Preppers Gotta Prep

What exactly are “preppers” prepping for?

Motivations include lots of government warnings and media coverage of disasters.

"Prepping," or getting ready to live without societal support, is apparently a largely American activity, and a recent one. Companies that cater to people who want to be self-reliant for food, water, and power have grown their revenue by about 700 percent over the last decade, and prepper products are now offered in places like Costco, Kmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

But it's not at all clear what's driving this growth—why are more people getting ready for society's collapse? Some explanations focus on a tendency toward paranoia in American society or fears of terrorism or natural disaster. But actual evidence that directly supports any of these ideas as the main reason is pretty sparse.

So Michael Mills at the UK's University of Kent decided to correct this gap in our knowledge. Mills went on an American road trip, spending time talking to (and butchering animals with) 39 preppers in 18 different US states. Rather than rampant paranoia, Mills suggests, preppers are motivated by non stop media coverage of natural disasters, as well as a government that encourages them to prepare for the worst.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

Mr B. Do you have a FEMA document number or exact title that I could search on? What caught my eye in your post is mention of Carrington event. While I am confident that FEMA has looked at the impact of a major CME directed at us [read Carrington type event] I am yet to see it mentioned in any of their public outreach type publications. I have long seen this as an inexplicable omission on the part of FEMA as I believe that if you multiply probability of occurance times potential impact it would rank near the top of the list of existential threats. It would certainly rank above hordes of Central American mothers and children which seems to be the current FEMA focus.

Blueberry's picture

Every once and awhile I check out Modern Survival Blog to listen to the chatter. There was a post a couple weeks back that I just finished reading where they were talking about this. FEMA is perceived as being the one who is pushing the amounts were DHS is a maybe we should tell people to do this.I for one do not have the means and if I did no way would I store fuel. Found something from 2004 several gov site are shall we say out of funds.Lots of info on water. Guess thay are thinking of the rules of 3s. 3 minutes without air, 3 hours without shelter in extreme heat or cold 3 days without water 3 weeks without food.

Blueberry's picture

Found this link sure are lots of folks trying to sell me food I can not afford.

Sweet Tatorman's picture

I remember reading that article when it first came out. Sweet Tatorman definitely can be seen to be a prepper but not of the guns/ammo/canned beans in the bunker variety. I found that the motivations to prep inferred by the author did not match my own. Media and government warnings are not relevant to me. While I own one, my TV has not been turned on in years. Like for most folks visiting this forum on a regular basis it is apparent to me that we are all operating in a system that has increasing fragilities. It seems only prudent to take that into account to a lesser or greater degree. Some types of "prep" require very little effort or expense but potentially could have high impact. Answering the question for yourself "where would my drinking water come from?" would be a prime example and IMHO the first one to be addressed. One need not buy into any specific scenario to potentially benefit from having answered the water question. I would argue in fact that it is better to not focus any specific scenarios but instead look for commonalities in needed responses and address your ability to respond.

One quote from the article ""Federal agencies have recently encouraged American citizens to contemplate surviving disasters without their assistance," Mills writes,". I would say this is an example of the government offering good advice. Millions of Puerto Ricans would probably agree.

Blueberry's picture

Just finished reading about FEMA new guidelines for storing food and fuel. If there is a EMP or Carrington event every family should have 6 months food and 6 months FUEL. I know people who are danger to themselves having a gal of fuel for the push mower. I don't keep 5 gal of fuel for the generator unless there is a storm headed our way.

David Trammel's picture

I agree with the overall premise, that is to have a supply of fuel (or for that matter a lot of other needed supplies) BUT as you point out, unlike a 6 month supply of food, gasoline can be hazardous when stored incorrectly.

And that comes back to how much we're talking about. I travel about 80-100 miles a week, going mostly to work each day. Its close, about 20 minutes travel away. I try to do my grocery and runs arounds, done on the way home. I'm getting about 20 miles per gallon in my small truck (4 cylinder). That works out to 4-5 gallons a week.

For six months, we'd be looking at 24 five gallon containers, with about 120 gallons total. Two 55 gallon drums would be better since near empty gasoline containers are more dangerous than full ones (fumes!!).

In an emergency I'd either be driving less because of curfew or driving more to try and find the few supply stores that would be open. So lets figure three 55 gallon drums.

That's just the supply. You need to consider how you would fuel your vehicles too.

Bringing up a five gallon container to fill your car would be noticeable. Having three big drums, even more so. Would make you a target.

Also once you established such a supply, you need to start a schedule of using it and rotating out older fuel. Not sure of the life span of stored gasoline. Being on a farm or rural property would be easier, less people would consider it unusual to have a gasoline tanker in your front driveway making a delivery.

