In the late 1990’s there was a resurgence of interest in Preparedness stemming from fears that computer systems would fail and society would collapse due to the “Y2K Bug”. The Y2K Bug concern revolved around the potential for computers to not be able to handle the year changing back to “00” which had not previously happened in the lifetime of computers. While it turned out the the Y2K bug was successfully neutralized, the world stood on edge at the turn of the century, concerned that society would collapse from a catastrophic computer failure.
"Why stock this Mountain House meal? If the electric grid went down due to a solar flare, people would attack our stores and you would be out of food in several days. If you don't carry cash, it would be impossible to purchase things with a credit card. In short, I believe this could be a lifesaver and the best thing is that the food is delicious!"
I connected with Jennifer through Daisy Luther, the Virginia-based writer and survival preparedness expert behind the blog The Organic Prepper, which boasts more than 30,000 followers on Facebook and roughly 32,000 monthly visits on Pinterest. Jennifer says she learned a lot about prepping from the site and is a member of its affiliated private Facebook group, which Luther says is nearly 77 percent women. (Luther and other bloggers I spoke with for this story say that while they approach survivalism from a female perspective, they’ve encountered no small number of men who are interested in these practices as well.)
Terrorist attacks including the 911 plane attacks, bombings in London, Madrid, Bali and many other places, led to a strong online interest in discussing personal readiness and self reliance. Fueled by United States disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Ike and international disasters including earthquakes and tsunamis in Indonesia, Chile, Japan and elsewhere, the Prepper Movement gained a lot of momentum without having a particular date in mind (unlike Y2K) which led to many people recognizing a need to change their lives to be more prepared and self reliant.
While media coverage has often focused on a certain gun-toting, masculine segment of the subculture, both women described being drawn to prepping as a form of female self-empowerment. As Bedford sees it, finding yourself unprepared in the midst of a crisis can be a “terrible feeling of weakness” for a mother. “It makes sense to be empowered and trained and have the right supplies—and in this case, to have extra food on hand—because as a mom in particular, your family just relies on you,” she said.
Government has always played an active role in emergency preparedness. Nuclear-raid drills were part of everyday life for school children in the 1950s and '60s, and building bomb shelters was encouraged because of the nuclear threat. In 1999, the government set up a $50 million crisis center to deal with the computer threats posed by Y2K, and after 9/11, residents were pushed to stock up on plastic and duct tape to seal their homes in the event of a biological attack. But in 2010, as we enter the new year under an elevated threat level, the problems at hand can seem insurmountable and unknown, to the point that even Barton M. Biggs, the former chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley, warns in his 2008 book that we must "assume the possibility of a breakdown of the civilized infrastructure." Where that leaves preppers is struggling to fill the void. "We want people to understand that preparedness is an individual's job, too," says Joseph Bruno, New York City’s commissioner of emergency management, where polling has shown that more than 50 percent of residents are thinking about preparedness—up from just 18 percent in 2004. "I'm a newsaholic, and that probably feeds some of this," says Bedford. "But I like to think that if we're prepared, it's one less family the government has to worry about."
Followers of James Wesley Rawles often prepare for multiple scenarios with fortified and well-equipped rural survival retreats. This group anticipates a near-term crisis and seek to be well-armed as well as ready to dispense charity in the event of a disaster. Most take a "deep larder" approach and store food to last years, and a central tenet is geographic seclusion in the northern US intermountain region. They emphasize practical self-sufficiency and homesteading skills.
Still, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the two. “There are preppers that are homesteaders, and there are homesteaders that are preppers,” says Levy, who identifies more as a straight-ahead prepper. “If there’s any difference, it’s just a difference in the environment in which we live. If there’s commonality, [it’s that] we still all have this real need to be self-sufficient and not dependent upon others, no matter what happens.”
“Everything started flying out,” she says. Buckets and cans rolled out of the pantry and down the side of the mountain. Hurricane Maria claimed almost all the food Jennifer had stockpiled, in addition to more than 30 chickens, two cows, four pigs, six ducks, and a turkey. “I had prepped for two and a half years, and I ended up with preps for six months,” she says.
If we cannot at once rise to the sanctities of obedience and faith, let us at least resist our temptations; let us enter into the state of war, and wake Thor and Woden, courage and constancy, in our Saxon breasts. This is to be done in our smooth times by speaking the truth. Check this lying hospitality and lying affection. Live no longer to the expectation of these deceived and deceiving people with whom we converse. Say to them, O father, O mother, O wife, O brother, O friend, I have lived with you after appearances hitherto. Henceforward I am the truth's. Be it known unto you that henceforward I obey no law less than the eternal law. I will have no covenants but proximities. I shall endeavour to nourish my parents, to support my family, to be the chaste husband of one wife,--but these relations I must fill after a new and unprecedented way. I appeal from your customs. I must be myself. I cannot break myself any longer for you, or you. If you can love me for what I am, we shall be the happier. If you cannot, I will still seek to deserve that you should. I will not hide my tastes or aversions. I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions. If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own. I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly. It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh to-day? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and, if we follow the truth, it will bring us out safe at last.-- But so you may give these friends pain. Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me, and do the same thing.
7Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response [Internet]. Hospital Preparedness Program. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. [updated 2017 Apr; cited 2017 Jul 10]. Available from: https://www.phe.gov/Preparedness/planning/hpp/Pages/default.aspx
Virtues are, in the popular estimate, rather the exception than the rule. There is the man and his virtues. Men do what is called a good action, as some piece of courage or charity, much as they would pay a fine in expiation of daily non-appearance on parade. Their works are done as an apology or extenuation of their living in the world,--as invalids and the insane pay a high board. Their virtues are penances. I do not wish to expiate, but to live. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. I wish it to be sound and sweet, and not to need diet and bleeding. I ask primary evidence that you are a man, and refuse this appeal from the man to his actions. I know that for myself it makes no difference whether I do or forbear those actions which are reckoned excellent. I cannot consent to pay for a privilege intrinsic right. Few and mean as my gifts may be, I actually am, and do not need for my own assurance or the assurance of my fellows any secondary testimony.
If the group became indifferent to Finelli’s leadership prior to his ouster, he became just as frustrated with their complacency. Preppers began ignoring his strict no cell phone rule. Few took concrete steps to be more prepared over the years, he says. He’d set out to develop independent thinkers, not apathetic disciples. “I mentioned to the group that at some point, Vinny may not be available,” Finelli says. “So be prepared at a moment’s notice.” That’s why he feels like he failed: He left the preppers unprepared.
But that image is fostered in part by the public's biggest route to being made aware of preppers: Doomsday Preppers, which aired on the National Geographic channel. (The show has also infiltrated the academic literature, as Mills cites a study that analyzed the psychology of people who appeared on the show.) Although Mills doesn't explicitly say it, it's reasonable to wonder whether one can get an accurate cross-section of the prepper community purely from watching people who were chosen to appear on the show based on whether they make for good television.
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.
"If you are a serious prepper—serious about survival, about you and your family's well-being, serious about being warm, being able to light a fire, and you want something to count on—depend on and bet your life on—these simple matches are what you need to get. The matches themselves are tanks. They are tough and dependable. They light up automatically when blown out and burn from eight to ten seconds."
This group is concerned with the spread of fatal diseases, biological agents, and nerve gases, including swine flu, E. coli 0157, botulism, dengue fever, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, SARS, rabies, Hantavirus, anthrax, plague, cholera, HIV, ebola, Marburg virus, Lassa virus, sarin, and VX. In response, they might own NBC (nuclear, biological and chemical) full-face respirators, polyethylene coveralls, PVC boots, nitrile gloves, plastic sheeting and duct tape.
Action is a part of self-reliance, but so is introspection, else how will you know what action to take? We’ve got to remain fixed on our own path, and can’t know what that path is unless we’re tuned into our true wants and desires, and are able to admit that those aims are valid — even if they’re not connected to the kind of status markers of which society typically approves.
This group focuses on surviving brief encounters of violent activity, including personal protection and its legal ramifications, danger awareness, John Boyd's cycle (also known as the OODA loop—observe, orient, decide and act), martial arts, self-defense tactics and tools (both lethal and non-lethal). These survivalist tactics are often firearm-oriented, in order to ensure a method of defense against attackers or home invasion.
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.
The first edition of the essay bore three epigraphs: a Latin line, meaning "Do not seek outside yourself"; a six-line stanza from Beaumont and Fletcher's Honest Man's Fortune; and a four-line stanza that Emerson himself wrote. Emerson dropped his stanza from the revised edition of the essay, but modern editors have since restored it. All three epigraphs stress the necessity of relying on oneself for knowledge and guidance.
However, that may all there be to it. When it comes to other serious survival skills, especially knowing what to do in a bug out situation, they may be lacking. The negative side of this type of survivalist is they love their home so much that they might refuse to bug out, even if the situation calls for it. Overall, the key is to develop the skill to determine whether you should bug in or bug out.
In his 2016 book, Can It! The Perils and Pleasures of Preserving Foods, Gary Allen, a food writer and adjunct professor at SUNY Empire State College, traces the evolution of food preservation as a source of culinary innovation. “The original food-preservation methods—like salting and drying and all that—actually turned the food into something else,” he told me over the phone. “Cabbage sauerkraut is not the same thing as cabbage. Wine is not the same thing as grape juice.”
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.
In fact, there may never have been a time when developing this type of self-reliance has been more important. We’re over-politicized and polarized. Advertisements are creeping further and further into our content, making them less obvious. The Internet has given us two or two-thousand sides to every story. Social media feeds allow our peers to weigh in on our every decision. The comment section of a blog post allows us to see what other people thought of an article before we’ve formed our own opinion. It’s increasingly difficult to live a life that is inner-directed rather than other-directed.
Believe it or not, many people who like to call themselves “preppers” don’t actually practice prepping. They simply binge watch Bear Grylls or Survivor man on TV. They read articles about prepping on the internet, they talk about survival with their friend and watch hours of prepping videos on YouTube. These people aren’t preppers – they’re just fans of prepping shows and videos. If you’ve been thinking about prepping for a long time, but haven’t really made any substantial progress maybe it’s time to start practicing what you preach.
Emerson tells us to take action and get to work. He tells us that to envy great and successful people is to be ignorant. What’s the point of being jealous of what other people have and what paths other people are walking? We are simply unaware of what we truly want in our lives and decide that living the life that “looks” fun, comfortable and filled with luxury is what we want.
Pense was born in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. He was 5 years old when the bombs fell over Pearl Harbor. His food was rationed. He got bronchiectasis during Black Sunday as an infant and “forgot to tell” the Army so he could serve; he stayed in the service until the doctors found out. He’s a product of a generation when people were prepared, not because it was stylish or social, but because it was what you had to do. He tells me all this as his still-strong arm puts another log on the fire, and I can’t help but wonder what the world will be like when resilient people like him are gone.