I asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad. “I would guess fifty-plus per cent,” he said, “but that’s parallel with the decision to buy a vacation home. Human motivation is complex, and I think people can say, ‘I now have a safety blanket for this thing that scares me.’ ” The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.) “I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy? Is it going to turn against technological innovation? Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”
Here in the Pacific Northwest, the smell of woodsmoke is in the air and fall is prodding us into preparations for the snow that’s sure to be here before we know it. The rural communities are finalizing their firewood stockpiles and getting propane tanks topped off to last the long winter ahead. With colder temps in the forecast, most of us are getting our yards cleaned up and ready for the approaching winter months.
Before they were pets, dogs were workers. They can carry their own supplies without complaint (already making them superior to most humans right now), sniff out food and water, and search for and bring down prey. Some breeds, such as huskies, have been specifically tailored to bust their butts on the barest of rations. Dogs also have a long and storied history of offensive and defensive combat use, making them perfectly suited to attack anyone who thinks they have more of a right to that sweet, sweet snack cake stockpile than you do. Which is to say, your four-legged pal is just a few training sessions and a kickass set of armor away from leading you to your rightful place as God Of The Ragged Desert/Water People.
On a cool evening in early November, I rented a car in Wichita, Kansas, and drove north from the city through slanting sunlight, across the suburbs and out beyond the last shopping center, where the horizon settles into farmland. After a couple of hours, just before the town of Concordia, I headed west, down a dirt track flanked by corn and soybean fields, winding through darkness until my lights settled on a large steel gate. A guard, dressed in camouflage, held a semiautomatic rifle.
The fears were different in Silicon Valley. Around the same time that Huffman, on Reddit, was watching the advance of the financial crisis, Justin Kan heard the first inklings of survivalism among his peers. Kan co-founded Twitch, a gaming network that was later sold to Amazon for nearly a billion dollars. “Some of my friends were, like, ‘The breakdown of society is imminent. We should stockpile food,’ ” he said. “I tried to. But then we got a couple of bags of rice and five cans of tomatoes. We would have been dead if there was actually a real problem.” I asked Kan what his prepping friends had in common. “Lots of money and resources,” he said. “What are the other things I can worry about and prepare for? It’s like insurance.”
“One misconception about prepping is that you’re always thinking there’s going to be some kind of epic disaster,” she told me over the phone from Virginia. “The most common disaster that we prep for, or that happens to us, is a financial problem.” A longtime single mother, Luther said her interest in food storage grew out of a period of “abject poverty” following the 2008 recession. Lisa Bedford, a Texas-based writer who runs the site The Survival Mom, told me she got into disaster preparedness around the same time, when she wasn’t sure if her husband’s construction business would survive the downturn. (Bedford also works as an independent consultant for Thrive Life, meaning that she promotes their products online, and receives a commission on purchases from customers she refers to the company, as well as a discount on products she buys herself.)
David Sarti, a YouTube "firearms instructor" and self-taught survivalist, is prepared for an electrical grid failure; Kellene Bishop of Utah has stocked only the finest gourmet survival foods in preparation for financial collapse; Kathy Harrison, "the Doris Day of Doom", has prepared her local community for a New Madrid earthquake; Dennis Evers brings the family together to survive global chaos caused by hyperinflation.
Common preparations include the creation of a clandestine or defensible retreat, haven, or bug out location (BOL) in addition to the stockpiling of non-perishable food, water, water-purification equipment, clothing, seed, firewood, defensive or hunting weapons, ammunition, agricultural equipment, and medical supplies. Some survivalists do not make such extensive preparations, and simply incorporate a "Be Prepared" outlook into their everyday life.
Doug Huffman is prepared, teaching techniques for surviving a second depression based upon America's massive debts.; Dianne and Greg Rogers, dedicated parents in Canada, are concerned with future events affecting their home-life; Ed and Dianna Peden ("still living in the 60's"), of Topeka, Kansas are preparing to survive fully underground in their decommissioned Atlas missile silo when doomsday arrives.
One measure of survivalism’s spread is that some people are starting to speak out against it. Max Levchin, a founder of PayPal and of Affirm, a lending startup, told me, “It’s one of the few things about Silicon Valley that I actively dislike—the sense that we are superior giants who move the needle and, even if it’s our own failure, must be spared.”
To me, the best option is to store emergency food. How much? If you have none, store enough for a few days. If you have enough for a few days, get enough for a week. How much you store depends on what time frame you think you're at risk for having to be completely independent. The early settlers of the southwest liked to store enough food for a whole year and still do to this day!
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.”
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?
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.
“I was a computer jockey,” he says. “So for example, when you think of press 1, press 2, press 3 on the phone: I built one of the first systems in banking on the East Coast, and I apologize for that.” Finelli’s company began securitizing debt portfolios, a process that began in the ’80s and fed into the mid-2000s financial crisis. Finelli didn’t like that. “That’s when I had that moment of, ‘This is a house of cards,’” he says. So in the late 1980s, he quit and became a farmer, first out East, then in Grovespring by 2005.
Amid the localized terror, trains will deliver the nation’s hapless coastal residents to our doorstep. Pense thinks it’ll look like the Holocaust, that the government will deposit boxcars of starving New Yorkers and Californians into the suddenly crowded Heartland. Then they’ll go back for more. It’s going to be, Pense says, some interesting times.
