"I had a dream not long ago that was sort of like God said, ‘I will show you these things,’ and that we’d lost both grids on the East and West Coasts, and I saw trains coming in, packed, standing-room only, from both coasts, and they were just releasing them into Mark Twain and everywhere. Those people were then forming little camps—15, 20 people per camp. And I saw a colored boy and a white boy, youngsters, and they were talking. And the white boy is talking, and he says if you steal wood from any of those people, only take one piece, because if you take more than that they’ll miss it.
In practice, the process can be a bit tricky. Freeze-dried meals require that you have potable water lying around, which might not be the case in the event of a serious calamity (some Wise Company kits include water purifiers). The cooking instructions for the Wise products I tested call for using the entire four-serving bag at once, which means that you have to have a container on hand to store what you don’t eat, and a fridge to keep it from spoiling. Even at my office kitchen, the only way I could make it work was by pouring about a fourth of the packet in a mug, filling it with water, and putting another mug on top of it.
In private Facebook groups, wealthy survivalists swap tips on gas masks, bunkers, and locations safe from the effects of climate change. One member, the head of an investment firm, told me, “I keep a helicopter gassed up all the time, and I have an underground bunker with an air-filtration system.” He said that his preparations probably put him at the “extreme” end among his peers. But he added, “A lot of my friends do the guns and the motorcycles and the gold coins. That’s not too rare anymore.”
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 is a very interesting premise, but the episodes get tiresome as the format is increasingly repetitive. Also, some really obvious mistakes that the preppers make are sometimes ignored: shelves full of glass bottles at eye level (no lip on shelves) in preparation for a major earthquake? Also, the one issue preparation (climate change, economic collapse, Yellowstone blowing up, etc.) seems tunnel-visioned, but apparently the shows' writers need that statement as a justification for their script. The fact is that most of the preppers and the needed preparations that each makes are very much the same in the outcomes they're working toward.
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.
Still, these extraterrestrial-looking foodstuffs seem to be having something of a moment: For the past four years, Costco has been selling pallets of shriveled vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats that promise to feed a single family for up to a year—and if you’re not a member, you can purchase similar survival kits, many of which boast a 20- to 30-year shelf life, at Walmart and Target. One top seller, Wise Company, saw its sales nearly double over the past four years, reaching around $75 million, according to a Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last November. The company’s CEO, Jack Shields, told me he estimates the industry as a whole generates between $400 and $450 million annually in retail.
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.
Yishan Wong, an early Facebook employee, was the C.E.O. of Reddit from 2012 to 2014. He, too, had eye surgery for survival purposes, eliminating his dependence, as he put it, “on a nonsustainable external aid for perfect vision.” In an e-mail, Wong told me, “Most people just assume improbable events don’t happen, but technical people tend to view risk very mathematically.” He continued, “The tech preppers do not necessarily think a collapse is likely. They consider it a remote event, but one with a very severe downside, so, given how much money they have, spending a fraction of their net worth to hedge against this . . . is a logical thing to do.”
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?”
Who cares if you spent your entire life savings on survival supplies instead of taking vacations with your family or sending your kids to college? They got a real education when you took them into the woods every weekend to teach them how to set booby traps for when the zombie neighbors invade! They can pass on that knowledge to their children! See, it wasn’t a waste!
The so-called survivalism movement — made popular by the reality show "Doomsday Preppers" — sounds a little crazy. The idea of preparing for the end of the world might conjure images of wild-eyed people in tin foil hats hiding in bunkers. In reality, normal people of many different backgrounds, races, and income levels spend their days preparing for the worst.
Finelli’s not from around here; an adopted Midwestern politeness hardly masks direct, fast-thinking, faster-talking East Coast roots, although he won’t tell me where he’s from exactly. He’s guarded like that. He won’t say where he went to college, only that he graduated from a prestigious undergraduate program and then got an MBA; nor will he say where he worked after, only that he started a company on the West Coast to manufacture satellite communications receivers before a Japanese competitor threatened to kill him. He will say he knows the moon landing was faked. In 1982, he moved back east from California and began designing computer systems for a Fortune 100 credit card company.
One newsletter deemed by some to be one of the most important on survivalism and survivalist retreats in the 1970s was the Personal Survival ("P.S.") Letter (circa 1977–1982). Published by Mel Tappan, who also authored the books Survival Guns and Tappan on Survival. The newsletter included columns from Tappan himself as well as notable survivalists such as Jeff Cooper, Al J Venter, Bruce D. Clayton, Nancy Mack Tappan, J.B. Wood (author of several gunsmithing books), Karl Hess, Janet Groene (travel author), Dean Ing, Reginald Bretnor, and C.G. Cobb (author of Bad Times Primer). The majority of the newsletter revolved around selecting, constructing, and logistically equipping survival retreats. Following Tappan's death in 1980, Karl Hess took over publishing the newsletter, eventually renaming it Survival Tomorrow.
Mayday (since 2003) Seconds From Disaster (since 2004) National Geographic Explorer (since 2004) Drugs, Inc. (since 2010) Wicked Tuna (since 2012) Life Below Zero (since 2013) Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey (since 2014) Wicked Tuna: Outer Banks (since 2014) Live Free or Die (since 2014) StarTalk (since 2015) The Story of God with Morgan Freeman (since 2016) Mars (since 2016) Genius (since 2017) The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman (since 2017) One Strange Rock (since 2018)
The federal government is concerned, too. An October 2017 House hearing on the EMP threat noted that The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003 plunged 50 million Americans into darkness for a day, contributed to 11 deaths, and cost the country $6 billion, all because a powerline near Cleveland zapped a tree branch that damaged 0.00001 percent of the grid. In 2012, a high-voltage powerline failure caused the world’s biggest blackout, plunging 670 million Indians into darkness.
Headlamps are a great tool, giving you light where you need it and allowing you to work in dark places with both hands free. The Black Diamond Storm headlamp is a waterproof, multi-mode headlamp with a 250-lumen maximum output. It offers a bright beam for distance light, as well as strobe and dim modes. It even has green and red night vision modes. The slim design holds 4 AAA batteries for a long burn time, and a 3-level power meter shows remaining battery life. The dustproof and waterproof housing provides you with a durable light in the event of a nighttime emergency, or any other time you need hands-free lighting.
According to Hobel, shelter is your first priority. Lay down cardboard and other materials to insulate yourself from the ground. (Even in summer, the ground can have temperatures that lead to hypothermic conditions.) Use tarps, blankets, pillows—whatever you can find—to build the shelter on that layer. It should be as low to the ground as possible, and you shouldn’t be able to sit up when you’re inside, Hobel says. Other than the airflow you need to breathe, block all openings to keep cold air from coming in. It’s a matter of conserving heat. A lot of people don’t realize that their bodies are heat sources, Hobel says. You’re almost 100 degrees. Trap that heat around you instead of letting it rise in a tall shelter, and you won’t need a fire to stay warm.