I am the invisible prepper. I am, on the surface, a caricature of everything that most SurvivalBlog readers seem to deplore. On the surface, I am a caricature of what the non-prepper community expects me to be– completely average in every way. Who I Am I am a twice divorced middle-aged woman, a committed democrat, a sincere atheist, a successful product of public schools, and what you would likely call a coastal liberal elite. If you met me, you would probably ignore me, scoff under your breath, and label me as sheeple or a snowflake. What You Would Not Know …
Are you a lone wolf or do you believe there are still capable people around you? Starting a survival group makes sense in today’s political situation and social climate. You could make it on your own, but survival is much easier within a group of people. Here is what you can do to for your own survival group and make it work.
As preppers, we must understand that we are not special and we cannot do everything to keep things in order. Is just not possible and you can’t be a hunter and a medic at the same time. There are tasks which require the help of your fellow neighbors and projects are done much faster when you have the numbers. Not to mention that surviving alone is not ideal and it takes a toll on your mindset over time. We are social creatures, and we evolved by sticking together and helping each other.
Seeking out like-minded people should be the first step in establishing a survival group. The number of preppers is increasing year after year, and we are no longer being seen as the “odd” members of society. While certain TV shows are twisting the reality of prepping, the increasing natural disaster in the U.S. made people realize that preparing for an emergency is just, and should be common sense.
The essential steps to planning a survival group
Before you ask what others can do for the survival group, you should ask yourself what you can do for it. You should become a valuable member and show others what you can bring to the table. Maybe you are trained in self-defense, maybe you have medical training, or maybe you are bushcraft master. All your skills should be brought forward, and you should never sell yourself short. It may look like you’re showing off at first, but it’s not a popularity contest.
You should also consider your psychical condition. Some people can spend a lot of times outside, exploring the great outdoors, while others require medication to get through the day. Even if some members have certain limitations, that doesn’t mean they are less worthy to be part of your survival group.
Be honest with yourself and don’t assume you can do more than you are capable. The point here is to become an efficient member of the survival group and be fair to others while acknowledging your own limitations.
Start building and expand
When people think about forming a survival group, they start with close friends and neighbors. Before you reach out to them, you should look closer to home. Your family is your immediate survival group, and you need to take them into account. Your kids and elderly parents have capabilities that can be put to good use. They can offer assistance with your prepping plans, and they can learn or teach you skills which you lack.
When the group evolves, each individual’s qualities should be assessed, and roles need to be assigned accordingly. An elderly person may not be able to do more than cook or see after the kids, but it still makes a huge difference.
Seek others in your proximity to expand the group. The group could be a few houses around your block or even a subdivision of a suburban neighborhood. Keep everything inside your survival group since once it is formed, it will not be open to outsiders.
Make sure to pick a leader
An effective survival group is an organized one. You can’t have order without an overall leader with a second in command. Most survival groups will choose people with clear leadership ability, perhaps military or law enforcement. However, the other roles in the group can be filled by anyone. Even more, they should teach their job to others so that the group can still function in case some member is lost.
Check if you have all the needed skillsets
You should identify all the skillsets available in your survival group since not everything you may need is in your geographical area. Chances are you may need to extend your area of action, in case your team needs a profession that is hard to find. You may need a doctor, a mechanic or a farmer/gardener and there’s no guarantee you will find one in your neighborhood. In an efficient group, you will find people who can do more than one job. The more skills you have in the group, the better.
Do a field test
There’s no point to having a good array of skills if you don’t practice and evolve them. Plan a weekend outing with your survival group and test their skills. A camping trip or gathering at someone’s house outside of town is an ideal scenario.
You can even do it in your neighborhood and gather at a member’s house. Turn off the utilities and see how everyone is coping with privation. You can even establish a perimeter around the house and post guard during the gathering. It will help you practice your skills in a less stressful environment before the brown stuff hits the fan.
Since you cannot predict the future and precisely establish how long a disruption may last, the goal will be to plan up to one year’s duration. Your survival group will need all the basics to survive during that time. Water, food, clothing, tools, medicine, communication gear, weapons, and ammunition are all a must for each member of the group.
You can help each other by sharing tips and information about your prepping plans. If there’s an ammo sale or if a nearby farm has a surplus of produce, you could save money, and everyone from your survival group will be prepared.
The good thing about having access to a variety of resources is that you can trade for the things you need or those you want. Bartering inside your group is much safer than having to deal with outsiders. A smart prepper will always accumulate extra supplies for use in barter.
Establish a territory
Depending on how the survival group is formed, and the skillset it has, you may need to establish a bug-in territory. This may be your own house or a city block, whatever works and can be protected without putting everyone in danger. You also need to plan a bug-out scenario, since you may be forced to relocate to a place in the country if a natural disaster destroys your neighborhood. This will require transportation vehicles for both people and resources and a well-established transportation plan. Not everyone from the group will agree to leave everything behind when the time comes.
If you establish a bug-in location, you should patrol the area around your territory. You will need to maintain awareness of local activities and keep everyone informed in case something happens. Depending on your region, you can either display a weapon openly or keep a low profile. Once it hits the fan, everyone approaching your territory must be stopped before entering your perimeter. All the talking and interrogation should be done outside that perimeter. They may be scouting the location, or they may carry infectious diseases. You also need to keep an open mind since some of the people approaching you may just need to barter, or they seek aid. You need to establish a protocol on how to handle outsiders and stick to it.
Everyone should be ready at any time
They should acquire basic proficiency with firearms, and they should have their resources organized. Training together will help everyone from your group since you learn much faster by doing rather than reading or talking about it. If the order is given to evacuate, you can’t waste time because some members can’t find their bug out bags or they misplaced certain resources. Your escape and evasion load should always be ready, and everyone should follow an established bug out timeline.
