Pense invites me to imagine a world turned lawless when the ninth transformer blows. Fifteen percent of the New Orleans Police Department deserted during Hurricane Katrina—imagine if the entire force lived where the levees broke. Big box stores killed off regional food distribution centers years ago; all we’ve got is what’s inside Walmart and Sam’s Club, and if you thought Black Friday was bad, imagine the crowds when it’s life or death. Drivers fleeing Springfield will hit roadblocks, where mobs will pull people from their vehicles like the LA rioters did to Reginald Denny. You might commit vehicular manslaughter, the preppers tell me, just to get out alive.
Many books were published in the wake of the Great Recession from 2008 and later offering survival advice for various potential disasters, ranging from an energy shortage and crash to nuclear or biological terrorism. In addition to the 1970s-era books, blogs and Internet forums are popular ways of disseminating survivalism information. Online survival websites and blogs discuss survival vehicles, survival retreats, emerging threats, and list survivalist groups.
Here are just a few choice gems from The Prepper Journal's 11 Ways A Condom Can Save Your Life: starting fires (they're great at protecting tinder from moisture), hunting for food (sexiest slingshot ever!), and transporting up to two liters of water (yes, rule 34 applies; no, we won't provide the link). They also make serviceable stand-ins for rubber gloves and can be used to protect the muzzle of your other essential survival tool (killing it right now).
Curt Rankin—a Lebanon entrepreneur with the demeanor and looks of Mike Huckabee before he got fat—bought Gardening Revolution in December. In his 50s, Rankin is a kid relishing in his father’s approval as Pense, inside the Strafford cabin, explains why Rankin seemed like the best candidate to keep the company going. The prodigal son is already reworking the website and devising marketing schemes to maintain the momentum, and Pense now teaches missionaries, who will take his raised-bed system across the globe.
The movement received another boost from the George W. Bush Administration’s mishandling of Hurricane Katrina. Neil Strauss, a former Times reporter, who chronicled his turn to prepping in his book “Emergency,” told me, “We see New Orleans, where our government knows a disaster is happening, and is powerless to save its own citizens.” Strauss got interested in survivalism a year after Katrina, when a tech entrepreneur who was taking flying lessons and hatching escape plans introduced him to a group of like-minded “billionaire and centi-millionaire preppers.” Strauss acquired citizenship in St. Kitts, put assets in foreign currencies, and trained to survive with “nothing but a knife and the clothes on my back.”
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.
It’s bad enough being injured or lost in the wild but things really get bad when the weather closes in and you can’t get a fire started to stay warm and prepare food and hot drinks. That’s where Ultimate Survival Technologies’ Wetfire Tinder comes in. Developed specifically to help you get a fire going in the pouring rain if necessary it’s without a doubt essential survival gear.
“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.”
In building Reddit, a community of thousands of discussion threads, into one of the most frequently visited sites in the world, Huffman has grown aware of the way that technology alters our relations with one another, for better and for worse. He has witnessed how social media can magnify public fear. “It’s easier for people to panic when they’re together,” he said, pointing out that “the Internet has made it easier for people to be together,” yet it also alerts people to emerging risks. Long before the financial crisis became front-page news, early signs appeared in user comments on Reddit. “People were starting to whisper about mortgages. They were worried about student debt. They were worried about debt in general. There was a lot of, ‘This is too good to be true. This doesn’t smell right.’ ” He added, “There’s probably some false positives in there as well, but, in general, I think we’re a pretty good gauge of public sentiment. When we’re talking about a faith-based collapse, you’re going to start to see the chips in the foundation on social media first.”
Robert A. Johnson sees his peers’ talk of fleeing as the symptom of a deeper crisis. At fifty-nine, Johnson has tousled silver hair and a soft-spoken, avuncular composure. He earned degrees in electrical engineering and economics at M.I.T., got a Ph.D. in economics at Princeton, and worked on Capitol Hill, before entering finance. He became a managing director at the hedge fund Soros Fund Management. In 2009, after the onset of the financial crisis, he was named head of a think tank, the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
I called a Silicon Valley sage, Stewart Brand, the author and entrepreneur whom Steve Jobs credited as an inspiration. In the sixties and seventies, Brand’s “Whole Earth Catalog” attracted a cult following, with its mixture of hippie and techie advice. (The motto: “We are as gods and might as well get good at it.”) Brand told me that he explored survivalism in the seventies, but not for long. “Generally, I find the idea that ‘Oh, my God, the world’s all going to fall apart’ strange,” he said.
