Are Preppers Crazy?
I used to think so. Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, I was influenced by Hollywood versions of a post-apocalyptic world that portrayed survivors in a “crazy” light. The only ones left alive would be marauding bands of insane punk rockers who would kill you for the gallon of fuel left in your death-mobile. In news stories of the day, preparing home and family for disaster was shown to be the realm of those who believed the apocalypse was nigh, or reserved for those who built fortresses and appeared paranoid about invading forces coming to take their rights, property, and land. Anyone who would spend time, money, and effort preparing for a worst case scenario “must be nuts!” said I. I mean think about it, if a nuclear war breaks out, do you really want to be one of those left to fend for yourself and family and friends (if you are fortunate enough to have any left) in a cruel and decimated world? Would you actually want to maintain some sort of existence in the event of an actual global catastrophe? Whom in their right minds would want to live in a world where potable water is a thing of the past, where food is whatever can be scrounged from old dented cans or captured crawling along the ground, and shelter is a ramshackle structure that has to be defended against hoards of similarly desperate people? And what about toilet paper? Isn’t that going to run out? No thank you, I thought, there is no way I’m sticking around for that. If the apocalypse comes, I’ll just try to say goodbye to as many loved ones as I am able, and I will cash in my chips. I’ve led a good life and I’d rather end it on a high note.
Aside from the fact that my thoughts on this matter only dealt with a single, and totally improbable, Hollywood version of a large scale disaster, I also had no frame of reference on which to base my assumptions of preparedness. I grew up in a world where resources were sometimes thin, but water always ran from the faucet and was clean(ish), there was usually plenty of food, and the idea that a man-made or even natural disaster would bring modern life to a screeching halt wasn’t exactly something I considered a real possibility.
And then I experienced my first real large scale disaster. The Loma Prieta earthquake hit the very place where I grew up. I was living in Oregon at the time, but all of my family and many of my friends still lived in the Bay Area, and they were caught in the middle of the chaos. I knew many people who’s homes were destroyed. Everyone was cut off from water, electricity, and emergency medical services for weeks in the aftermath. I admit that this was not the catalyst event that changed my position on the topic of preparedness, but I was forced to give the matter some serious thought. My position has changed over time with the gradual realization that 1) bad stuff happens; 2) when disaster hits, people do go without the essentials needed to sustain life and safety; and 3) there is no guarantee that help will make it in time for you and your family. I am fortunate to have found a mate who considers preparedness a personal responsibility. We had many discussions on this topic during our first years together that were totally rational and were not at all based on paranoid thoughts of government agents kicking our door down to confiscate our cushy lives. Ultimately, there was one question my husband posed that I couldn’t answer, and it was this question that put the final death knell in my “they’re all crazy and paranoid” view of preppers. His question was, “what will you do?”
Most nay-sayers of preparedness (of whom I used to be one so I get to say this) would argue that paranoia is not a state in which they wish to live their lives, and that is why they don’t engage in preparedness behavior. To those folks I pose the following questions. Is it paranoia to think that in the event of an actual disaster you may have to fend for yourself for a while? Is it reasonable to think that emergency services may not make it to your house to save someone trapped in rubble…when there are 4,000 other people trapped in similar situations in your town? Have you ever lived through a serious winter storm that resulted in power outages with limited access to food and water? Have you ever lived through or been close to an earthquake or large scale flood? Do you remember Katrina? Do you recall a little thing called The Great Depression, or more recently, The Great Recession? What if you lost your your job, would you be able to feed your family? Do you really believe these things will never happen to you? Do you believe you should wait for someone to rescue you and your family when bad things happen?
The truth is that natural and man-made disasters can and do happen all the time. A catastrophic event does not usually completely destroy life as we know it, and therefore the task becomes living through temporarily rough conditions until a time when life can get back to normal. To believe that one can wait until the worst happens to think about these things is to avoid the question, “what will you do?” And avoiding that question can mean the difference between providing safe passage for you and your family during rough times, or facing some truly miserable, perhaps tragically avoidable, circumstances.
So, are preppers crazy? I consider myself to be a prepper, and I am not crazy. I lead a fairly ordinary life. I go to work, I pay my bills, I spend time with family and friends. And in the event of a disaster, my spouse and I have positioned our family to remain clean, fed, and to the degree we are able, safe, due to our preparedness behavior. If that is crazy, then so be it.