Snowstorm, financial crash, nuclear war would you be ready? We meet the survivalists prepared for catastophe
Sun 28 Jan 2018 04.00EST Last modified on Sun 28 Jan 2018 19.04EST
Midway through December, while temperatures in the UK plummeted, heaps of snow drove transport services into a frenzy and schools into closure. Water supplies froze. Medical assistance slowed, threatening genuine peril. People began to store fuel. Across the Midlands, families were left without power no electricity, no heat in some instances overnight. For those of us safely tucked away indoors, or unaffected by the weather, the news could be shocking. It also brought to mind an unnerving question: would you be ready if calamity struck?
The answer for most of us is no, not really. We tend to think of disaster as something that happens to others. But a growing number of people around the UK preppers or survivalists, in the parlance are quietly gearing up for the worst. Theyre filling pantries with supplies in case their local food chains disintegrate, storing thermals in their cars in the event that they break down in a snowstorm, packing go-bags with a collection of bare necessities water, food, medicine, perhaps a portable stove supposing they need to leave home in a hurry. If catastrophe were to strike, the thinking goes, a preparatory head-start might well be life-saving.
This is behaviour that can sound extreme, but often its forged in reaction to events that could affect any one of us. Some preppers are concerned by natural disasters. Others worry about terrorism, or our financial system, or the repercussions of Brexit, whatever they may be. Survivalism has had a dedicated following in America since the 1970s, swelling during the run-up to the millennium in the 90s and peaking again after 9/11. Trumps posturing hasnt helped the threat of nuclear war can send even the most rational thinkers running to the tinned-food aisle.
And not everyone is rational. The prepping movement contains overzealous elements, particularly in the US, where natural disasters are bigger and badder and, well, the guns. But those signed up to the movement in the UK are like you and me: relatively normal, with the odd quirk. They just keep a half-tank of petrol in the car at all times, and at least a months worth of food, and an alternative way to heat their homes in winter if the gas goes down.
When I was 17, Nasa announced the discovery of a far-off planet. News reports hinted at the prospect of the Voyager being deployed, but I never got to hear what the probe actually found. The excitement eventually dwindled and I got on with my life, but the discovery sparked an ongoing interest in space and exploration and, later, in the environment and geopolitics. About 18 months ago those interests led me to prepping.
I prep on two levels: first, for events that might cause a bit of social unrest and all of the food in my local supermarket to quickly disappear a financial collapse, say and, second, for something bigger: a national pandemic, a major environmental catastrophe. For the first scenario Ive organised a reliable supply of clean water and a store of long-shelf-life food, and then some practical stuff: stitches for wounds, analgesics, antibiotics, a whole range of meds you wouldnt normally have, various kinds of equipment needed to start a fire. I have go-bags at home and in my car, because you never know where youll be when something happens, and Im part of a prepping community that has an equipment cache stored in a secluded spot near to my house. If theres some kind of cataclysm? Ive organised escape routes, away from the general population. Youll find me above 900ft or out of the country.
Im a grandfather now and Im a positive person, but being a prepper can be tough. Its difficult to get others on board, for most its a no-go subject. A lot of my friends think Im barking mad. Its taken me three years to convince my daughter and her family to take more of an interest and, before she eventually became a full-blown enthusiast, my partner used to humour me politely.
But there are more and more like-minded people out there in communities around the country: engineers, nurses, doctors, dentists, people with different skills and mindsets and ways of contributing. Were harmonious. We offer each other support and keep ourselves to ourselves. We see prepping as a way to increase our chances of survival if something happens. And were all ready to get out of the way when it does.
Eight years ago the leaders of my church suggested I keep a store cupboard. Hurricanes and earthquakes were becoming more prevalent, and flooding was affecting whole villages within hours. The store cupboard was suggested as something to fall back on a few months food in case of disaster. I live in a small village in Derbyshire. Its rural. And with five kids I have to be prepared for everything. I thought it was a good idea.
I started to store a tin a week sweetcorn, beans, tinned tomatoes and, over time, added cases of pasta, bags of rice, boxes of long-life meat and bottles of water. Most people keep a few tins in their cupboard soup and beans, things like that. Thats what Ive got in mine. Its just that Ive got 70 of each, stored in a brick outhouse that my husband converted.
It helps. Ive never had to panic-buy when snows been threatened and everybody else has raced to the supermarket. And I could cut back on the food shop when my husband was temporarily asked to work three days a week instead of five, reducing his pay. Perhaps its hereditary. My parents have a years worth of food in their store cupboard, including 50kg of wheat, which they can soak to make a vegetarian supplement or grind to make flour. My eldest daughter keeps a 72-hour bag in her car.