Ideally, everyone should have similar items in their bags so that each group member can go to any pack for support in an emergency. This is especially useful when it comes to firearms and ammunition since you can’t share ammo which is useless for your caliber.
Organization and fluidity are the main characteristics of an efficient survival group. You can’t use an electric vehicle as a common resource if you don’t have a method of charging it. You shouldn’t pack food that needs cooking if your bug out plan doesn’t include a resting or camping spot. These are all things that can be discussed and members need to communicate to identify flaws which can jeopardize the integrity of your survival group. There’s no shame in asking for advice and people should trust each other.
A last word
As I said before, immediate survival groups are forming inside families, and it seems this trend is growing. People are starting to show interest more and more to prepping and they are discussing with their neighbors about how to prepare better. I believe this year is a wake-up call for many out there and we can no longer ignore the natural disasters happening in our backyard. Forming a survival group will help you survive and learn how to prepare for a short or long-term disaster.
Here’s a article posted today in Lifehacker. We that live a prepper’s life, or should I even say, Professional Preppers, sometimes forget that most of our neighbors, family and friends haven’t a clue. We read, understand the fragility of our modern world, doubt government’s true intentions, and lastly, try to be self reliant. This has enabled we that prep to gather items and supplies to wary the storm, what ever that may be. Most people live life with blinders, travelling from home, to McDonald’s, to work, to Starbucks, to Taco Bell, to Home never to think about the conviences they take for granted on a daily basis. Never second guessing that the light switch turns on the light, or the stove just clicks and works, or when hungry just go through the drive-through. Well, here’s an article of someone that seems to have had an “Awakening” of sorts. It’s definitely not easy for someone in a large city apartment to be prepared, but she definitely starts thinking. Give it a read and see what you think.
We all prep for different scenarios, and start at different times in our lives. What made you start prepping? Did someone convince you that it’s a good idea? What’s your excuse for not prepping? Most of the people I try to get prepared have many excuses for not starting. Being 22 and just one semester away from getting my bachelor’s, the most common excuse I hear is I can’t afford it. Well I say. If there’s a will, there’s a way and in this article I am going to share how I practice being a prepper in college.
I grew up in a small farm town of 3500 people. Growing up I wasn’t in boy scouts. I was just a kid that liked shooting guns. We always had a little bit of food set aside, and we would always rotate food. I never realized what it was for. I never recall them talking about any radical ideas for it, just thought it was a good idea to stocked. Just. In. Case.
For the past four and a half years I’ve lived in a small apartment (now in a duplex) in a college town with a population of nearly 91,000.
The first couple years of my college life I was on campus in the dorms. Luckily for me, being on a native American campus we have a good amount of mother nature on our campus. Mother nature always provides, but you have to know where and what.
I have a pretty small collective of friends that I fully trust, but I have several acquaintances and connections that give me opportunity. My close friends my age know I prep, but they always say it costs too much to start prepping. While they say this I think in my head how much they drink and go out. Obviously you still need to live life and enjoy it, but I believe at some point you have to prioritize for the well-being of yourself and your family’s safety. There’s plenty of money to be made, and plenty of deals to be had. Building one bug out bag takes a good amount of planning and strategy which takes time. Just having one bag puts you ahead of most people in urban areas. I built my several bags and prep’s by purchasing one piece at a time. There is no excuse for the lack of prepping.
Prepping doesn’t have to cost a fortune
I’ve always had a knack for finding good deals. In no way am I wealthy, but I grew up wheeling and dealing. I am constantly scouring Craigslist, Facebook marketplace, etc. I work hard for my money, and when it’s not enough I find side jobs come in handy. Most college towns have places where you can donate plasma. This is a good way to build some spending money. My part-time job is an auto detailer for a dealership. I’ve found that I’m quite good at it and I like doing it. It is becoming a lost art and there is a lot of money to be made.
Another misconception that is popular with college kids making excuses in my area is that it’s all about spending money. Prepping isn’t only material things. Sure it’s a big part of it, but it’s also a mentality. Everyday I think what if’s and different scenarios to challenge my mind. Prepping is a prepared state of mind. This website and others brought me very good insight as to what I could and should do in different emergency scenarios. Even if you can’t afford to build several bug out bags, buy firearms, stockpile food and water, then you should definitely be researching other aspirations. Knowledge is power and there is a lot of survival information to be had on the internet! Not everyone grew up as a boy scout, I know I didn’t. Knots can be as important as knowing how to skin an animal, or what plants are edible.
Friends of mine that try to prep dismiss the fact that upon the beginning stages of WROL it will be a blood bath at regular store such as: grocery stores, pharmacies, gun stores, etc. They all say oh I’ll just go grab some food at the store. No. It won’t work that way. This is why it is very important for us to prep. Even if you live in the dorms it would be a very good idea to have some canned food, bottled water, flashlights, and batteries hidden away. There’s plenty more you can prep for but I believe most people I talk to could not handle a stressful event such as SHTF. If you have a little prior knowledge to survival and your environment, then it should help you prepare mentally. Having a small stockpile of supplies can be a safety net, and should provide you a little bit of time to collect your thoughts as to what just happened and forming your game-plan.
Start small but build continuously
I am just now starting to buy some canned food to put aside just in case of a power outage. A single can of corn in my area is merely 69 cents. It is easy and cheap to stock up on canned foods to keep in your place of residence. The only problem I see is when you must bug out, the canned food will be very, very heavy. Make sure to keep your home stockpile separate from your bug out bag supplies. A good habit for both is to still use the supplies in both spots and replace them with new ones to keep the “best by” date as far out as possible.
