“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.)
The growing foreign appetite for New Zealand property has generated a backlash. The Campaign Against Foreign Control of Aotearoa—the Maori name for New Zealand—opposes sales to foreigners. In particular, the attention of American survivalists has generated resentment. In a discussion about New Zealand on the Modern Survivalist, a prepper Web site, a commentator wrote, “Yanks, get this in your heads. Aotearoa NZ is not your little last resort safe haven.”
Experts worry most about the grid’s nervous system: 2,000 extra-high voltage transformers. They’re 200- and 300-ton behemoths, individually engineered to meet specific power demands, and on average, they’re 40 years old. Notwithstanding the fact that 85 percent of transformers are imported, the U.S. Department of Energy says it takes between 5 and 16 months to replace a single one. According to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Committee, an attack that destroyed nine of the 2,000 transformers would “cause a protracted nationwide blackout.” There’s no national cache of spare transformers.
Tyler Smith, the leader of the "Marauders" featured in this episode, was arrested and booked on two counts of second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm because he was a previously convicted child sex offender and was legally barred from possessing firearms. During the episode, Smith also described his plans to commit armed robbery in the episode. Asked for comment on Smith’s arrest, National Geographic issued a statement stating: "We are aware of the arrest, and have decided not to air this episode until all legal matters are sorted out." The episode was eventually aired.
For global catastrophic risks the costs of food storage become impractical for most of the population  and for some such catastrophes conventional agriculture would not function due to the loss of a large fraction of sunlight (e.g. during nuclear winter or a supervolcano). In such situations, alternative food is necessary, which is converting natural gas and wood fiber to human edible food.
“Methamphetamine is 95 percent addictive the first time you try it,” Pense likes to say. “My gardening system is 100 percent addictive.” Pense gardened all his life, but when he moved to Springfield, the rocky Ozarks soil stumped him. “I discovered that you can buy land here and not get any dirt with it,” he says. So he experimented with gardening out of an 8-by-8 foot sandbox, mixing sand, compost and fertilizer. The plants grew, and with them, the idea for a raised-bed gardening system complete with top-notch soil that would enable people around the world to grow their own food.
Those impulses are not as contradictory as they seem. Technology rewards the ability to imagine wildly different futures, Roy Bahat, the head of Bloomberg Beta, a San Francisco-based venture-capital firm, told me. “When you do that, it’s pretty common that you take things ad infinitum, and that leads you to utopias and dystopias,” he said. It can inspire radical optimism—such as the cryonics movement, which calls for freezing bodies at death in the hope that science will one day revive them—or bleak scenarios. Tim Chang, the venture capitalist who keeps his bags packed, told me, “My current state of mind is oscillating between optimism and sheer terror.”
Finelli’s not from around here; an adopted Midwestern politeness hardly masks direct, fast-thinking, faster-talking East Coast roots, although he won’t tell me where he’s from exactly. He’s guarded like that. He won’t say where he went to college, only that he graduated from a prestigious undergraduate program and then got an MBA; nor will he say where he worked after, only that he started a company on the West Coast to manufacture satellite communications receivers before a Japanese competitor threatened to kill him. He will say he knows the moon landing was faked. In 1982, he moved back east from California and began designing computer systems for a Fortune 100 credit card company.
“If you’re using it for emergency survival, the fact is you’re going to buy it once, and hopefully you’re not going to use it,” Shields said. “But it’s there as a safety net for you and your family.” That’s what intrigued me about freeze-dried food: You can wait up to a quarter-century to use it, but in an ideal world, you wouldn’t have to eat it at all.
“I started saying, ‘Well, wait a minute, what does the government know that we don’t know?’ ” Hall said. In 2008, he paid three hundred thousand dollars for the silo and finished construction in December, 2012, at a cost of nearly twenty million dollars. He created twelve private apartments: full-floor units were advertised at three million dollars; a half-floor was half the price. He has sold every unit, except one for himself, he said.
Kevin lives in eastern Washington and is prepping his family for a volcanic eruption using multiple bug-out vehicles. We also meet Captain Bill Simpson, who has built a bunker sailboat, made mostly of iron so that he could retreat out to sea in case of a massive solar flare which could send an energy wave, in the form of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) which could damage today's technology.
Steve Huffman, the thirty-three-year-old co-founder and C.E.O. of Reddit, which is valued at six hundred million dollars, was nearsighted until November, 2015, when he arranged to have laser eye surgery. He underwent the procedure not for the sake of convenience or appearance but, rather, for a reason he doesn’t usually talk much about: he hopes that it will improve his odds of surviving a disaster, whether natural or man-made. “If the world ends—and not even if the world ends, but if we have trouble—getting contacts or glasses is going to be a huge pain in the ass,” he told me recently. “Without them, I’m fucked.”
