Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse?
Nevadans prepare for all sorts of end-of-the-world catastrophes (but not the zombie apocalypse)
In my bag, I carry around 10 items: a knife, multitool, prybar, smartphone, asthma inhaler, chapstick, wallet, tactical pen, lockpicks and, of course, a notebook. It’s my everyday carry kit—otherwise known as my “EDC”—and it’s a carefully compiled collection of items that could potentially save my life in the event of a crisis like a zombie attack or a takeover by an authoritarian regime, or more realistically, an earthquake or fire.
EDCs have become popular in the past few years as part of the “prepping” circuit. Prepping is the act of preparing for disaster. For some, like me, it’s a hobby and a nerdy endeavor, stemmed from a love for the outdoors, post-apocalyptic literature, and making
things with my own two hands. But for others, it’s a belief system that can often dictate preppers’ lives, including which jobs they choose, where they live, and how they raise their families.
Prepping is part of a larger movement known as urban survivalism—primarily, preparedness for disaster in the age of comfort and convenience, but also a return to a more simple way of life. It’s a culture born from several others, including hacking and homesteading, and has its roots in politics and religion. It harkens to humanity’s most primal fears and needs, but it’s also a result of intense fear mongering, facilitated by the media and the internet.
So what, exactly, is everyone preparing for?
The end of the world as we know it
On the popular National Geographic show Doomsday Preppers, which profiles individuals preparing for a total global collapse, each person has a different answer. For some, it’s fear of a financial collapse, resulting in societal chaos. Others believe that a polar shift will drastically alter the environment, rendering it almost unlivable and ruining the electricity grid in the process. And then some are convinced that our reliance on global trade of goods and food will result in a widespread pandemic, killing of much of the population. Scientists have debunked several of these claims, but many experts are certain that an avian flu pandemic is inevitable.
According to the Nevada Department of Emergency Management, Nevada faces several potential disasters—fires, droughts, earthquakes and floods. Regional disasters are far different than a world-wide apocalypse, but sometimes a local disaster can be an armageddon for a community. Both Hurricane Katrina and Haiti’s devastating earthquake were examples of how deadly events can be for a population without support.
Every scenario boils down to a fear of chaos, civil unrest and violence. Preppers often cite “anarchy” as their biggest concern during a catastrophe. But many don’t acknowledge how much they have in common with anarchism’s own survivalist subculture, seen most recently during the Occupy Wall Street protests, where citizens took first aid into their own hands, forming teams of street medics trained to treat wounded protestors.Guides on how to make gas masks, start guerrilla gardens, or create homemade weapons have been part of anarchism for decades.
It’s here that prepping becomes political. It thrives as a very libertarian culture—ownership of one’s property and family reigns supreme. Message boards are filled with political commentary, most of it conservative. Weapons and tools are considered a right, not a privilege, and not in need of regulation. It crosses over with anarchism in the sense that it encourages self-sufficiency and being in complete control over one’s self. Some preppers take a communal approach, forming homesteads with other families, and living off the grid, using alternative energy sources to power their homes. But some refuse to share anything, even information, with their communities.
But prepping originated as a Judgment Day scenario based on the book of Revelations in the Bible. The original ancient Greek translation of the word “apocalypse” means “revelation” or “lifting of the veil.” Many Christian sects integrate prepping into their beliefs. Thea Whitaker, who grew up in Gardnerville but currently attends college in San Francisco, says that prepping was a large part of her Mormon upbringing.
“One of the big things I remember growing up was that we were taught to expect the second coming of Christ and subsequent end of days on Earth at any moment,” she writes in an email correspondence. “Personally, I felt it was a fear tactic to keep people in line. There was also a mindset of being prepared for anything. As long as I can remember, there have been lectures and lessons and group ‘activities’ where food storage and disaster preparedness was discussed. I can say without a doubt that 12 people and three dogs could live in my parents’ house without going outside for about a year. … Every year my parents go through a canning process of all of the excess food our garden produces.”
For Whitaker, prepping was part of everyday life.
“We were taught basic survival skills. Personally, I have the female equivalent of an Eagle Scout, as do my sisters and mother. My brother-in-law, brother and father are all Eagles, too. Though all of us girls were taught to sew modest clothes, first aid, child care and basic house chores in particular, it was always with the mindset of ‘You may not have a man around to do it.’ I honestly don’t mind having these skills, though, because it meant that I knew how to take care of myself when I got to college, whereas some girls could barely do their own laundry.
“This past Christmas, I got a 72-hour backpack. It has enough for me to safely hike down to Redwood City to meet up with my brother, should something happen. My parents sat me down with maps and everything.”
