In the early ’80s on a job for the State Department to reinforce U.S. embassies and consulates following the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, Pense says he and other government contractors around the U.S. converged on CIA headquarters at Langley, Virginia. The consortium of engineers traded notes and decided that the U.S. power grid was vulnerable. Inadequate, Pense says, compared to everything that’s been hung on it, and that was three decades ago. Three high-altitude electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) could take the whole thing down. Like New York City’s 1977 blackout, looting and pillaging would rule the streets, and that’s if they can get the lights back on quickly enough—if the power stays off for too long, order is lost forever.
A commercial option for people who choose to take the minimalist route is the Pocket Survival Pak from Survive Outdoors Longer (SOL). This wallet-size packet of miniature multi-use survival items includes duct tape, a pencil, safety pins, seweing needle, nylon thread, aluminum foil, compass, fish hooks and sinkers, magnifying lens, braided nylon cord, stainless steel wire, scalpel blade, signal mirror, fire starter, tinder, waterproof paper, whistle, and a waterproof instructional sheet on the items.
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?”
Another wave of survivalism began after the September 11, 2001 attacks and subsequent bombings in Bali, Madrid, and London. This resurgence of interest in survivalism appears to be as strong as the 1970s era focus on the topic. The fear of war, avian influenza, energy shortages, environmental disasters and global climate change, coupled with economic uncertainty, and the apparent vulnerability of humanity after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, has increased interest in survivalism topics.
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.”
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.
People who want to learn are worth something, because they WILL learn if taught. They’re hungry for knowledge, and they don’t allow their ego to get in the way of their training. If you know more than they do on a subject, they’ll want you to show them what they don’t know, regardless of who you are. You won’t hear their arrogance drowning out the mission; instead, you’ll see someone who is humble and willing to work. Even someone with no skills, who is eager to put in the work and learn is better than someone with a skill who refuses to learn anything new. The flip side of that is someone who brings better skills than you have to the table in a certain area. If they’re willing to teach you, be willing to learn yourself as well.
Tim Chang, a forty-four-year-old managing director at Mayfield Fund, a venture-capital firm, told me, “There’s a bunch of us in the Valley. We meet up and have these financial-hacking dinners and talk about backup plans people are doing. It runs the gamut from a lot of people stocking up on Bitcoin and cryptocurrency, to figuring out how to get second passports if they need it, to having vacation homes in other countries that could be escape havens.” He said, “I’ll be candid: I’m stockpiling now on real estate to generate passive income but also to have havens to go to.” He and his wife, who is in technology, keep a set of bags packed for themselves and their four-year-old daughter. He told me, “I kind of have this terror scenario: ‘Oh, my God, if there is a civil war or a giant earthquake that cleaves off part of California, we want to be ready.’ ”
“It may be necessary to prepare defences against the unwelcome attentions of your neighbours,” read one article, before describing the process of obtaining a British firearms licence. Another feature, on how to manage food supplies, pointed out that one month after seeking refuge, shortages in even the best-stocked shelters would become apparent. But that would just have to be dealt with, as “the maintenance of law and order, burial of the dead, etc… will almost certainly take priority.”
Before fire season, move combustibles away from your house. Fences and dry vegetation give fires a place to grow, says Jonathan Cox at Cal Fire, California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. Hosing down your house won’t help much, either, he says: “The way a lot of these homes burn is through something called ember cast, when embers from the fire fly over and drop little fires everywhere. With a huge ember cast, hosing down your house doesn’t do much.”