My generation has lost the ability to be self-sufficient and prepared. For other college students reading this and wanting help to prep on a very tight budget, I urge you to read as much as you can. Free information will only be around as long as society holds up. To be clear I definitely live the “college experience”. I don’t go to parties or go out for nights of binge drinking. There is other ways to be social and they are much cheaper.
The biggest challenge in prepping for a college student is preparing for an active shooter. You don’t know when it’s coming, from where, or how many there are. Most college campuses don’t allow firearms or conceal carry. Some states are starting to allow conceal carry on campus which, in my opinion is a great idea. My state is one of those starting to allow that. Unfortunately for me I go to a Native American College that is federally owned so the law doesn’t hold there. How do you prep for an active shooter if you’re not allowed to have even a pocket knife, and you don’t want to break the law? This question brings me back to what I stated earlier about reading as much information as you can. The have been survivors of every school shooting and their stories are out there.
So I am constantly reading and building my knowledge of survival. Now what? Personally a bug out bag is my go to item to start with for any prep. Whether you believe in TEOTWAWKI or just wanna have a head start on a natural disaster there is always room for a bug out bag, and it is very important to have this bag with you at all times. I have found that Walmart can sell everything you would need for a bug out bag. Piece by piece you will complete it. That being said don’t be that person to go buy a “pre-made emergency bag” they are made in bulk and most likely won’t be very accepting to your specific needs. MRE’s are a good choice for any style of bag as well as freeze dried foods. You need to always consider where you would go, how far is it, and the terrain you would trek through. If you have found that there is several options for water I would choose Mountain House freeze-dried meals because, they are light and filling. If water sources will be scarce then MRE’s take much less water.
For the preppers who believe in the large-scale, scary things that could potentially happen remember that there’s always going to be someone wanting to take what you have. I once read a very good article on here that mentioned that no matter where you hunker down there will be people after it. You WILL be overrun. That has always stuck with me and because of it I am constantly thinking where would I go now? Where would I go next? I suggest knowing your terrain and various routes to get around area’s that are going to be most likely a huge mess.
A lot of the things I’ve talked about have been really similar. The constant repetition should help retain the information for all the young, hard-headed, minds I am trying motivate. I’ve only scratched the surface of what I could say, but for my first article I wanted to keep it short and to the point. Bottom line is if you keep making excuses you may find yourself scrambling when the stuff starts hitting the fan.
Linked from: http://www.theprepperjournal.com/2016/10/28/how-to-be-prepper-in-college/
Why is it important to learn rainwater collection methods?
Living in such a modern world nowadays, most people don’t worry about much at all. They can mostly get what they need at home with just a push of a button or a flip of a switch. Even going camping outdoors is more like “glamping” these days, with food, water and even internet easily accessible.
But what if you run out of water, either at home or while spending time outdoors? What if there’s no way to get water elsewhere? Even if you were able to collect water, how would you make it safe to drink?
The following rainwater collection tips are for those who may find themselves in dry spell conditions, or even those who might like to save some money on their water bill.
Rainwater Collection Tips for Preppers
1. Check State Laws Before Collecting Rainwater
Are rainwater collection systems legal in your area? A water permit is required for some states in the US, while others don’t allow you to collect any rainwater at all. Better safe than sorry.
2. Collecting Rainwater At Home Using Food Grade Rain Barrels
Place the barrels beneath your downspouts. You can use cheesecloth, a coffee filter or a screen trap will help filter the water from sediments.
3. Make Your Own Rain Barrel
This tip will help you go through the Do’s and Don’ts in making your own rain barrel.
3. DIY Rainwater Collection System
This tip will help you collect rainwater mostly using materials that can already be found lying around your house. It may take a few hours of your time every day but it will surely put your power tools to good use. Plus, you don’t spend much for by paying someone else to do it for you.
4. Make An Emergency Water Filter
Using an ordinary bucket, you can fill it with different layers of certain materials that probably won’t cost you a cent. Just don’t forget to place a hole at the bottom.
5. Build An UltraModern Rainwater Harvesting System
Collecting and transporting a rainwater barrel outside your home can be tiring and time-consuming. Installing a system with a more complex design may help. Some systems have an overflow pipe that releases excess rainwater to a designated location in your property.
6. Install A Greywater System
If rain is scarce in your area and you’re just trying to save on your water bill, you might want to consider installing this system. You can recycle water from dishwashers, sinks, showers, and washing machines for use other than drinking.
7. Make A Belowground Still
This would increase your chances of survival for outdoor enthusiasts. This is a very basic way of collecting water if there isn’t any fresh water source for miles.
8. Make A Solar Still
This is another ingenious way to collect drinking water in the wilderness. Just choose an inclined surface then dig a trench. With a stick, plastic bag and a few rocks you’ll quench your thirst in no time.
9. Plant Condensation
If there are a lot of plants nearby you can collect water through the process of condensation. You will need a plastic bag and a 550 cord or anything similar to that material. Wrap the plastic bag around the end of the plant or a branch of a small tree then wait for the water to condense at the bottom of the bag.
10. Use Rags To Collect Dew
Dew is most heavy right before sunrise or shortly after that. By tying rags on your ankles and walking through grass covered with dew you can wring the now wet rags into a container. It may not be enough but it will get you through a couple of more hours.
11. Purify Water Taken From Unreliable Water Sources
Purification tablets or 2% tincture iodine can come in handy when you need to purify water to make it safe for drinking. Make sure you purify water taken from swamps, lakes, streams, springs and ponds.