There is alot to figure out on this.

lathechuck's picture

I think that, as an electrical engineer, I have a pretty good grasp of the range of outcomes from a geomagnetic super-storm. Naturally, the "worst-case scenario" gets the most attention, but it's a combination of a worst-case storm AND a worst-case response (no prior warning, no protective action taken). But we currently have satellites continuously monitoring the sun, to provide advance warning, and that allows electrical grid operators to open circuit breakers to protect their equipment. Naturally, they won't want to do that unless they have to, and some might wait too long (or not have appropriate training), while others might react too quickly and create brief blackouts on false alarms. However, they'd ALL have to over-ride automatic circuit breakers to destroy the grid world-wide (which would probably take about five years to restore). And if it does take five years to completely rebuild the electrical grid, restoration will focus on critical facilities and high population areas first, so your "bug out retreat" might get power years after your urban relatives get theirs. Still, with the best-case response to the worst-case event, plan on power being out for a week or two, not a year or ten.

The grid could also be passively protected by grounding the transformers, not directly into the ground, but through capacitors. Capacitors block DC (like geomagnetic currents) and pass AC (the usual power), but at utility scale, they're big and expensive. Some of what you read might be based on a capacitor salesman's stories, even if they're not trying to sell them to you.

Advance warning depends on satellites, and satellites are big and expensive, too, and need to be replaced from time to time. Some of what you read might be based on a satellite salesman's stories, even if they're not trying to sell them to you.

I missed Hurricane Hugo as I was stationed in Norfolk at the time. Hugo veered inland, over Charlotte rather than rake the coast. This was in 1989.

However, in 1991, I transferred to Charlotte, NC. Everyone there was STILL talking about rebuilding from Hugo and how long it would take.

The interesting point to me -- no surprise to lathechuck, I'm sure! -- was how power was restored.
The portion of Charlotte next to the power plant came back online with a few days. That meant everyone directly attached to that section of the grid got power, including the Charlotte Observer. After that, it depended on where you lived.
Folks at the MEPS told me that some people got their power restored within a week. Others had to wait almost a month to get power.
It all depended on where you lived, how far away from the main grid you were, how much damage actually occurred near you, and a host of other reasons none of which you cared about as you sweltered on that sunny dirt road deep in bear country.
Charlotte NC covers a huge geographic region and even back in 1991/1992, you could find gravel roads inside the city limits in places like Derida.

Hugo did an enormous amount of damage, especially in areas that don't get press coverage and never expected a hurricane. Similar, I suppose to Hurricane Irene or Hurricane Floyd.

So yeah! It all depends on where you live as to how long you'll go without power.

Teresa from Hershey

Blueberry's picture

2006 was not a good year in N Florida. Something like 6 storms hit the state, we lost power with each storm. Living 20 miles from town we were low on the list. Never went more than 7 days with no power get it back and another storm. We have a LP backup water heater and a backup LP dryer. nothing is going to dry on a line for a week after a storm. Our generator will give us lights cold beer a few fans and the washing machine. We only run the generator a few hours a day just do not like storing fuel.

David Trammel's picture

Along with where you live, how quickly you get power can depend on how many people are on your disconnected section of the grid. We had a near tornado here in St Louis a few years back and it knocked a good size of the grid off due to falling trees. Where I was we only had power on one side of the street. My side was feed from the street behind us and our little loop perhaps serviced a two dozen or so homes. I figure it takes just about the same length of time to get a section which services two hundred homes as it does our small section, so we ended up being one of the last to get turned back on.

In my experience (11 years in New Orleans, including during Hurricane Katrina and other storms), when your power is turned back on also depends on how close you are to a hospital - the closer, the faster you'll get power.

In other prepper news, the infrastructure is collapsing horribly here in Baltimore. One part of my neighborhood (not my area) loses electricity on a semi-regular basis. It's a wealthy part of town and the power company scurries to get them back online, but it happens over and over again. Our whole water/sewer system is being replaced, with huge rate increases, and last week there was a massive water main break right in the middle of downtown which also led to the sinking of a light rail platform, so both cars and public transportation are negatively impacted. Completion date for the repairs? Unknown. I've heard rumors of September or even December! And, it goes beyond the city, really. The local news has a whole section dedicated to water main breaks in the region:

Spending my childhood in the Rust Belt, and then time in New Orleans and Baltimore, sometimes it feels like I've lived in the Long Descent my whole life! My question is why MORE people I know aren't prepping?!?

lathechuck's picture

Sounds to me like a case of "don't cut my beautiful old trees", until the wind knocks them down and takes the power lines along with them. Just north of Washington DC, the utility deferred tree-trimming maintenance for years, which led to reliability problems especially in the rich old neighborhoods with big old trees. Then new management took over a couple of years ago, and they've got tree trimming crews rolling out every morning at 6:30 for a full day of work. And the outages seem much less frequent.

But, your larger point about Baltimore's crumbling infrastructure is interesting. Thanks for that.

You're right, I bet that's exactly what is going on. (Though I admit, I love the huge black walnut that shades our house and makes it incredibly cool during the summer - and also happens to be tangled in the power lines.)