Archive for February, 2012

Doomsday Preppers: Kevin O’Brien

This one doesn’t get a picture…because the NatGeo site doesn’t update beyond the premier episodes, and this one’s so boring he doesn’t even show up on a google image search. So…

Kevin O’Brien is a restaurant manager from Florida. He’s concerned about losing his home due to rising sea levels. That’s valid, global warming melting ice caps, sea levels rise, low areas get flooded and so on…oh, what? He’s concerned about rising sea levels due to polar shift? Sorry dude, you just lost me. As I understand it, polar shift has to do with magnetic poles, not with continents drifting around like air-hockey pucks. Florida will not wind up where Alaska is now, or at least not anytime soon.

Anyway (maybe he’s really prepping for something hyperinflation-related like the rest of them, and the producers figured we were starting to get sick of that, and made him pick something else), he has decided to buy property in Tennessee, and move his family there. Funny, I always thought the survivalist heaven was the intermountain West.

Of course, it’s just 130 acres and a barn, so they will have to build their new home when they get there. Wife says she ‘doesn’t want a bunker’. Good. They look at pictures of bottle walls and earthships. Narrator talks as if it’s going to be something actually innovative and unconventional. Kevin says he wants a really solid home…so their new place will likely be made of reinforced concrete. Sorry, sounds like a bunker to me. He wants something that is waterproof, fireproof, earthquakeproof, and bulletproof…clearly, dude hasn’t looked into cob building, not to mention things like strawbale, earth-bermed, cordwood, or the other green building techniques. Which is too bad, because while cob isn’t really bulletproof, you wouldn’t have to worry about being shot at if nobody knows you’re there, and from what they show, a cob cottage with a living roof could totally blend into the rolling landscape of TN.

Like this!

Their energy setup seems pretty nice—TEN big solar cells—plus an array of black plastic water barrels for thermal mass, always a solid plan. They work good for a solar shower tower, too.

His motivation for defense and security is that “people will know we have food”. Dude, if you’re moving out to the country with intent to homestead (because that’s what it sounds like to me), you need to make friends with your neighbors. Too much of this modern survivalist movement is focused on complete self-reliance and self-sufficiency. Like, I’m all about those kind of things, but do it in the context of a community. I see survivalists buying rural property, setting up their little bunker retreats, and then hunkering down. Don’t think your local neighbors don’t know what you’re up to.

He already has hundreds of pounds of dry staples stored in their FL home, in 2-liter soda bottles stacked pretty neat. It’s also good that they intend to grow most of their food, with the rice and dry goods as supplementary to the fresh stuff—so many of the other families on this show focus only on the food hoard of canned goods, and never even mention gardening.

In all, there wasn’t a lot to this one, mostly drama with the kids not wanting to move, and who can blame them? However, I would really like to see them follow up with this family once they get their country place up and running.

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Doomsday Preppers: Donna Nash

Next up is Donna Nash from Utah, owner of a vaguely religiously-themed prepping business called ArkReady.
She’s prepping for obsessed with a worldwide pandemic, probably of some kind of flu. In between scenes of her trying to convince the neighbors of this contingency (and to take one of her pre-made pandemic buckets) are shots of her wiping down doorknobs and countertops, spraying aerosol chemicals in the house, and dusting the floors. She has one of those houses that looks like it’s straight out of a magazine—the kind that looks like it isn’t lived in. She reminds me of a magnet my mom used to have stuck on the refrigerator that said, “Boring women have immaculate homes.”

I also think it’s kind of ironic, that she’s afraid of some killer super-resistant strain of the flu, when she’s practically hosing down her house with hand sanitizer. I’d be really curious to know how often her kids get sick—because growing up in an antiseptic, sanitized environment, I would bet they have all sorts of asthma and stuff. The only thing her OCD cleaning is doing is creating stronger germs and weaker kids. Hell, I grew up practically licking dirt off the floor, and aside from the odd reaction (being barefoot most of the time, I step on a lot of bees; turns out I’ve developed an allergy over the years—it happens.), I go to the doctor about once every five years. Of course, eating dumpster food is always good for the ol’ immune system, too.

I have the feeling that the producers try to push the folks on this show to do at least one thing to make them look completely crazy. In this case, it’s to get Ms. Nash to have her family do a ‘pandemic drill’!—putting on masks, goggles, hairnets, plastic gowns, foot covers, the whole deal—and then go outside. Well, wouldn’t you know there’s a neighbor watching them?

The Practical Prepper ‘experts’ determine that she needs an alternate location, in case her house becomes compromised, or something. Like, somewhere to make a fresh start that will need brand-new equipment to survive, and they know just the folks to get her outfitted…themselves! She knows what’s up (probably thinking, “I came on this show to get free publicity for myself, not for you guys!”) and says that she doesn’t need a bunker, thank you very much. Which is fine, but if you’re going to have to stay sealed up in your quarantine house for weeks or months, you’d better have some food stored up, and I didn’t see anything edible, just shelves and shelves of medical supplies.