12. Use Tiny Zinc Oxide Wires Made In The Form Of Spiny Cactus
These cacti spike inspired design was able to collect water from the air five times more efficiently than its original counterpart. This will work wonders for those that run out of water in the desert. If caught unprepared, collecting water from miniature cactus spines can suffice.
Just surf the web and you can find a lot more tips in collecting water from a variety of sources. Regardless of your location or type of environment you are in, knowing how to collect water in different ways is crucial for everyday living and survival.
Linked from: http://survivallife.com/rainwater-collection-tips/
Before I tell you about the skill set often overlooked by preppers, consider a few questions and comments to prime your thoughts.
How many times have you heard admonitions against being the proverbial lone wolf? How many people have said preppers aren’t going to make it alone? How many times have you been urged to be part of a community of like-minded preppers? And how well would you get along in that community?
This year I’ve been peppered with the message loud and clear from a diversity of sources that it’s more important than ever to be part of a community. That’s because times are only going to get worse, and we each need a support network.
With that in mind, the time seemed right for my wife and I to become involved with a different church where we could both be involved more meaningfully. This has been both rewarding and challenging for me. I’ve had to put into practice a few of the people skills I’d become rusty at in the past several years.
Granted, this church isn’t a prepper community. But it could prove to be an important support network, beneficial for all involved. And that’s no small thing.
Perhaps you’ll recall my visit with Chris Ray a while back on DestinySurvival Radio. (View my post about it here if you need a refresher.) One of the things we discussed was whether it’s preferrable for a Christian to be part of a church or a prepper group when the chips are down. While Chris said he’d rather be in the group of preppers, it’s an issue on which his opinion may change from time to time.
I say all that to say this. One of the most important skill sets you’ll need in any group you’re involved with is people skills. As my dad told me many times when I was growing up, when you’re out in the world, you’re going to rub shoulders with a lot of people, and you’re going to have to learn how to get along with them.
A few days ago in “The survival Weekly Dispatch” newsletter (Vol. 2, Issue 17), Jim Cobb published a piece on people skills, which I thought was so good, I asked him if I could reproduce it here. I do so below with his permission.
You’ll note that Jim has been my DestinySurvival Radio guest a number of times. His commentary is worthy of your attention, and I’d love to know your thoughts.
In the prepper world, we talk a lot about skill sets. Stuff like scratch cooking, food preservation, gardening, marksmanship, hunting, trapping, bushcraft, the list goes on and on. One area that is often overlooked, though, is what we call people skills. Things like active listening, conflict resolution, negotiation, and compromise. Basically, all those skills that prevent us from getting a note on our report card that says, “Does Not Play Well With Others.”
Now, granted, many of us in the prepper/survivalist world tend to be a little…abrasive…at times. That’s our cross to bear for having a healthy degree of common sense in our heads. We often have little patience for things like ignorance and stupidity. But, that doesn’t mean we should treat people any differently than we want to be treated ourselves.
When I talk about people skills, what it all really boils down to is this – treat each other like human beings. We, and by that I mean society in general, tend to forget that. My theory is that at least part of it stems from the disconnect we have today, given that we seem to communicate digitally far more often than we do face to face or even just verbally over the phone. How many times have you looked at an incoming call on your cell and decided not to answer it, instead just waiting for the inevitable text message? How often have you seen teenagers sitting right next to each other and having a conversation via text rather than verbally?
Why does this fall into the realm of prepper skills? Think about it for a second. A disaster and the ensuing aftermath are going to be extremely stressful as it is. Add on interpersonal conflicts within your family or group and blood pressure is going to go through the roof. It is much more difficult to work together as a team when each team members is angry with everyone else. Effective communication will defuse arguments and keep the group working smoothly.
If you feel your own people skills are a little lacking, try this. For one entire week, just work on active listening. This means you need to be present in the conversation and there are two basic components at work. First, you need to pay full attention to whomever is speaking to you. Put away the cell phone, tablet, and all those other distractions. Then, repeat back what was said, using your own words rather than just parroting what was said. Doing this confirms to the other person that you both heard and understood what was said.
Wife: Could you please run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread and some milk, please? We’re out.
Husband: We’re out of bread and milk? Ok, I can go get some. Do we need anything else since I’m going there?
Yes, that’s admittedly a simplistic (and stereotypical) example. The point, though, is that by repeating back what was said, you not only confirm the message but reinforce it in your own head so you’ll remember it better.
We’ll talk more about communication skills in future editions of the newsletter. These skills are important, both in everyday life as well as related to preparedness.
For Richard Duarte, surviving the end-of-the-world-as-you-know-it isn’t just a possibility; he’s lived it. In 1992, he and his family fled their home in South Florida with only the clothes on their back, after Hurricane Andrew swept through and destroyed their house. Half an hour after the storm passed, and long before rescue or cleanup teams arrived, looters entered his neighborhood.
“Your whole world is turned upside down,” says Duarte, an attorney and author of two survival books, including his newest one. “Living in Florida, I knew Andrew wouldn’t be the last disaster, so I’ve done a lot of research since to find out what the average person can do.”
When you think “Doomsday preppers,” you may think of survivalists building underground bunkers, stocking up on a several years’ worth of food, or arming themselves against marauding mobs. And some certainly are doing that. But “prepping” takes a variety of forms and being prepared for a worst-case scenario isn’t as out there as it may seem to some. Whether it’s a natural disaster, terrorist attack, or pandemic — or the loss of a job, or the death or disability of the family breadwinner — you aren’t likely to regret time spent on basic preparation.
“Legal and financial preparations are probably the most neglected,” says Duarte, a Miami-based attorney. “People are busy with their lives they’ve got a million things going on,” he says, and essential tasks are often neglected. He explains that every crisis or disaster is also followed by a rebuilding and reconstruction phase. “If you go through an event like I did where the house is blown away, you won’t have the access to those documents,” he says.
