May 12, 2013

'Preppers' ready for the end of the world

Doug Huffman, a retired defense contractor, has made a life out of preparing for the end of civilization as we know it.

Doug Huffman, a retired defense contractor, has made a life out of preparing for the end of civilization as we know it.

He believes a major economic collapse of the markets will knock society off-kilter, leading to the devaluation of currency, wide-scale food shortages and eventually looting.

"It's not a matter of if, but when," Huffman said. "At some point this is all going to collapse. There is going to be a massive, massive reset in the United States and worldwide."

When Huffman isn't teaching urban survival courses at his Sierra Survival school, he's working to make his 240-acre ranch near Placerville self-sufficient.

"I provide everything for myself," Huffman said during a recent tour of his property, which is stocked with wild and farm animals, a greenhouse, a lake for water and a root cellar for food storage.

"Most people in America are saying: 'Don't worry, the government will take care of me,' " Huffman said. "That is a big mistake."

Huffman is among a growing number of Americans devoting significant resources toward surviving a major natural, man-made or economic disaster.

The survivalist movement, which has been around since the 1960s, is undergoing a recent resurgence. Participants cite the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the housing market collapse as the impetus for the broadening interest in survivalism, or "prepping" as it's been rebranded.

The National Geographic Channel's "Doomsday Preppers" – on which Huffman was featured – and other related reality shows increase the visibility of the movement. Prepping is the subject of numerous books, blogs and online forums.

"It's much more mainstream now," said Bob Canning, owner of Roseville-based DisasterStuff.com. "Over the least three to four years, the market has broadened. More and more people are becoming aware of how fragile the economy is."

Canning, who left his computing business to sell disaster supplies full time, sells everything from bulk-food packages to water filters, flu masks and bags designed to protect electronics from an electromagnetic pulse.

Sacramento's Action Military Surplus is also benefiting from the increased focus on disaster preparedness. Nick Nordman, a salesman at the store, said preppers are coming out from hiding. He said more and more people are willing to say they're a prepper.

He points to Hurricane Katrina as an example of why self-reliance is important.

"There were people still sitting on their roof three or four days later waiting to be rescued," Nordman said. "Aid will arrive, just don't expect it to arrive on time."

The calamities being prepared for run the gamut from collapse of the dollar to massive hurricanes, nuclear fallout and solar flares.

Mainstream emergency preparedness experts say the most likely disasters Californians will experience are wildfires, earthquakes, extreme snow events and – particularly in Sacramento – floods.

Jordan Scott, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said that while the "Doomsday Preppers" show depicts some people going to extreme measures to prepare, it might kick off an important dialogue.

"If it starts the conversation about what (families) need to do then that is a conversation worth having," Scott said.

Households should have at least three days worth of food, water and supplies stored, and have a general disaster plan, Scott said.

Rui Cunha, of Placer County's Office of Emergency Services, said rural Placer County residents are better prepared to ride out disasters than most.

He cited the 2008 winter storms in which some residents lost power for 10 days.

"We encourage that everybody be prepared for the possibility of not having government support related to basic functions for three to seven days," Cunha said.

The Red Cross' Scott said most households are woefully underprepared.

One group of people more prepared than most are the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Mormon Church doctrine encourages them to be prepared for whatever life throws their way – including disaster.

"There is a big emphasis in our church on providing for yourself, your family and your community in that order," said Sue Ramsden, a spokeswoman for the 5,200-member Sacramento Stake. "We all have a 72-hour kit or a bug-out plan."

Stake leaders have an extensive plan to shelter all 5,200 members from come-what-may, with phone trees, lists of assets and trained ham radio operators.

Ramsden said that between her year's worth of food, her neighbor's pool and the cops on her block, they are ready for the zombie apocalypse.

In addition to storing food for a "bug-in" situation, preppers encourage people to have an evacuation or "bug-out" bag packed, have a plan to escape populated areas, acquire gold or items to trade, and build other useful skills like identifying edible plants, gardening, canning and first aid.

Self-defense is another significant area of emphasis.

One of the key tenets of the movement is that being prepared means being ready to defend your family and supplies with force.

The movement got some negative publicity when a relative of Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza's mother told the media that Nancy Lanza stockpiled weapons and trained her son to shoot because she was a survivalist.

Disaster supplies dealer Canning cited the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles as an example of how fast a city can change, but said the need for security can be reduced by stocking up early.

"I watched that city change overnight," Canning said. "The people who were safe were the one who stayed at home."

With years of deployment in American conflict zones and experience teaching special operations domestically, Huffman takes security seriously.

During his "Doomsday Preppers" appearance, he carried a rifle as he walked his ranch, displayed his acumen in camouflaging himself and even had members of his Junior Rangers program jumping into the back of a moving truck while toting airsoft guns. Junior Rangers are his coed version of the Boy Scouts on Red Bull, with guns.

But it was another aspect of his defense plan that earned him the nickname "Spider Hole Guy" among the prepper community. Huffman told viewers – and, theoretically, would-be looters – that if under attack he'd retreat, hide out in one of the one-man "Spider Holes" he's dug, then return at night to shoot the attackers one by one.

"Just ask yourself, 'What would you do for food and water when you've had none for three days?' " he said.

"If people who are desperate, starving and thirsty know that you have food and water, they are going to come and try to take your food and water," Huffman told the television audience. "When survival is the goal it's into the spider hole," he said as he climbed into the cramped quarters.

On a recent tour of his ranch, he focused on steps he's taking to turn it into a self-reliant village. He said he has four sources of energy and redundant sources of water – a lake and several wells.

He breeds rabbits for food, has chickens for eggs and the lake for fishing, while sheep, wild turkey and quail roam the land.

His root cellar – a dark, cool supply room – is stocked with years' worth of food and supplies that are replaced as they are consumed.

At every stop of the tour there is another project under development.

Also at every stop there is a lesson – from the benefits of storing food underground to the nutritional inadequacy of packaged survival food.

It's not guns that will kill people during a societal breakdown, it will be hygiene, he said. Security isn't everything.

"You look at those guys and they buy all these guns," he said, "and they don't even have a water filter."

Call The Bee's Ed Fletcher, (916) 321-1269. Follow him on Twitter @newsfletch.

Related content




Editor's Choice Videos