Surprisingly, the show suggests that according to the World Health Organization, a devastating flu pandemic is inevitable. It’s surprising, because every other event these people are supposedly prepping for has been denied by the producers (“Scientists put the likelihood of a Yellowstone eruption at less than .0001 percent!”, etc)—most likely as a way to make the subjects look paranoid, or something like that. Saying that a global flu is inevitable is the closest thing to an endorsement this show has made yet.

For future reference, I am not Donna Nash. Please stop leaving comments asking for pandemic kits. If you’re really interested, I link to her business in the very first sentence of this post.

Doomsday Preppers: Martin Colvill

The series’ fourth episode starts out with a look at Martin Colvill, an ex-cop (and apparently a voice actor as well!); he is now another trucker with miniature dachshunds.
Having lost their home to foreclosure in ’08, he and his wife have now become semi-nomadic, living out of the cab of their big rig. Having firsthand experience already with the financial crush, he says he’s preparing “to survive the next great depression caused by a worldwide economic collapse.” He predicts this will occur within the next three to five years, probably brought on by China calling the US debt.
As a trucker, he recognizes the fragile nature of our current system—and that without trucks to make deliveries, America stops. And so, “to help America be the country it should be again”, he is dedicated to preventing total collapse by making his deliveries in a safe and timely manner—so basically, he’s the Postman of freight!

Here is when this show gets it right—showing something besides family after family who have simply spent a bunch of money to build a bunker/storeroom and fill it up with canned goods. I like that this guy’s motivation is more than just simple fear—he has a great can-do, 20th century-American ethic. I like that he reminds me of one of my uncles. I like that they have a sewing machine in their truck. I like that their food storage is mostly dehydrated veggies.

Anyway, concerned about his parked truck being an easy target for roving bandits, he heads to a sporting goods store to check out camo netting. While there, he brings up bugout bags with an younger employee, and to his surprise the kid admits to having one too! Martin explains how he wants to survive so he can be part of the rebuilding process (his heart’s in the right place, but I still cringed), and the kid’s reason? “Hey, it’s all gonna hit the fan sometime!” Like, it’s just somethin’ to do, man! While I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this kid putting a pack together, I don’t think that’s good enough. If people are going to start making plans for their own survival, I think they should really sit down and have a good, long think about their motivations for doing so.

During this profile, it’s revealed that his wife Sarah has some kind of cancer. This is sad, but it’s a good example of what the folks over at Zombie Squad call an ‘everyday zombie’ (they use the zed-word to get attention, but it’s really a metaphor for any kind disaster). For all the guns and camouflage and dried foods, it’s kind of silly to obsess on the remote possibility of a major catastrophe, when the person sitting next to you is wasting away. While End of the World-type prepping is big and exciting, folks should really focus on the possibilities that have the higher likelihood of happening—which are probably going to be smaller-scale, close-to-home disasters (losing one’s home to foreclosure, or one’s wife to cancer, for example).

The last section of this segment has Martin’s ex-Air Force brother organize a weird little scenario to test his skills or something, some kind of simulated highway accident that turns out to be a trap. They set it up to be some huge firefight, but it ends up with Martin facedown on the road for wanting to help an injured motorist (like I said, his heart is in the right place). His brother leaves him with advice that boils down to: watch out for yourself and the wife, and that’s it. Every man for himself.   Harsh.

Doomsday Preppers: Pat Brabble

The last prepper profiled in this episode is Pat Brabble, a born-again churchgoing southerner with a fear of the ‘downfall of society’ brought on…(all together now!) by hyperinflation. I would guess he’s also concerned with the moral decline of society to boot.
Pat claims he’s spent $10,000 on food and supplies. He shows off his secret stash behind a false wall in his barn—a 20×20 room stocked to the ceiling, containing (among other things) 200 gallons water and 200 pounds of sugar (and he says he wants four or five hundred pounds total!).
Well, now the whole world knows who you are and where you live, so good job on breaching that ‘OpSec‘ stuff that preppers are always going on about.

Once again, the food situation is shelves and shelves of jars and canned goods. C’mon, you’re an older southern man, I’m betting you grew up around agriculture—so why don’t you have a garden? He also has 60-70 guns, though I would guess he had a bunch of these before he started prepping.

With the camera crew in tow, Pat goes to the store and throws down over four hundred dollars on pallets of sugar and high-proof booze.
Cashier: “Y’all gonna drink all this?”
Pat: “Nope, it’s for bartering and trading.”
Cashier: “Huh.”

Actually, it looks like about half of it was for wasting, when he and his relatives hang around in the backyard making ‘molotov cocktails’, just to prove they can, apparently. Some have suggested that the producers put them up to it (wouldn’t surprise me), and others—with a better grasp of the law than I have—claim that a Bacardi 151 fire-bomb counts as a Destructive Device.  Hmm. If so, I hope NatGeo has the courtesy to pay this guy’s court fees. Also, why waste the booze on some crappy ‘Molotov’?—petrol and styrofoam works better and is way cheaper.

