Most folks expect government agencies to prepare for potential mass disasters, yet individuals who try to do the same may be seen as fearful or even paranoid. Local “preppers,” however, feel such caution is not only warranted but clearly needed.
“Systems do break down,” notes Donna Miller, host of “Your Preparation Station,” a Saturday-night show on the Preparedness Radio Network (http://www.yourpreparationstation.com/radio-show/). “We rely on them so much, when they’re not there we don’t know what to do. And that’s when panic sets in.”
Panic is exactly what the Haywood County resident aims to prevent. Although she advocates preparing for everything from fuel shortages to natural disasters to total economic collapse, Miller recommends a calm, proactive strategy.
“Our approach is not a cataclysmic doomsday scenario,” she says, instead advising residents to “prepare to live without systems.”
The two most essential systems, Miller maintains, are electricity and food supply — specifically grocery stores. And though she cites recent wide-scale disruptions to those systems, such as hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, she notes that disasters can also happen on a very personal level.
“We lived one whole year without income,” says Miller, whose goal is ensuring that “We’re not forced to rely on someone else, or the government, or a system that may or may not actually work depending on where you are on their priority list.”
According to Miller, the best way to prepare is not to “buy a bunch of stuff, but to practice a lot of skills. Practice doing without certain things. Do you need the trip to McDonald’s? Do you need the TV? Can you have a conversation?”
Miller facilitates a local preparedness group that meets monthly. Established in June, it already has more than 200 members — and it’s not easy to join. Prospective members must undergo an online vetting process, an ordeal that Miller says is not to maintain secrecy but to filter out fanaticism.
“We want to make sure that the people coming in are not aggressive, militant, angry,” she explains. “Our group is peaceful. We want to make sure people are coming with the community in mind.”
Membership has increased significantly since last month’s election, but Miller stresses that the group is not politically oriented, and that the rumored Dec. 21 cataclysm is not a factor: “The Mayan calendar hasn’t even come up.”
Covering all the basesDawn “Pebbles” Stucker, co-owner of south Asheville’s On Target shooting range, shares Miller’s calm attitude in the face of potential catastrophe. The business also includes a retail gun shop, defense classes and firearms training.
“We try to prevent people from freaking out and stockpiling and carrying on,” says Stucker. “But be aware of your surroundings, be aware of what could happen, and be prepared.”
On Target’s customers are diverse, she notes: “We get families, women, professional people, priests, political people, doctors and lawyers.”
And while a “pretty high percentage” are concerned about about a near-future emergency, firearms enthusiasts are drawn to the activity for more complex reasons, Stucker reports. “You’re educating your family, having fun and taking care of your American freedoms and rights.”
For basic preparedness, Stucker recommends at least three firearms: “A handgun of a high caliber ... something like an AR-15 [semi-automatic rifle] ... and a shotgun.” These weapons plus at least 1,000 rounds of ammunition “cover all the bases. You can feed your family, and you can protect it.”
And though her customers don’t seem concerned about the supposed Mayan end time, Stucker says business has never been better, thanks to a Democratic president’s re-election and the prospect of new gun-control legislation.
Bill Sterrett, co-owner of Waynesville’s Carolina Readiness Supply, also advocates a cool-headed approach.
“It isn’t about getting hysterical,” he says. “It’s about practical, sensible emergency preparedness and self-sufficiency.”
Sterrett says that while his customers worry about a broad range of potential disasters, most are concerned about economic collapse.
“It’s looming,” Sterrett maintains, adding that he believes the government is unable or unwilling to stop it. He sees his business as a service to like-minded citizens, noting that his most popular product is bulk food. “We won’t eat well,” he jokes, “but we’ll eat.”
Sterrett says many of his customers are average citizens who, recognizing the need to be prepared, come to him seeking advice. “It can become overwhelming very quickly,” he notes. “It’s really a process; a lot of our customers have been prepping for 20 years. It’s a lifestyle.”
Sterrett recommends a slow, steady approach. “You’re developing the ability to be self-sufficient,” he says. “The first thing is to have primary water sources taken care of. Then look at food.”
“The first food preps should be rice, beans, cooking oil, multivitamins and spices,” counsels Sterrett, because they provide “the most food for the least money.
“Then continue to build your pantry with canned fruits and vegetables. Also stockpile personal-hygiene items such as toilet paper, toothpaste and soap, and cleaning products such as Clorox. In a long-term situation, these will prevent disease. In the event of a total collapse, these would also become barter items.”
Preparing for such an eventuality is uncommon, he concedes, but in light of such historic collapses as the Weimar Republic hyperinflation and the Great Depression, not to mention Washington’s current “fiscal cliff,” he believes a self-sufficient lifestyle is a reasonable goal.
“All we’re talking about,” he says, “is common sense.”
Max Cooper can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 145, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.