Local resident Tracey Benecke compiled the Reno Nevada North Stake Emergency Preparedness guide in 2008 as a response to the abundance of earthquake activity in the region. In the guide, Benecke cites the book of Matthew in the Bible as a reason to prepare:
“This parable [of the 10 virgins] teaches us an important and critical lesson: we must be prepared before disaster strikes. Are you a wise virgin or a foolish virgin?”
“I understand that, in their own way, [my parents] are making sure that I’ll be able to cope no matter what’s going on, and that this is a sign of love,” Whitaker says. “Mormons really believe that within the next 100 years Christ will come again, and the faithful with be translated to heaven, and the unfaithful will be converted, though the officials of the church have been saying this since the 1800s. They honestly hope that it will happen before they die. That I just don’t understand. Never will. I’ve always felt that religion is a way to scare people into compliance. Though in modern days, that’s not too bad a place to be.”
Beans, bullets & Band-aids
Prepping gained traction during the Y2K scare in the 1990s, and started to gain popularity again several years ago as 2012 was approaching, with the help of efforts such as Harold Camping’s end of days campaign.
But these days, it’s not just those hoping to be saved by Jesus who want to get in on the fun. And it is kind of fun, even if it’s a sort of backwards fun. EDC hobbyists are often collectors who enjoy nice knives and accessories. Learning how to shoot guns or arrows has already been an interest for hunters. And living out in the wilderness for survival doesn’t differ much from camping.
Bob Parker organizes the Las Vegas branch of the Nevada Preppers Network and has been a longtime prepper.
“Prepping wasn’t always something for weirdos,” he says. “For a long time, it’s just been a smart way to prepare for the unexpected.”
Nevada has the fastest growing preppers’ network in the country. Other large networks are in New Jersey and New York.
“Part of the popularity is the Doomsday Preppers show,” he says. “But I remember it during the Y2K craze, too. The media puts it out there, people go into a panic, and they get kind of worked up.”
But Parker also notes that many try to distinguish themselves between being a “survivalist” and a “prepper.”
“Survivalists are what we used to be called, and it had that connotation of being kind of a wackjob,” he says. “Prepping doesn’t seem to be treated in the same way.” The difference between the two is that “survivalism” is more about survival after an event, whereas “prepping” is about the steps needed to prepare before one.
While National Geographic’s show generally highlights residents in the South or on the East Coast, prepping has a unique presence in Nevada. In June, Reno was set to host the Doomsday Prepper’s Convention with vendors from around the country, but the event was canceled at the last minute. In any case, it put Reno on the map as a Western hub for preppers.
The Nevada Prepper’s Network has branches in Reno and Las Vegas. But it’s not just official prepper’s groups that encourage preparedness and skills. Much of it is conducted individually, and many preppers prefer to keep their knowledge and resources a secret. And others just want to learn skills. The Bridgewire Makerspace in Sparks is not a prepping organization, but its classes on homebrewing, solar cooking and more are similar to those organized by the Nevada prepper’s groups. The region has also produced some well-known preppers, including Truckee resident Matthew Stein, who is the writer of two of the most popular survival guides on the market, When Disaster Strikes: A Comprehensive Guide for Emergency Planning and Crisis Survival and When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance, Sustainability and Surviving the Long Emergency.
“Just a few generations back, before the days of supermarkets, Costco, cell phones, and interstate highways, stocking up on supplies and developing self-reliant skills was not considered survivalist paranoia but simply a prudent and practical approach to life in general,” Stein writes.
Parker says the Las Vegas group focuses on ways to prepare for situations unique to Nevada, such as a water shortage.
“Water is more precious than gold for us,” he says. “So I try to steer them away from prepping reliant on water. We do lots of canning and preserving classes. We’re big on water storage, because we just don’t have it.”
The group focuses less on apocalyptic scenarios and more on developing useful skills, to which Parker calls “beans, bullets and Band-aids.” The Nevada Preppers Network abides by the five tenets of preparedness as established by the American Prepper’s Network: practice frugality, seek independence, become industrious, strive toward self-reliance, and compile a year’s worth of supplies.
“It’s kind of funny, since we have more of a gardening, canning type of arrangement,” Parker says. “But the women in the group started approaching me and said, ‘When can we do firearms training?’ So the interests are really diverse.”
As are the people involved. “Usually you get the redneck bunk dweller, but I’ve got rocket scientists in this group,” he says. “And business owners, housewives, psychics, couple of Air Force guys. It’s absolutely amazing. We have our cases—our nutcases, so to say—the majority is just common folk. These are not your redneck, beer-drinking, end-of-the-world kind of people. They are very in tune with what’s going on.”
