safety is now. By making a list of necessities and gradually stocking your survival storage pantry now, you can take advantage of discounts and special pricing. Be proactive. Minimize rotation expenses by choosing supplies with a longer shelf life.
To Levchin, prepping for survival is a moral miscalculation; he prefers to “shut down party conversations” on the topic. “I typically ask people, ‘So you’re worried about the pitchforks. How much money have you donated to your local homeless shelter?’ This connects the most, in my mind, to the realities of the income gap. All the other forms of fear that people bring up are artificial.” In his view, this is the time to invest in solutions, not escape. “At the moment, we’re actually at a relatively benign point of the economy. When the economy heads south, you will have a bunch of people that are in really bad shape. What do we expect then?”
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