Organize your documents into three categories:
- nice to have
Crucial, for example, would include your will, power of attorney and the title to your home or car, for example. Start there and make copies. It’s also a good idea to back those up digitally, either on a removable hard drive or flash drive. Then make sure the originals are stored in a separate, safe place, such as a safe deposit box.
Duarte has also been a victim of identity theft — it took him a year to straighten out — so he’s especially conscious of the need for being organized financially. He also advocates the use of strong passwords to help reduce the risk of ID theft.
Stash Some Cash
Keeping some cash on hand can be helpful. “One of the biggest vulnerabilities we have as a society is that everything is electric,” he says. “There are very few things that will work if there is a widespread power outage in a large metropolitan area.” ATMs can go down, and store clerks won’t be able to run credit cards. So he recommends keeping some small bills in your purse or wallet in case you need to catch a cab or put gas in the car, for example, and keep some cash at home.
Many preppers recommend stockpiling gold or silver in case of an economic collapse where currency loses its value. Duarte doesn’t have a problem with owning these precious metals as a way to diversify an investment portfolio, but he is skeptical about their usefulness in day-to-day transactions after a disaster. “Folks can’t eat gold and silver,” he says.
Remember the Essentials
Food and water are essential to survival, so having enough on hand to survive a Katrina-like event is wise. The core survival elements, Duarte says, are “food, water, first aid, shelter, self-protection, temperature regulation and sanitation/hygiene and knowing when to stay put and when to get out.” Store at least one month’s worth of emergency supplies if you can, but if you can’t, start with a smaller amount and work your way up. For example, on his blog he recommends spending an additional $10 a week on groceries that store well, and then rotating unused items into the menu periodically so they don’t expire and go to waste. A first aid kit is also a must-have. And you’ll need to think about how you’ll protect yourself in dangerous situations.
Knowledge Is Invaluable
Skills can be more valuable than “stuff” in the event of a disaster, Duarte believes. He explains:
One example is water purification/disinfection. After a disaster it’s not uncommon for water to be contaminated and/or unsafe to drink unless it’s treated. If you purchase a water filter (stuff) and throw it in a closet, you take the risk that the filter may not work, may be damaged or may just plain fail when you need it most. On the other hand there are at least half a dozen ways to disinfect suspect water (skills) if you know how — heat (boiling), chemicals (chlorine bleach, iodine) solar radiation (SODIS), ultraviolet light (UV), etc. With skills you always have other options, even if the “stuff” fails or you have no “stuff.”
Another example is first aid and medical. It’s very important to have first aid supplies but it’s even more important to know the proper way to treat a sick or injured person. All the supplies in the world will be of little use if you don’t know how to use them. If you have the skills you can always improvise. Of course it will always be better to have both skills and stuff.
“Some people will prepare for extreme events yet they won’t prepare for a house fire, or a loss of a job,” he says. “Start with the basics. Start small.”
They’re rich, armed, and ready for the end of days—and they just might live in the McMansion down your street
BY ROD O’CONNOR
ILLUSTRATION: ARTHUR MOUNT
By all appearances, Bob Valenti is your average upwardly mobile suburbanite. The 40-something father of two has a couple of advanced degrees and a high-paying job at a high-flying technology company. He has an aggressive retirement plan and plenty socked away in college funds for his kids. As of last year, he also has a plan for surviving the end of the world as we know it.
A few years ago, Valenti (who asked that his real name not be used, for reasons that will be clear soon enough) and his wife traded their Chicago townhouse for a gorgeous $800,000 residence in west suburban Downers Grove. The idyllic 12-room house features handsome walnut cabinetry, a sprawling yard, and a basement that holds the beginnings of what will ultimately be a year’s stockpile of food and emergency supplies. Valenti recently ordered a box of 50 lighters and is squirreling away batteries, which he believes could someday be highly valuable for bartering. He has 25 pounds of meat in his freezer and another 50 at an undisclosed location out of town that he refers to as “Plan B.” Should he and his family need Plan B, he has a couple of 30-pound packets of “survival seeds” there for jump-starting their own farm.
Valenti, who otherwise seems like a perfectly reasonable man, is preparing for society’s collapse, which he believes could come any day now in the form of a global pandemic or the implosion of our highly leveraged financial system. “All of a sudden, you have hyperinflation, and you’ll need a wagon of cash for a loaf of bread,” he says as we chat in his immaculate kitchen while a cleaning woman vacuums in the next room. “Society could crumble in three days. That’s all it would take. Then it’s going to get primal.”
You can bet Ted Nugent’s crossbow that, for most people, the term “survivalists”—or the more polite “preppers”—conjures images of tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorists holed up in Montana hoarding canned pinto beans and assault weapons. National Geographic Channel’s hugely popular Doomsday Preppers, which spotlights fanatics who build bulletproof shelters out of train cars to wait out Armageddon or dress their families in matching HAZMAT suits, reinforces the extreme stereotypes. So do the “doom boom” opportunists who peddle nuke-proof multimillion-dollar luxury condos in abandoned missile silos, complete with spas, rock-climbing walls, hydroponic farms, and HDTV windows programmable to the preapocalyptic view of your choice.
Valenti is just one example of how the prepper movement has climbed out of the bunker and established itself, quietly, along affluent streets in Chicago, its suburbs, and beyond. Combined Universal Martial Applications Survival School chief instructor Waysun Johnny Tsai, with his penchant for knives and a license plate holder that reads “Zombie Police,” looks the hardcore survivalist part but says that his students don’t. Over the past few years, participants in his classes at the Chicago school have included doctors, lawyers, and upper-management types who live in upscale city neighborhoods and hoity-toity surrounding towns. Tsai tells me that he trains individuals for “the possibility, not the probability” of hardcore disasters and civil unrest. They come to him to learn how to build makeshift traps for catching their own food and light fires with a metallic rod and Vaseline-soaked cotton ball after the shit hits the fan—or SHTF, in prepper-speak.
