Although he had a cold when we met at his office in Harlem, Dr. Redlener was a soothing presence — bearded, erudite and open to the notion that ordinary people have a central role in emergency preparedness. The government, he told me, reacted decisively after 9/11, establishing the Department of Homeland Security, so why shouldn’t everyday citizens react?
If an alternate location is not practical, consider storing items at various locations around your home. Not everything needs to be on shelves in the basement. Spread things out so that if the basement gets flooded, you still have dry items in the upstairs bedroom. Use your imagination and don’t forget to do the very best you can to package everything so it is resistant to moisture and pests.
And while most of them will tell you they got into survivalism out of an interest in self-reliance, that spirit by no means excludes a sense of cooperation. It’s there in the endless churn of blog posts, advice columns, Pinterest boards, Facebook groups, online classes, and digital marketplaces these women use to connect and swap information every day. And it’s here at Wild Abundance, in the open-air living room, where a woman with short hair and tattoos balances two tall boards of wood on the ground as another starts screwing in the shelves that will connect them into a bookcase.
His answer was squarely in line with Prepper doctrine. Dr. Redlener said it was rational — indeed, it was recommended — to have a three-day supply of food and water, a working flashlight, a first-aid kit, a radio that runs without batteries and a plan in place to rejoin one’s relatives after a disaster. He talked about situational awareness, a major Prepper mantra. “A prepared citizen is someone who understands how to take care of himself,” he said, “who has amassed the necessary items, who has a plan.”
By his own estimate, Pense says there are a few thousand people in the Springfield area who have listened and who are ready. The preppers. Most don’t like to be called preppers because of the connotation that they’re crazy; Chicken Little wasn’t well-received by his people, either. Most don’t even like to talk about it, but a few of them do. So for three months toward the end of 2017, I sought out the doomsday survivalists to find out: Is it really crazy to live like the sky is falling?
Survivalists' concerns and preparations have changed over the years. During the 1970s, fears were economic collapse, hyperinflation, and famine. Preparations included food storage and survival retreats in the country which could be farmed. Some survivalists stockpiled precious metals and barterable goods (such as common-caliber ammunition) because they assumed that paper currency would become worthless. During the early 1980s, nuclear war became a common fear, and some survivalists constructed fallout shelters.
Interest in the movement picked up during the Clinton administration due in part to the debate surrounding the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the ban's subsequent passage in 1994. The interest peaked again in 1999 triggered by fears of the Y2K computer bug. Before extensive efforts were made to rewrite computer programming code to mitigate the effects, some writers such as Gary North, Ed Yourdon, James Howard Kunstler, and investments' advisor Ed Yardeni anticipated widespread power outages, food and gasoline shortages, and other emergencies. North and others raised the alarm because they thought Y2K code fixes were not being made quickly enough. While a range of authors responded to this wave of concern, two of the most survival-focused texts to emerge were Boston on Y2K (1998) by Kenneth W. Royce, and Mike Oehler's The Hippy Survival Guide to Y2K. Oehler is an underground living advocate, who also authored The $50 and Up Underground House Book, which has long been popular in survivalist circles.
Yet the preppers he worked with are in many ways not what most stereotypes suggest, Huddleston adds. They are generally well-educated and fully employed: “Lots of tech, computer programmers, web developers, that kind of thing,” he says. Most of them care a great deal about giving back to the world. They host information sessions on how to deal with radiation poisoning, for example, or teach people how to make “bug-out bags” (backpacks that contain emergency items for 3–5 days) in case of evacuation. Even though many of them are personally motivated by ideology, they are careful about staying out of political debates, explains Huddleston.
When speaking to preppers like Jennifer, Luther, and Nygaard, it can be hard to separate the more practical aspects of the lifestyle from the enjoyment that comes from doing things yourself instead of paying someone to do them. When I point out that running a small-scale farm and caring for two kids seems like an awful lot of work to do on top of a full-time job, Nygaard demures. “Yeah, it is. But I choose it. I choose to spend it like this because there are things that give me pleasure. I enjoy canning. I love seeing my work on the shelf. You grew that, and you canned it, and you get a source of pride from that.”
When bands of marauders start roaming the streets, how are you going to keep them out? Tear down a few walls, says Timothy Ferraro, a twenty-five-year construction veteran who's thought about this situation plenty while watching The Walking Dead. "Assuming the attackers don't have a battering ram, you should be able to keep them out using the lumber and drywall already in your home," he says.
I recommend that the very first step you take when prepping is to evaluate the most likely risks specific to your geographical area and your personal domestic situation. Most, if not all, city, county and state governments will have emergency management websites that will help you sort through the most likely disasters to occur in your area. Take advantage of these public resources.
I have also heard that a lot of homesteaders stock an air rifle in their prepper gear as it is an easy-to-use gun with very cheap ammunition and much fewer regulations on it. Some time ago I came across a prepper who had a Gamo Hornet Air Rifle in his prepper supply. He said that while this was for allowing him to hunt small and big game, it was also a great weapon for home defense.
When you go back to the last depressing days when we were in a survival mode, the last one the Y2K of course, before the 1970s, what had happened was you only saw this one element of survivalist, 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 is a very different one from that: you're seeing average people taking smart moves and moving in intelligent directions to prepare for the worst. (...) So survivalism in every way possible. Growing your own, self-sustaining, doing as much as you can to make it as best as you can on your own and it can happen in urban area, sub-urban area or the ex-urbans. And it also means becoming more and more tightly committed to your neighbors, your neighborhood, working together and understanding that we're all in this together and that when we help each other out that's going to be the best way forward.
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