ARE YOU PREPARED? The end of the world didn’t come for Judgement Day followers who expected the rapture in May 2011. But who are these people who continuously fear the end of the world and obsessively prepare themselves and their loved ones for the worst? Meet "preppers" including one man who built an underground bunker where he and his family can retreat during a nuclear attack.
When he gets up to show me about his cabin, Pense stands with the height and permanence of the dignified trees that encircle the property. He doesn’t say “um,” or “well”—the slow, deliberate syllables that emanate from his jowls feel like historical record, perhaps with a sprinkle of Americana, but not quite jingoism. Listening to him talk about his life is like having R. Lee Ermey recite your high school American studies textbook, but gentler.
Survivalism is a primarily American movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who actively prepare for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalism also encompasses preparation for personal emergencies, such as job loss or being stranded in the wild or under adverse weather conditions. The emphasis is on self-reliance, stockpiling supplies, and gaining survival knowledge and skills. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient, and build structures such as survival retreats or underground shelters that may help them survive a catastrophe.
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.
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.
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?”
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.