With every new epidemic or terrorist attack in the headlines, a new batch of preppers is born, says David Scott, whose Northbrook company, LifeSecure, sells everything from crush-resistant earthquake survival kits to fireproof masks designed for fleeing a bombed-out building. “We think of it like sediment,” he says of the movement that he, of course, has a stake in stoking. “Another headline comes and another layer forms.”
Scott started his business in 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina, and believes the storm’s aftermath was a wake-up call for thousands of Americans. “It taught people you could go hungry, thirsty, and even die in the U.S. before the government could save you,” he says. “I talk with people on the phone, and they’ll say, ‘I don’t think I’m going to die from Ebola, but it made me think.’ There are a lot of prudent people out there who you wouldn’t identify as preppers who understand the need to be prepared.”
How Prepared Are You for the Apocalypse?
It was last fall’s Ebola outbreak, in fact, that made Valenti suddenly feel he was ill-equipped to protect his family if a pandemic disease were to spiral out of control. “I remember exactly where I was. I was crossing one of the bridges in the Loop, and I thought, Why am I not more prepared for this?” he recalls. “I fear the government isn’t very prepared. I don’t have any confidence that Chicago can handle it; Chicago just figured out how to handle major snowstorms.”
Valenti decided to call one of his hunting buddies, a longtime friend in Wisconsin whose reading list had recently shifted from postapocalyptic fiction to books that addressed “more plausible scenarios,” as Valenti puts it. “He was having exactly the same thoughts. And he had already done research. He’s like, ‘I’m thinking about starting to buy some food.’ ”
Within days, Valenti kicked off his own efforts, which he sees as no different from those in other walks of his life. As a professional, he likes to be overprepared. “I am paid to anticipate the questions my clients are going to ask,” he says. He’s telecommuting today, so his usual khakis have been replaced with comfy sweats and a Blackhawks cap he wears backward. He walks me down to the basement and cracks open two large plastic storage trunks. Inside one is a six-gallon bucket containing 330 servings of just-add-water meals with a 20-year shelf life (the same Chef’s Banquet All-Purpose Readiness Kits that sell for $121 on Amazon), a water purifier you can drop in your tub—which can store 100 gallons of drinking water—and a military-grade first-aid kit complete with sutures, splints, and a hand-crank emergency radio. The other trunk holds three 15-gallon containers of gas.
“Come back in a year [and my stockpile] will be double the size,” he says. “Ultimately, it comes down to one fundamental concept. I have the disposable income. I’d rather be in a situation where I have something and I don’t need it than need something and I don’t have it.”
Valenti’s largest-scale effort, Plan B, is an outwardly innocuous summer house that’s been in his wife’s family for years. It’s this property that he and a handful of like-minded friends and family members have designated as their safe haven if they need to (a) wait out a short-term threat or (b) start from scratch (hence the survival seeds). Valenti won’t tell me where this house is, except that it is a few hours’ drive away, is near the woods, has a virtually limitless water source, and is “easily defendable.” Onsite is a small arsenal of “multiple rifles, guns, and pistols,” along with 3,000 rounds of ammunition.
No one other than those in on Plan B knows about his new hobby. Not coworkers, not friends, not extended family. And especially not the guy next door. “This is about survival. I only want to talk about it with the people I’ll be surviving with,” he says matter-of-factly. “Mostly, I don’t want my neighbors to know about it. Because I don’t want them knocking on my door when the shit hits the fan.”
A portion of the Trapp family’s supply of dry goods and canned food PHOTO: RYAN LOWRY
Preppers are, not surprisingly, a paranoid bunch. Locating people willing to speak with me about their habits was more challenging than finding vegans at a gun range. After emailing a dozen members of Northern Illinois Preppers, a Meetup online community whose membership has grown from about 110 to more than 150 in the past six months, I received two responses. One was from someone who told me to take a hike (“I have no interest in being involved in your article. I also do NOT give you permission to quote me,” he wrote, which was perplexing, considering that no interview had been conducted). The other was delivered via a peer-to-peer encrypted email service.
“I took the liberty of setting up a secure email for you,” read the note, whose sender requested I call him Tommy. Then, in the encrypted message, Tommy chewed me out for asking about his prepping efforts:
Due to OPSEC (operational security) and PERSEC (personal security) you’ll never see my stored materials. Though I personally take no offense at your question due to the nature of this interview the question itself is exceptionally rude in prepping circles. By way of analogy it’s the equivalent of my coming over to your home for the first time and, in front of your wife or girlfriend, telling you I think she’s hot and I’d like to see her without clothes. It’s simply not done. Any prepper who would be willing to show you their stocks, anonymously or otherwise, has violated so many rules they may as well just put their stocks on the curb for all to see and take.
A few weeks later, I went to a Lombard gun range on shooting league night and met a wealthy couple from Barrington who, I was told by a reliable source, had recently begun taking shooting lessons as part of their preparedness plans. Both gave me their phone numbers. After repeated calls, I finally caught the man on his cell. He told me they were both too busy to participate in this story and hurriedly bid me adieu.
Then I casually mentioned this assignment in an email exchange with a former colleague, an advertising executive who lives on the North Side. I was surprised to discover a closet prepper in my midst.