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.
A veritable industry has sprung up around the prepper movement. James Rawles, author of the non-fiction book How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It and a pair of best-selling novels on survival, says 130,000 people regularly read his survivalblog.com, where he and numerous contributors provide tips on how to prepare. The former Army intelligence officer has 40 advertisers selling everything from seeds to silver, and 30 more advertisers on a waiting list.
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?”
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.
After a few days in New Zealand, I could see why one might choose to avoid either question. Under a cerulean blue sky one morning in Auckland, I boarded a helicopter beside a thirty-eight-year-old American named Jim Rohrstaff. After college, in Michigan, Rohrstaff worked as a golf pro, and then in the marketing of luxury golf clubs and property. Upbeat and confident, with shining blue eyes, he moved to New Zealand two and a half years ago, with his wife and two children, to sell property to H.N.W.I. who want to get “far away from all the issues of the world,” he said.
Religion, however, has everything to do with survivalism—there are things about your faith that affect the way you live, Fletch says, offering me an example. “Today, a great deal [on the menu] was the special you had,” he says. “Every one of the specials had pork in it. Well, depending on your belief system and where you’re coming from, Dan, you could’ve made several decisions about me.” He’s right; I could’ve thought he assumed the breakfast was on me, so he ordered the most expensive dish on the menu. And those assumptions, he says, can break up a group. “If 99 percent of the people in your group don’t eat pork, and you bring in some person eating a ham sandwich next to you, that’s going to cause some conflict.”
Even the smartest smartphone hasn’t been able to compensate for having no signal; until now. goTenna leverages a simple messaging app to allow you to communicate with the outside world should you be in need of help. You can share your GPS coordinates and condition, access offline maps or broadcast your situation to any other goTenna user in the vicinity. You also get confirmation your messages were delivered successfully so you can rest assured help is on the way. Finally, a way to get more from your phone when you’re off-grid. A smart, affordable piece of survival gear.
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.
Built for the Kill (2001–04) Taboo (2002–13) Explorations (2003–04) Be the Creature (2003–04) Seven Deadly Arts with Akshay Kumar (2004) Interpol Investigates (2004–05) Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan (2004–11) Megastructures (2004–11) Naked Science (2004–11) In the Womb (2005–10) Hunter Hunted (2005–08) Is It Real? (2005–07) Extraterrestrial (2005) Paranormal? (2005) I Didn't Know That (2006) Ultimate Factories (2006–13) Wild (2006–12) Prehistoric Predators (2007–09) Trapped (2007) Critical Situation (2007–08) Lockdown (2007) DogTown (2008–10) Big, Bigger, Biggest (2008–11) Planet Mechanics (2008) Perilous Journeys (2008–13) World's Toughest Fixes (2008–10) Rescue Ink Unleashed (2009) Alaska State Troopers (2009–15)
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.”
The Sundome opens to a full 7 x 5 feet and will comfortably fit 2 adults. It’s light, has a polyethylene base that keeps ground moisture out and a 75 denier fly to protect you from rain and snow. The Sundome is survival gear that goes up in a hurry for those times when there’s no time to waste. It can easily be assembled by one person even when the wind has kicked up. That’s because it utilizes only 2 instead of the normal 3 or 4 tent poles. You’ll never be victimized by the elements as long as you’re toting the portable and affordable Coleman Sundome with you.
When you’re cold and wet and in desperate need of warming up you need a dependable way to get a fire started. The Gerber Bear Grylls fire starter is simplicity itself with one end providing a ferro rod to create a spark and the other a metal striker. There’s a lanyard running through both ends so you don’t lose track of anything and a powerful emergency whistle on that same lanyard that will allow you to signal for help. The whole thing tucks away neatly into a waterproof storage unit that measures a modest 4 ¾” in length. Mastery of fire is what separates us from wildlife. This piece of fire-related survival gear can ensure you walk out of the woods at the end of your ordeal.
If the fire is around you and you can’t escape, you don’t have many options, says Shane Hobel of the Mountain Scout Survival School. If there’s a pool or a pond nearby, jump in and try to wait it out there. Otherwise, if you have time, dig a trench that’s two to three feet deep and long enough for you to lie in. Soak a blanket in water, wrap it around yourself, and lie down in the trench. It’s risky, but at least you’ll have a chance.