Who cares if you spent your entire life savings on survival supplies instead of taking vacations with your family or sending your kids to college? They got a real education when you took them into the woods every weekend to teach them how to set booby traps for when the zombie neighbors invade! They can pass on that knowledge to their children! See, it wasn’t a waste!
This group consists of people who live in tornado, hurricane, flood, wildfire, earthquake or heavy snowfall-prone areas and want to be prepared for possible emergencies. They invest in material for fortifying structures and tools for rebuilding and constructing temporary shelters. While assuming the long-term continuity of society, some may have invested in a custom-built shelter, food, water, medicine, and enough supplies to get by until contact with the rest of the world resumes following a natural emergency.
Personal Locator Beacons: These are smaller, affordable, reliable, and offer many new features. Companies like SPOT and DeLorme now offer products that post almost real-time tracks of adventurers far off the grid. The SPOT Gen3, for example, sells for as low as $150 and enables users to send simple, pre-programmed messages (all ok, send help, etc.) to friends and family or initiate rescue through a first-responder network.
At the time, Americans were marvelling at engineering advances—attendees at the 1893 World’s Fair, in Chicago, beheld new uses for electric light—but were also protesting low wages, poor working conditions, and corporate greed. “It was very much like today,” White said. “It was a sense that the political system had spun out of control, and was no longer able to deal with society. There was a huge inequity in wealth, a stirring of working classes. Life spans were getting shorter. There was a feeling that America’s advance had stopped, and the whole thing was going to break.”
And why shouldn’t they? National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers doesn’t exactly help viewers understand the plight of the average prepper, the one without 60 guns, scuba diving equipment, a bunker and an armored personnel carrier. “I knew going into it that they would try to sensationalize a lot of stuff,” says Allen, a Springfield, Missouri survivalist who refused to divulge his last name; he appeared on the show in 2012 showing off his aquaponics setup. “If Doomsday Preppers had shown typical preppers on a typical day, it would’ve been pretty boring.”
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.”
For Mike Mester, civil unrest is just around the corner and he aims to get everyone ready; Colorado computer programmer Preston White has collected over 11,200 types of seeds and plans for biosphere living in a Fukushima-irradiated future while friends Shane and others provide supportive help; Riley Cook spends his days working close to home and with the prepper society building underground structures.
“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.
Though its light weight and long shelf life are ideal for navigating harsh conditions, freeze-dried food is probably most famous as a cultural curiosity: Like many Americans, I discovered it in a museum gift shop, gawking at the styrofoam-like ice cream that astronauts used to have for dessert. More recently, I encountered it at a disaster preparedness convention in Raleigh, North Carolina, where smiling, gray-haired preppers manned tables piled with plastic bags full of vegetables, meats, and stews.
Gerald Celente, founder of the Trends Research Institute, noted how many modern survivalists deviate from the classic archetype, terming this new style "neo-survivalism"; "you know, the caricature, the guy with the AK-47 heading to the hills with enough ammunition and pork and beans to ride out the storm. This [neo-survivalist] is a very different one from that".
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.
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.
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.