“I’m sure you want people a lot more hardcore than me,” wrote my friend, whom we’ll call Pete Campbell, “but I’m a bit of a prepper. I probably have some materials and views that could get me seriously put on a watch list. Plus, I don’t want people knowing I got the goods when they get desperate. My greatest asset is my unobtrusiveness. No one would suspect me of harboring such ideas.”
We agree to meet at a bar near his place. When I arrive, he’s already there, sitting in a booth and sipping a craft beer. After some small talk, he tells me that if things “go from pudding to poop,” as one prepper so eloquently posted on a chat board, his primary concern is getting out of the city, which would have the highest concentration of desperate, unprepared types. Since he’s a condo dweller with little space, his “bug-in” plan is limited: two cases of military-issued MREs (meals ready to eat) that could last him a month and three firearms (an AR-15 rifle, a .38 revolver, and a .45 semiautomatic pistol).
I ask Campbell if he fears the kind of lawlessness seen in post-Katrina New Orleans or the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. “I don’t think that’s too far-fetched that something like that could happen in Chicago,” he says. “And if that happens and I’m holed up in my house and somebody tries to break in, I want to be able to protect myself. You can call 911, but what if they can’t get there in time?”
For the trek out of the city (on foot, if necessary), he has a carefully constructed bug-out bag, which some preppers refer to as a 72-hour kit or an INCH (“I’m never coming home”) bag. (Preppers really relish their acronyms.) “If something goes down, I grab this bag and a couple other things and get out the door,” he says. “Once the roads become impassable, I throw this on my back. My plan is to make it 72 hours and figure it out from there.”
He places the compact 25-pound pack on the table and starts talking me through its contents: water packets, protein bars, survival rations, a tent, light sticks, a first-aid kit, and one of those foil thermal blankets that are draped over finishers at the end of marathons. Everything is individually packed in plastic bags, in case he has to wade through a river or endure a rainstorm.
“Check this out,” he says, excitedly holding up a paracord bracelet that looks like one of those Livestrong wristbands but unwinds to provide 10 feet of rope. “You could use it to secure things, or as a trap or a snare.”
At the end of show-and-tell, he fishes out a small utility knife, flips open its corkscrew, and smiles. “No matter what happens, I’ll always be able to open up a bottle of wine.”
For Campbell, who is in his 40s and dresses in the youthful ad-industry uniform of untucked shirts and hip sneakers, the interest in prepping began two decades ago, when his parents, both military contractors with top-secret clearance, would occasionally call him with vague warnings. “They’d say, ‘I can’t tell you anything, but shit may be going down,’ ” he recalls. “To this day, my mom still won’t tell me what she meant.”
He doesn’t consider himself an extremist. “As soon as the power goes out, I don’t pull out the supplies. I like to think I have a firm enough grasp on reality that I am comfortable with my level [of prepping]. For me, it’s a hobby I hope I never have to use. A lot of people have figurines on glass shelves that they display. I’m collecting peace of mind.”
The whole notion of prepping is a mental exercise, argues Richard Mitchell, a sociologist from Oregon State University, who wrote the 2001 book Dancing at Armageddon. “There aren’t any practicing survivalists because the world hasn’t come to an end yet.”
Mitchell points out that preppers emphasize certain threats and ignore others to “craft a scenario where their preparations can be seen as both necessary and sufficient.” Their most popular threat, by far, is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, which, whether caused by a nuclear detonation, terrorist strike, or solar flare, involves waves of intense magnetic energy frying our electronics, ushering us and our Kindles and computerized coffeemakers back to the Dark Ages. In response to our cushy existence full of meaningless choices—Should I get the space-gray iPhone or the silver-and-white one?—preppers choose to imagine situations that put their choices to the ultimate test.
“Modern life has traded complexity for efficiency and abundance,” Mitchell says. “Most are satisfied with the exchange. But a lot of us are damn near useless. [Preppers] want a place between a rock and a hard spot to test their talents and gauge their gumption. This hands-on grappling, at least hypothetically, gives them purpose.”
This need seems to be particularly heightened among the wealthy—those with the most to lose. Edward Limoges, who has worked as a bodyguard on behalf of the Glenview company NIS Consulting Group, which provides security for high-net-worth individuals, explains that among the superrich, preparedness often extends as far as their disposable income allows. He shares stories of families in gated communities in Barrington and Long Grove who own pickup-truck-size generators, satellite hookups for emergency phone and data communication, and high-end freeze-dried entrées such as pasta primavera stored in their climate-controlled wine cellars.
Preppers with big bank accounts want to maintain at least a semblance of their comfortable pre-Armageddon existence. In the case of Valenti from Downers Grove, that also means preparing for the possibility that, for a while, the nation might operate under a totally new economy in which the dollar is useless.
During my visit, Valenti shows me his basement workshop, just around the corner from the kids’ playroom. On the wall is a large poster that diagrams proper assembly of an AR-15, a lightweight semiautomatic rifle (the civilian version of the M-16) popular among preppers. Here in this small, unfinished room, he’s taught himself to recycle spent bullet casings into fresh ammo. When he’s at the gun range, he collects used casings—like picking up errant golf balls at the driving range—and refills them with primer, powder, and the actual bullet. The function of his substantial ammo stash, safely kept at Plan B, is more capitalistic than ballistic. “Ammo is a great barter tool,” he says. “It’s the ultimate commodity item.” He also has a network of contacts who can help him acquire coins and precious metals, he tells me, in case he needs to stock up quickly on cash alternatives as the economy goes south.
Much of Valenti’s approach to prepping has been shaped by books such as 2014’s Prepper’s Blueprint, a step-by-step manual by Tess Pennington that promises “freedom through self-reliance.” A few times a week, Valenti consults the legal pad on which he’s scribbled lists of supplies in five primary categories: food, energy, defense, shelter, and hygiene.