Its mostly natural disasters were preparing for. Im concerned about a wars potential knock-on effects on the food chain, although I havent dug a bunker in my garden or anything. And then theres Brexit. If that doesnt go the right way, whos to say well be able to get hold of the things we can get hold of now? But, realistically, we are mostly likely to be affected by flooding or severe snow. There have been times when we have been cut off, unable to get out. Wed need to be prepared if that happens again.
And if something happened at the house? We can be clear with everything we need for 72 hours within 20 minutes. We have a family go-bag in the loft: a big tent, sleeping bags, medication, food, a portable stove. My husbands in charge of equipment and Im in charge of the kids. We all know the plan.
Many years ago, while living in Australia, I was bitten by a snake. Id gone walkabout and wasnt carrying medical supplies, but I met a few locals who very quickly rustled up a remedy to ease the pain and stop the swelling. That was the first time I realised the importance of thinking ahead, and Ive prepped in a small way ever since. About 10 years ago I got into prepping seriously. I started to analyse what-if scenarios: what if something went wrong near to where I live? What would I do? How would I survive?
This country is one of the safest in the world. We have no killer animals. We dont have earthquakes. There are no major tsunamis. We dont really have to prep for a huge natural disaster and theres very little you could do to prepare for a nuclear event even if you wanted to so we prep more pragmatically. Suppose you lose your job and moneys an issue. Or the electrical grid goes out and the food chain goes down and all of a sudden every man and his dog is arguing over a bag of sugar. Do you have your own supplies? Do you have the means to cook? And what about keeping warm could you make a fire? Some of us buy food through an app; groceries are delivered to our front doors. Do people know how to survive without electricity?
The difference between me and someone else? Imagine if we both lost our jobs at the same time. Realistically, I havent got to spend any money. Ive got a back-up of food supplies to last six months. I havent got to buy wood. I havent got to turn the taps on, because Ive stored rain water and filtered it for drinking. I havent got to put the heating on, because I have other means of keeping warm at home. I could be unemployed for a while without it impacting me financially. Whereas someone else, theyre thinking: Shit, Ive got a months wages. I dont know how long this can go on for. Thats a kind of prepping in itself.
Our grandparents were the original preppers, really. They could make a chicken last for two weeks. When my wife and I are wandering around the supermarket, Ill keep my eye out. Im always looking at a products shelf life. I dont want to buy food that has a shelf life of two weeks; I need five years plus. Its an attitude, really, but its also a fascinating hobby. Im constantly learning survival techniques: how to forage, hunt, trap, fish, purify water. And Im informed on larger environmental and political issues by friends in the know. People think Im a tin hat-wearing nutter, sitting here guarding 3,000 tins of beans, but its not all-consuming. Its like having a spare tyre in your car, or some winter basics: a torch, some candles, a sleeping bag. You can leave it at that, you dont have to go mad. Thats how I started I just happened to carry on.
I run the BSc psychology course at the University of Central Lancashire. I wrote my doctorate on survival psychology and completed the write-up in LA, on the San Andreas fault. Im a big sci-fi fan, and obviously tales of the apocalypse creep into every great story in the genre, but I only really started to consider my own preparatory behaviours when I began living in a city that experiences major earthquakes and spending my days writing about people dying horribly in disasters. I remember thinking, wouldnt it be embarrassing, writing what I was writing, if someone found out Id never looked into prepping myself?
Ive always thought the UK was sheltered from major natural disaster. But when I returned from LA I reconsidered, and I started to identify situations for which prepping might give me a bit of an advantage. Its basic stuff: having a first aid kit in my car, storing extra food, carrying a power bank for my mobile phone things a lot of us do naturally. Think of mothers with young kids: theyve all packed a first aid kid, some water, some food. Thats a go-bag.
I live about an hour outside Manchester. Its not the back of beyond, but there are things that could happen, especially as were approaching winter: a delivery drivers strike, an oil strike, floods. I store a bit of extra food in case the food and petrol chains crumble. I travel with a blanket and thermals in case I break down in snow, lose a phone signal and am too far away from home to walk. My husband once got stuck in poor weather on a motorway. He was grateful for the self-heating food packages Id packed.
A lot of prepping is common sense, but theres very little of it around. The theory goes that its psychologically uncomfortable to think about death and dying, so people tend not to. And people often think that a disaster wont happen to them, so theyre less likely to prepare. But its not very difficult, and its not expensive I buy equipment from Amazon: a survival blanket, a sleeping hammock, one of those bottles that filters contaminants found in water. Most of the time you wont need it. But its that one time when you really do, and you havent got it, or you havent taught yourself how to use it thats when its too late.
Read more athttp://www.theguardian.com/us
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