Mon, Dec 17, 2012 - Page 7 News List

FEATURE: US ‘preppers’ ready themselves for the worst

AFP, BERRYVILLE, Virginia

The Mayan end of the world is the last thing on Jay Blevins’ mind, but if it happens, he and his family are more than ready for it.

In the basement of their comfortable home in this small town in the Shenandoah Valley, an hour’s drive from Washington, there is a walk-in pantry packed with canned and preserved foods as well as medical supplies.

“We could survive for quite a while just on this stuff,” Blevins said.

Out in the backyard where fruits and berries grow, barrels of fresh water stand under the eaves. Safely locked away is a small arsenal of pistols and semi-automatic rifles, all the better to hunt game and scare off looters.

And if the Blevins should have to make tracks, every member of the family has their own “bug-out bag” — a backpack filled with on-the-road essentials from a katana samurai sword to toys and games for the kids.

“I don’t think we’ve spent too much money. I don’t think we’ve gone overboard,” said father-of-three Blevins, 35, a business consultant and former deputy sheriff and SWAT team officer “We have our normal life, and then we have this thing on the side. It’s just like insurance — if we ever need it, we’ll use it.”

Blevins is a “prepper,” one of a growing number of Americans making big plans for bad times, be it economic chaos, climate change, terrorism, natural disasters like the recent Hurricane Sandy or just a very long power outage.

In contrast to go-it-alone survivalists, preppers have embraced social media, blogging and self-publishing in a big way to share knowledge and build networks in the event of TEOTWAWKI, or The End Of The World As We Know It.

Some of the more outgoing members of the movement, like Blevins, feature in season two of Doomsday Preppers, a National Geographic Channel reality TV series, now airing worldwide.

“It’s kind of this natural homegrown American thing that’s just catching on with more suburbanites,” said Mike Porenta of the American Preppers Network, an online forum for local prepper meet-up groups all over the US.

Prepping enjoys a degree of tacit government endorsement: the US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), on its ready.gov Web site, tells citizens to put together a basic disaster kit with food and water for three days.

Why stop there? Preppers can shop online for everything from a year’s supply of food for one person (US$1,152 from Walmart) to pre-fabricated underground bunkers to sit out a nuclear, biological or chemical attack.

In California, the Vivos Group markets luxury bunkers for anyone from a family of four (“discreetly installed just about anywhere in one week”) to a community of 1,000 people outfitted for a year of survival.

“Members need to only arrive before their facility is locked down and secured from the chaos above,” it says.

On a more modest and practical scale, 1-800-Prepare.com peddles a range of made-in-USA survival kits for individuals, families, offices, even dogs and cats -— and in the aftermath of Sandy, it has seen its sales explode ten-fold.

“My typical client is the everyday American, the mainstream consumer,” said its owner, New York area volunteer firefighter Paul Faust, who turns over a slice of his post-Sandy profits to a disaster relief charity.

James Stevens, 73, alias “Dr Prepper,” who lives on a secluded hilltop outside San Antonio, Texas, with five years’ supply of food and his own water supply, has been prepping since 1974.

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