He says the last category is tragically underappreciated among preppers. “It’s one thing to have food. But if you don’t have tampons, your wife is going to be pissed off. And let’s say it’s difficult for me to take a bath because water is scarce. I’ve got baby wipes.”
Mark Trapp, a corporate attorney, and his wife, Karina, invite me to sit on the couch in their sunny living room in Glenview. A large portrait of Abe Lincoln lords over the proceedings. The bookshelves lining the walls are filled with tomes on Reagan and Churchill, as well as a few zombie books. The Trapps’ spacious brick colonial overlooks the Grove nature preserve.
Their oldest child, 17-year-old Eleni, plops down next to me, along with her friend Blake. Unlike Valenti and Campbell, whose significant others are largely uninvolved with prepping, the Trapps view preparedness as a family affair.
The clan of seven convenes every Monday night to pray and to discuss whatever is on anyone’s mind. One evening last fall, Eleni brought up the topic of emergency planning, which she had recently learned about at school. Soon the conversation progressed from blizzards to the quintessential prepper novel One Second After (detailing the aftermath of an electromagnetic pulse attack; Newt Gingrich, America’s favorite conspiracy theorist, wrote the foreword), which she had recently read. Eleni, who has braces and hipster glasses, asked her parents how prepared they were for a serious disaster such as an EMP.
“Putting the kids to bed that night, I thought, What if something bad happened?” Karina recalls. “What do we say to our kids: Sorry, we didn’t prepare?”
The concept of prepping wasn’t new to the Trapps. They’re practicing Mormons, members of a religion that stresses self-reliance. “If you look at history, Mormons were chased out of a lot of places, so they had to take care of themselves,” says Mark. “It’s not just a theological thing. I think God does want you to rely on yourself, but the church does it as a practical matter.”
The Trapp family’s bug-out bags PHOTO: RYAN LOWRY
All members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are encouraged to have an emergency plan that includes at least a three-month supply of food and, ideally, up to a year’s worth of “long-term storage.” And while not every practicing Mormon follows this rule, it is actually a full-blown commandment.
The Trapps have made up ground quickly since last fall. “We may not be far up in the Mormon totem pole,” Mark says with a laugh about the size of the family’s survival stash. “But we’re pretty far up there compared with most people just by virtue of the little that we’ve done.”
After the family meeting, Karina started stockpiling first-aid supplies, which are now stored away with toiletries, protein bars, and other gear in individualized bug-out bags in a front closet. The backpacks of Eleni and her other teenage sisters (Reagan, 16, and Bella, 13) include items like favorite sweatshirts and girlie shampoos. Five-year-old Libby, who peeks around the corner during my visit before giggling and running away, has her own bag. Six-month-old Kiffin, the youngest child and only son, keeps his stash of Cheerios, Binkys, and bottles with Mommy’s gear.
Next Karina ordered wheat flour, oats, beans, and spaghetti from the Mormon Church, which sells the items in bulk to members and nonmembers alike both online and at home storage centers throughout the country. During trips to big-box stores, she loaded up on extra cans of corn, beans, soup, and fruit.
We walk down to the basement, where shelves across the back wall are filled with food. Boxes of Cap’n Crunch and Cheez-Its are stacked 10-high near the crawlspace, which the family might clear out for additional storage. Twenty-four cases of water sit under a table. All told, the Trapps are closing in on enough food and supplies to last about three months.
Most of the items have a 20-year shelf life, but the idea is to rotate the food, not stash it mindlessly. “You don’t buy a huge bulk amount and then, when the world doesn’t end in the next 20 years, you throw it out and buy it again,” Mark explains. “You cycle through it. You buy what you’re going to use anyway.”
Two of the Trapp girls with their rifles PHOTO: RYAN LOWRY
While food storage is a recent effort, Mark bought a .22 revolver in 2012, something he shares with me about an hour into my visit. Fresh-faced Reagan walks in, and Mark tells me he got her and Eleni their own rifles for Christmas not long after. She smiles and says that most of her friends didn’t believe her when she told them about her 22-gauge present under the tree.
Mark took both girls to the range so they could learn about gun safety as a family. “I didn’t want the girls to have the mindset that guns are the absolute worst things in the history of the world,” Mark says. “Because they’re not. If you know how to use one, it could save your life.”
We discuss whether, as many preppers believe, society is more dangerous now than in the recent past, as reports of school shootings, terror attacks, and global pandemics have become routine. “I don’t know if we’re the only ones feeling it, but there’s this sense that times are different now,” he says. “It’s sort of like the middle is not holding. Things are fraying, and I think more and more people are coming to the conclusion that if something is gonna get done, you may have to do it yourself.”
That includes protecting his family if a disaster triggers mayhem in the streets. “Those who are ready to deal with it are going to do much better than those who aren’t,” he says. “The social contract is potentially written on very thin paper when stuff goes down.”
I find myself wondering whether the rise of the modern prepper represents a grand illusion or a societal step forward through self-reliance. Who’s living the fantasy—them or me? I think back on something Bob Valenti told me when I visited him: “I don’t consider myself to be radical. I consider myself to be rational and practical.”
As he walked me out, he put in an earpiece and dialed into a conference call. We shook hands, and I jokingly asked him if I could be on the list to head to Plan B if the world as we know it ends.
He looked me in the eye, cracked a smile, and said, “I hope it never comes to that.”
But just in case, I have my real estate agent searching for houses in Downers Grove within a few blocks of Valenti’s. I’d love a big yard, but I’d kill for a bunker in the basement.
This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Chicago magazine. Subscribe to Chicago magazine.