During the Cold War, Armageddon became a matter for government policymakers. The Federal Civil Defense Administration, created by Harry Truman, issued crisp instructions for surviving a nuclear strike, including “Jump in any handy ditch or gutter” and “Never lose your head.” In 1958, Dwight Eisenhower broke ground on Project Greek Island, a secret shelter, in the mountains of West Virginia, large enough for every member of Congress. Hidden beneath the Greenbrier Resort, in White Sulphur Springs, for more than thirty years, it maintained separate chambers-in-waiting for the House and the Senate. (Congress now plans to shelter at undisclosed locations.) There was also a secret plan to whisk away the Gettysburg Address, from the Library of Congress, and the Declaration of Independence, from the National Archives.
Rohrstaff, who co-owns Legacy Partners, a boutique brokerage, wanted me to see Tara Iti, a new luxury-housing development and golf club that appeals mostly to Americans. The helicopter nosed north across the harbor and banked up the coast, across lush forests and fields beyond the city. From above, the sea was a sparkling expanse, scalloped by the wind.
I’m not going to try to candy coat this one. If you need this product, you’re in the middle of a terrorist attack or an act of war using a chemical warfare agent (CWA). The people around you will be dying. You’re going to die, too, if you breathe in these chemicals. But if you only have skin contact with these lethal substances, and you have a decontaminant at hand – you can neutralize them. Let that sink in for a moment. If you only come into contact with a chemical weapon on your skin, there is a product that will counteract most toxins. Now, this isn’t exactly a new product. In fact the company has been making this product for many years, and a friend of mine has successfully used it in “live agent” military training. The part that’s new is that this product is now available to civilians. RSDL is the only decontaminant cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to remove or neutralize chemical warfare agents such as tabun, sarin, soman, cyclohexyl sarin, VR, VX, mustard gas and T-2 toxin. It’s a simple little packet of lotion-like neutralizer. Each kit comes with instructions and a training product, so you can get a feel for it through realistic practice. It also comes with a packet of decontaminant for one person, which removes the chemical agent from the skin in a single step.
Cigarettes will also be hugely useful for starting fires and saving coals (as any fan of post-apocalyptic literature knows, this is of great importance). The filters can be used to clean water, although you'll need the patience of Stephen Baldwin to pull it off. If you do manage to live for longer than a few weeks without plumbing and Internet, you'll be able to protect your budding prepper garden by soaking cigarette butts in water and spraying the resulting chemical-laden tobacco juice on your produce. This is a technique already in use by people too impatient to wait for the apocalypse, though it is ironic and entertaining that they consider using cigarette-butt sludge a "natural" way to ward off pests.
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.”
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.
A number of popular movies and television shows[definition needed], such as the National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers, have also emerged recently[when?] to capitalize on what Los Angeles Times' entertainment contributor Mary McNamara dubbed "today's zeitgeist of fear of a world-changing event." Additionally, doomsday ideas disseminated mostly online in relation to the 2012 phenomenon surrounding misunderstandings about the Mayan calendar fueled the activities of some survivalists during the run-up to the phenomenon's purported December 2012 date of the world's demise.
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.
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.
Historically, our fascination with the End has flourished at moments of political insecurity and rapid technological change. “In the late nineteenth century, there were all sorts of utopian novels, and each was coupled with a dystopian novel,” Richard White, a historian at Stanford University, told me. Edward Bellamy’s “Looking Backward,” published in 1888, depicted a socialist paradise in the year 2000, and became a sensation, inspiring “Bellamy Clubs” around the country. Conversely, Jack London, in 1908, published “The Iron Heel,” imagining an America under a fascist oligarchy in which “nine-tenths of one per cent” hold “seventy per cent of the total wealth.”
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.
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?”
You probably get it by now, but we're going to keep rubbing your face in the facts, nonbeliever. A bit of body odor might seem like a minor inconvenience, but it gets a whole lot more important when sneaking up on an animal that hasn't spent the last millennia losing its survival instincts means the difference between feasting and starving. Finally, an accidental fire near your ammo stores that could easily have been extinguished with a dose of nonflammable powder will certainly put a damper on your plan to make it through the end times in one piece.
One PSM reader who still remembers the mood of the time is Max Tookey, now a lecturer in psychology at the University of Brighton. Aged 16, he wrote a letter to PSM that read, “Hastings, like a lot of towns in the South East, has a number of caves, old mines, and railway tunnels; why can’t local county councils convert these into mass shelters for the population?”
Over the years, Huffman has become increasingly concerned about basic American political stability and the risk of large-scale unrest. He said, “Some sort of institutional collapse, then you just lose shipping—that sort of stuff.” (Prepper blogs call such a scenario W.R.O.L., “without rule of law.”) Huffman has come to believe that contemporary life rests on a fragile consensus. “I think, to some degree, we all collectively take it on faith that our country works, that our currency is valuable, the peaceful transfer of power—that all of these things that we hold dear work because we believe they work. While I do believe they’re quite resilient, and we’ve been through a lot, certainly we’re going to go through a lot more.”
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.
In his 2016 book, Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods, Gary Allen, a food writer and adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College, traces the evolution of food preservation as a source of culinary innovation. “The original food-preservation methods—like salting and drying and all that—actually turned the food into something else,” he told me over the phone. “Cabbage sauerkraut is not the same thing as cabbage. Wine is not the same thing as grape juice.”
And now, there are Democrats. Fear of the Trump administration is largely responsible for an urban and liberal renaissance within prepping; left-leaning Facebook groups and urban survivalism YouTube channels brim with freshly paranoid Americans who attend the same expos, talk the same shop and wipe with the same bulk supply of toilet paper as the conservatives who voted the other way. That said, I met no openly liberal preppers in Springfield.
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