Urban survivalism is just as much of a metaphor as it is an activity. It’s part of a larger environmental movement, in which farming, sustainable energy, and possessing hands-on skills will ultimately save the world, according to its supporters. Those involved want people to remember what it was like to live without all of the modern luxuries available now—medicine, computers or grocery stores.
But urban survivalism is a subculture rife with contradictions and opposing beliefs. For some who dream of a simpler world, it’s about learning how to live with inevitable progress and the notion that the world will keep pushing forward with science and technology, becoming more complicated and at odds with itself.
The Dark Mountain Project is an online-based creative commune that addresses both of these concerns—preparing to return to a simpler way of life after the world falls apart, but also preparing for if it doesn’t. Its manifesto, called Uncivilization, states,
“For all our doubts and discontents, we are still wired to an idea of history in which the future will be an upgraded version of the present. The assumption remains that things must continue in their current direction: the sense of crisis only smudges the meaning of that ‘must.’ No longer a natural inevitability, it becomes an urgent necessity: we must find a way to go on having supermarkets and superhighways. We cannot contemplate the alternative.”
Dedicating so much time, money and energy to preparing for collapse brings up the question: Would we even want to survive after the apocalypse?”
On one homesteading message board, a user writes: “Some pretty horrible stuff has already happened, and we have managed to survive. I figure I probably won’t be too interested in staying alive after a real ‘doomsday,’ if I survive the doomsday in the first place, so I’m not gonna spend time preparing for it.”
Apocalypses and dystopias have been a popular topic in art for decades, including some of the most famous books ever written, like 1984 by George Orwell, or The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s currently the most popular genre in young adult fiction, thanks to the success of The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Roberts and Divergent by Veronica Roth. Literary scholars say that people like to envision themselves rebuilding society. It lures people in with the notion of starting over with a clean slate.
Longtime apocalyptic scenarios scholar Lorenzo DiTommaso attributes the doomsday appeal to two ideas. “The first is that there is something dreadfully wrong with the world of human existence today,” he writes. “On the other hand, there is a sense that there is a higher good or some purpose for existence, a hope for a better future.”
Nevada’s prepping culture is large but very individualistic, with networks scattered around the state. It makes sense for us desert and mountain dwellers to want to strap guns to our backs and head for the hills, to envision a new Nevada that we could rebuild, especially after several years of hardship. Video game Fallout: New Vegas allows players to explore a destroyed Las Vegas landscape after a nuclear war. It’s bleak, dangerous and violent, but oddly optimistic. Somehow, the apocalyptic scenario fits naturally into Nevada’s landscape. We are, after all, battle born.What to keep in your bug out bag (B.O.B.)
A bug out bag is a kit full of supplies and resources to help you get out of a disaster situation when SHTF (shit hits the fan, a favorite phrase among preppers). A B.O.B. should be created with a clear timeline in mind, and a good place to start is to compile enough supplies to last for three days. It is not intended to provide long-term support, but can help during the days immediately after a catastrophe. These suggestions should be adapted based on how many people you intend to support with it.
It is recommended to have at least one liter per person for each day. An extra liter is good to keep on hand to use for cooking or other reasons.
Water bottles with built-in filters are available at camping and outdoor stores, and can be used to collect more water if you run out.
MRE (Meals, ready-to-eat)
MREs, used in the military, are self-contained meals that produce hot food when water is added.
Protein bars are recommended instead of regular granola bars, which generally do not provide enough energy.
Optional: Fishing pole, assuming that the water supply is not damaged or contaminated
Tools and weapons
First aid kit
A store-bought first aid kit usually has good essentials, but antibiotics, allergy pills and other specific kinds of medication should be added based on your needs.
A good knife can be used as a tool for hunting or making things, and it can also be used as a weapon.
Having a small flint and steel lighter will ensure firestarting if the fuel in a lighter runs out.
One T-shirt and one long-sleeved shirt should be kept in your kit.
Pants are more useful than shorts because they protect legs but can also be rolled up into shorts if necessary.
Disasters often disrupt a city’s infrastructure and may require you to walk for miles, sometimes through foliage.
Choose a poncho that can fold up into a small item so it does not take up space in the bag.
A full tent can be packed if you have enough room, but the lighter a B.O.B is, the better. A camouflage tarp can be used to set up a make-shift tent without the need to transport tent poles as well.
Depending on the disaster, roads may be closed or damaged, and driving out of town might not be an option. Plan a route ahead of time to a safe destination that can be traveled to on foot. Having a physical map is useful when phone lines are down.