Here is a mental exercise: Put yourself in the mind set of Mr. Joe Sixpack, Suburbanite. (Visualize him in or near a big city near where you live.) He is unprepared. He has less than one week’s food on hand, he has a 12 gauge pump action shotgun that he hasn’t fired in years, and just half a tank of gas in his minivan and maybe a gallon or two in a can that he keeps on hand for his lawn mower. Then TEOTWAWKI hits. The power grid is down, his job is history, the toilet doesn’t flush, and water no longer magically comes cascading from the tap. There are riots beginning in his city. The local service stations have run out of gas. The banks have closed. Now he is suddenly desperate. Where will he go? What will he do?
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Since then, the direction has been inauspicious. In January, 2016, after increasing military tensions between Russia and NATO, and the Earth’s warmest year on record, the Bulletin set the clock at three minutes to midnight, the same level it held at the height of the Cold War. In November, after Trump’s election, the panel convened once more to conduct its annual confidential discussion. If it chooses to move the clock forward by one minute, that will signal a level of alarm not witnessed since 1953, after America’s first test of the hydrogen bomb. (The result will be released January 26th.)
In recent years, survivalism has been edging deeper into mainstream culture. In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched “Doomsday Preppers,” a reality show featuring a series of Americans bracing for what they called S.H.T.F. (when the “shit hits the fan”). The première drew more than four million viewers, and, by the end of the first season, it was the most popular show in the channel’s history. A survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”).
Brent prepares his children and grandchildren because he fears an Electromagnetic Pulse, caused by a nuclear detonation will cripple the national power lines, possibly forever. Instead of bunkers, he has built a medieval castle and teaching his children and grandchildren new tactics of defense and survival. This was spun off into its own series, Doomsday Castle. Meanwhile, in Bear Grass, North Carolina, Derek Price also fears an EMP. He is using his privately owned amusement park, called Deadwood, so that he, his friends and family can survive.
Why do our dystopian urges emerge at certain moments and not others? Doomsday—as a prophecy, a literary genre, and a business opportunity—is never static; it evolves with our anxieties. The earliest Puritan settlers saw in the awe-inspiring bounty of the American wilderness the prospect of both apocalypse and paradise. When, in May of 1780, sudden darkness settled on New England, farmers perceived it as a cataclysm heralding the return of Christ. (In fact, the darkness was caused by enormous wildfires in Ontario.) D. H. Lawrence diagnosed a specific strain of American dread. “Doom! Doom! Doom!” he wrote in 1923. “Something seems to whisper it in the very dark trees of America.”
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.
They are part of a burgeoning "prepper" movement that believes preparing for the end of civilization is more rational than ridiculing those who do. Once viewed largely as a practice by survivalists on the fringe, prepping has achieved cohesion and community in the Internet age through best-selling writers, bloggers, risk assessors, conspiracy theorists and companies that cater to preppers' needs.
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.”
Based on this crude but honest assessment of the general public's affinity for the common bicarbonate, you'd be surprised by how much survivalists are into it (#2 on the list of "things for preppers to hoard"). They must expect some pretty serious hankerings for tasty leavened baked goods, or they have extensive phobias about the funkiness of their nuke survival backup plans.
Adherents of the back-to-the-land movement inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing, sporadically popular in the United States in the 1930s and 1970s (exemplified by The Mother Earth News magazine), share many of the same interests in self-sufficiency and preparedness. Back-to-the-landers differ from most survivalists in that they have a greater interest in ecology and counterculture. Despite these differences, The Mother Earth News was widely read by survivalists as well as back-to-the-landers during that magazine's early years, and there was some overlap between the two movements.
The helicopter eased down onto a lawn beside a putting green. The new luxury community will have three thousand acres of dunes and forestland, and seven miles of coastline, for just a hundred and twenty-five homes. As we toured the site in a Land Rover, he emphasized the seclusion: “From the outside, you won’t see anything. That’s better for the public and better for us, for privacy.”
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.
Is it stereotypical that the AARP crowd would be the ones to spend three hours talking about metal detectors and canning and caving at a Pizza Hut on a Monday night? Probably, but that’s what I bore witness to in this event room; its combination of exposed wood and stock-photo decor felt like an Olive Garden inside a pirate ship. Up front, the scraggly white-bearded, Bad Santa–lookalike Andrew: rested one foot on a chair, gripping the mic, just like Randall said he would be.
And what better place to prepare than the Ozarks? Strafford got 47 inches of rain last year; the mean temperature was a mild 59 degrees. The Springfield Plateau has a 200-foot-deep aquifer for when rainwater gets scarce. The region is largely insulated from natural disasters—save the odd tornado or benign rumbling from the Bootheel’s New Madrid Fault Line—and the low population density of like-minded folks means preppers, survivalists and homesteaders get left alone. A Lebanon real estate agent tells me remote acreage is an increasingly hot commodity for city dwellers eager to go native. Conversations with locals and time spent on survivalism forums reveal a religious cohort who believe the Ozarks are God’s country—sacred ground upon which one can wage a last stand against the sins of a rapidly globalizing world.
Although there is a general public policy debate over whether the world's supply of oil reserves has peaked and the need for alternative fuels, this group believes that peak oil is a near term threat to Western civilization, and take appropriate measures, usually involving relocation to an agriculturally self-sufficient survival retreat.
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.
What, then, needed to be done? More than anything, there was an obsession over acquiring or building a fallout shelter for your home. Every edition of PSM featured reams of advertisements from British and international companies offering to construct such a shelter, or send one that could be buried in your garden and accessed through a small hatch.
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.