When Marvin Liao, a former Yahoo executive who is now a partner at 500 Startups, a venture-capital firm, considered his preparations, he decided that his caches of water and food were not enough. “What if someone comes and takes this?” he asked me. To protect his wife and daughter, he said, “I don’t have guns, but I have a lot of other weaponry. I took classes in archery.”
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.
The stories of alcoholic beverages historically being safer to drink than unfermented ones are apocryphal at best; however, as any 17th-century sailor would tell you, the addition of some spirits to potable water that's been sitting around for too long will make it much more palatable. Liquor distillation was originally invented in part for medical purposes, and alcohol can be used as a solvent to dissolve medicinal herbs -- and also to knock out patients during good old-fashioned fallout-shelter surgery. High-proof alcohol can be used as an antiseptic, and it does a great job of cleaning wounds and preventing infection.
The helicopter eased down onto a lawn beside a putting green. The new luxury community will have three thousand acres of dunes and forestland, and seven miles of coastline, for just a hundred and twenty-five homes. As we toured the site in a Land Rover, he emphasized the seclusion: “From the outside, you won’t see anything. That’s better for the public and better for us, for privacy.”
I.N.C.H. pack: I'm Never Coming Home pack. A pack containing everything needed to walk out into the woods and never return to society. It is a heavy pack loaded with the gear needed to accomplish any wilderness task, from building shelter to gaining food, designed to allow someone to survive indefinitely in the woods. This requires skills as well as proper selection of equipment, as one can only carry so much. For example, instead of carrying food, one carries seeds, steel traps, a longbow, reel spinners and other fishing gear.
How many wealthy Americans are really making preparations for a catastrophe? It’s hard to know exactly; a lot of people don’t like to talk about it. (“Anonymity is priceless,” one hedge-fund manager told me, declining an interview.) Sometimes the topic emerges in unexpected ways. Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me. New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more. Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”
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.
In practice, the process can be a bit tricky. Freeze-dried meals require that you have potable water lying around, which might not be the case in the event of a serious calamity (some Wise Company kits include water purifiers). The cooking instructions for the Wise products I tested call for using the entire four-serving bag at once, which means that you have to have a container on hand to store what you don’t eat, and a fridge to keep it from spoiling. Even at my office kitchen, the only way I could make it work was by pouring about a fourth of the packet in a mug, filling it with water, and putting another mug on top of it.
Preparing for an emergency is different for every family. Naturally, buying nutrient-rich foods and having ways to store and purify water is the first step for everyone. After that first step, deciding what type of supplies and gear to focus on is a personal journey depending on your preparedness goals. Think of your emergency supply as an investment in the health and safety of your family during a crisis.
Modern-day survivalists aren't generally regarded as the most sane people on the planet. A quick look at any one of the disturbingly common and frighteningly thorough shopping lists they post online drives home the fact that anyone who self-identifies as a "prepper" most likely went off the deep end a long time ago. Sure, it's fine to keep a few extra cans of food and cases of water around for an emergency, but if you start adding body armor and butt paste to your stash, you might want to tell George Miller that it's time to see other people.
In recent years, survivalism has been edging deeper into mainstream culture. In 2012, National Geographic Channel launched “Doomsday Preppers,” a reality show featuring a series of Americans bracing for what they called S.H.T.F. (when the “shit hits the fan”). The première drew more than four million viewers, and, by the end of the first season, it was the most popular show in the channel’s history. A survey commissioned by National Geographic found that forty per cent of Americans believed that stocking up on supplies or building a bomb shelter was a wiser investment than a 401(k). Online, the prepper discussions run from folksy (“A Mom’s Guide to Preparing for Civil Unrest”) to grim (“How to Eat a Pine Tree to Survive”).
“The answer is you probably could,” she said. Though research suggests it might cause a mild depletion of vitamin C and other antioxidant chemicals, she explained, freeze-drying fruits and vegetables doesn’t have any significant impact on their nutritional value; packaged as stand-alone ingredients, they can even make for a healthy alternative to more caloric snack foods.
Because I couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to actually live off the stuff, I placed an order for Wise’s Seven Day Emergency Food and Drink Supply, a shoebox-size assortment of breakfast foods, entrées, and dehydrated whey milk substitute, in addition to a few other options I’d discovered online. I wanted to know what an insurance policy tasted like.
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