In one way or another, we’re all preparing for the possibility of a future disaster. We buy car insurance in case we get in an accident, homeowner’s insurance in case of a natural disaster, and health insurance so that a medical emergency doesn’t equal bankruptcy. We all hope against hope that we’ll never need to use our insurance, but it’s our duty to be prepared. The National Geographic show Doomsday Preppers is shining a spotlight on a sub-community of people who are taking out some extreme insurance in the event of an apocalyptic disaster. But are most modern-day preppers really as nutty as they’re portrayed on TV? Or are the unprepared just burying their heads in the sand, only to become a liability to the prepared in a post-apocalyptic world?

Living in a rural community, I had the feeling that we had some preppers of our own, living on the down-low, preparing for disasters. Mike, a prepper living in a foothill community in Butte County, gave us a peek inside the thought process behind his plans for preparedness.

How did you start?

I’m an avid reader of history, and it was kind of an evolution. I was a Boy Scout, and the Boy Scout motto was “be prepared.” Also, I spent almost ten years in the Marine Corps and I’ve personally seen how unstable societies can be. I don’t have a lot of faith in government in general. And you know, what kind of a man would I be if I shirked my responsibilities to my family when it comes to their safety and well-being? Their well-being is my responsibility.

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What are you preparing for?

There are lots of examples in recent history where inflation has totally devastated whole economies. Our dependence on technology doesn’t frighten me, but it concerns me. A lot of people don’t realize that if there was a cyber attack by some unknown entity and the power grid was shut down for just a month, this country would descend into chaos. It would be nightmarish if the power grid failed. There would be rioting because nobody has anything to eat, nobody has any water.

You know all the grocery stores in Chico? There are two days’ worth of food in all those stores put together. They have to get resupplied every day. I can’t imagine how much stuff would be left if people were panic-buying things. I guess I’m overly prudent, but I don’t understand why people don’t have three or four days’ worth of food saved, or 20-30 gallons of water socked away. When word gets out that your next door neighbor Joe has water, and you need to feed your kids, things can get ugly. You need some way to protect your family. In a serious situation there will be a lot of Grade-A predators roaming around. If you’re not prepared, and there are bands of roving gangs out looking for something to eat, you’d be terrified.

I’m not one of the weirdo political people; I just don’t have a lot of faith in government. Total power corrupts totally. If you’re counting on the cavalry to come and save you, then you’re going to be woefully surprised. Back in the ‘30s, Americans actually starved to death. There were a lot of deaths due to starvation and malnutrition. The government doesn’t do emergencies well at all.

You know, in the 1800s a coronal mass ejection fried the telegraph system in this country. If that same flare were to hit the Western Hemisphere today it’d be two years before the lights were back on. I don’t want to depend on European largesse for my survival.

How do you plan?

Short-term and long-term goals; food storage is a big part of it. My daughter, son-in-law and their three kids, my son and his fiancée, my wife and I, my best friend, his wife, and their three kids. We could close our gate tomorrow and be good for six months. It’s not just food storage either; I could cultivate and plant 4.5 to 5 acres of winter wheat—I’ve got that much seed stock. We’ve got supplemental proteins with eggs and milk. We have a totally independent water system, 7,000 watts of solar panels with batteries, a well. Got about 5,000 gallons of water storage. We have a small orchard with figs, apples, pears, plums, and peaches, and we have a pretty big vegetable garden. We have chickens, ducks, geese, goats, and a couple of beehives.

We have a full basement dedicated mostly to storage. The back half is floor-to-ceiling shelves. We’ve stored 3,000 pounds of wheat, 1,000 pounds of rice, 1,000 pounds of beans. It’s all stored in nitrogen-filled mylar bags that are sealed. We grind our own flour. And you know, most of the world lives on some form of flat bread, legumes, and rice.

My wife puts up with a lot of crap, but she bakes, milks the goats, takes care of the bees. And she’s a pretty good shot too. She’s the group logistician; she keeps track of what we have on hand and what we need, and figures out how we’re gonna get it.

There are really four things you need to survive: water, food, shelter, and security. I have a wood-fired water heater and a 500-gallon propane tank. This winter I’m going to build a wood gas fire unit. It turns woodchips into combustible gas to run a generator. I can run the gas fire all day on 55 gallons of chips.

What advice would you give when it comes to some basic doomsday insurance?

You know, I see all that stuff I’ve stockpiled and I think, “I hope it sits here forever. I hope I never need it.” At the very least, get 4-5 days’ worth of canned goods and some water under your belt. And take a First Aid class. Like I said, if you’re waiting for the cavalry…it’s not gonna happen. After Hurricane Katrina, there must have been horrific conditions. Hellish. No food, no water for two weeks…and that was just one city. Multiply that by 10 or 15, and the government just couldn’t respond. The smartest thing you can do if you live in a major metropolitan area is to move. Get out of the city. The 1919 flu pandemic was bad. In 2004-2005, for the first time in human history, half the population lived in a metropolitan area. High concentrations of the population like that? A virus spreads like wildfire.

I would say that a lot of my neighbors are like-minded. Half of them are preparing to some extent. It should be a community effort. I’m in a situation, luckily, where there are like-minded people; we’ve got a kind of mutual aid society going.

It seems like a lot of preppers talk about buying up gold and silver. What’s that about?

It’s a hedge against inflation. If there was a total economic collapse with triple-digit inflation and the US currency became worthless, you’d need some form of currency. Silver would fit that bill ideally. The only reason our economic system works today is because people believe it works. The way our government is printing money, I think double-digit inflation is around the corner. Once you get runaway inflation, things get pretty bad too.

What do you think about Doomsday Preppers?

I watch it and find it entertaining. I’m not sure what’s going through their minds; it’s like they’re saying, “Come rob me!” It’s much easier to be low-key than to defend it. They seem like a lot of mouth-breathers. I don’t care how much food you have and how capable you are; if you can’t keep it from somebody that wants to take it from you, then it doesn’t do you any good.

It makes people think of us as knuckle-draggers who aren’t on the ball. But most of the people I know in the prepper movement are fairly intelligent. There are a lot of professional people. The intellectuals are coming around because they can see the handwriting on the wall and know that things can’t go on the way they have been, and it doesn’t look like it’s getting any better.

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