Regardless, Brabble takes what I’m calling the ‘Type 1 Prepper’ blueprint (focused on the buying and hoarding of food, guns, and ammo) and adds a volatile ingredient…religion. It’s a safe bet that the American South will be a hotbed of these types when shit goes down, and that’s an especially troubling combination to me, because Judeo-Christian, heavily-armed preppers with thousands of dollars worth of supplies—quintessential Rawlesian preppers—are exactly the ones who will continue to fixate on rebuilding the failed world they knew: “The worst part of it is this…that the survivors, if there are any, will immediately set about doing it all over again, exactly the same way” (Ishmael, 109).

Doomsday Preppers: Jules Dervaes and family

Here we have another guy from Cali, this time preparing for the collapse of our industrial food system.
He says our reliance on GM  crops (not to mention petrochemicals) puts our farming model at the mercy of superpests, which—thanks to the monoculture of our totalitarian agricultural system—could destroy a harvest, driving up the price of food and thereby leading to hyperinflation.

In this scenario, fuel and electricity could become a luxury, and so as the narrator describes, “[their] strategy to live without…is to live without.” And good on them—plain living for the win!

To combat the shortsightedness of the food industry, he and his children have taken it upon themselves to try and grow as much of their own food as possible. And they’ve definitely succeeded— especially on less than an acre of land—as Jules rattles off a most impressive breakdown of their harvest: beans (188 lbs), carrots (38), cucumbers (241), onions (109), peas (115), peppers (113), tomatoes (958!), and 500 pounds of salad fixings, plus some comically large squashes. And I’d say it’s a safe bet that their produce is of the heirloom, organic, non-GM variety.

Basically, their system is what the city farmers call SPIN farming (Small Plot INtensive)— which is a great way to get the maximum amount of produce out of a limited amount of space.  By wisely utilizing vertical space instead of growing horizontally, they’ve turned their backyard into a permaculture ‘edible forest’. They also keep a menagerie of ducks, goats, chickens, bees, and fish for eggs, dairy, honey, and meat, plus a cat for pest control. In all, they have a pretty sweet self-sustaining spread.

As their car runs on old french fry oil, the expert appraisal is simply, ‘get a diesel generator’. This is the only problem I can see with this family’s plan: like a lot of biodiesel folks, their source of fuel comes from restaurants—so I guess it’d be hard to resupply post-disaster. Although it looks like they only use the biodiesel in the old Mercedes, I guess the experts want them to get a generator so they could use their extra fuel to keep their lights on, or something.

No mention of weapons or defense/security, although as gardeners they should have plenty of sharp metal things on long handles, and since they are part of a co-op, there’s a ready-made community to lend a hand in defending the ol’ homestead if need be.

After three episodes, I’m starting to notice a trend on this show: the ‘preppers’ who have low-impact, actually sustainable strategies focused on fresh foods (Chris Nyegres, the Harrisons, and these guys) are also the ones who don’t fixate on guns and ammo (or conversely, the guns-and-ammo preppers’ strategies are always focused on hoarding/stacking buckets of prepackaged, processed food up to the ceiling!). They’re also the ones I have a hard time labeling as ‘preppers’, because if something bad were to happen, I can easily picture these folks continuing to live pretty much like they do already.

ADDENDUM:
For what it’s worth, this is another example of the show profiling people who aren’t just random preppers off the street. I mean, Jules Dervaes has his own page on Wikipedia.

Doomsday Preppers: Jason Charles

Jason Charles is a FDNY guy trying to prepare for an eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano while stuck in just about the worst environment I can think of.
Actually, he’s really worried about the civil unrest and general chaos that would likely result from said eruption—or from numerous other more-probable events.

And unfortunately, being in a terrible environment with 27,000 people per square mile means he can’t have handguns. Okay, no guns. Get some knives. Okay, he has knives. And they are…‘fantasy’ knives straight out of the BudK catalog. I think I saw a katana, too. He claims that they would be really intimidating to a foe…but I dunno, I think I’d be more afraid of a big guy with a quality fixed-blade bush knife who looks like he knows how to use it, than of a big guy with a made-in-Pakistan, ninja knife with serrations and a curvy blade. Or maybe I’d be scared of both of them, but it’d be different kinds of scared. Luckily, to improve on his lack of knife-fighting ability, he starts learning krav maga from an Israeli fellow.

They do a ‘bug-in’ drill where they practice filling up their water storage and sealing the windows. It was cool to see their ‘water bob’—something I’d never heard of—which is basically an oversized plastic bag that fits in a bathtub; I don’t see how it’s any different from just filling up the bathtub by itself (as one should always do at the first sign of trouble), but maybe it’s to prevent contamination or something. Of course, part of Charles’ practice drill includes scattering a box of crushed glass down the hall in front of his door. I’m not sure why—unfortunately, I don’t think enough city people have embraced the barefoot lifestyle for this to be a viable part of one’s security plan—but if you want to secure your place against bandits, matchbox cars would probably be a better choice. Regardless, practice is always good.

Because it looks like their food storage is a box of MRE entrees, Jason heads down the street to a storage unit where he has more supplies stashed. But as part of the drill, he wants to simulate being in an volcanic ash cloud (a caption pops up telling us that experts project the ash from a Yellowstone eruption wouldn’t likely reach NYC). So he puts on his fireman’s air tank and facemask and goes walking around the city streets to resupply (I can only imagine the funny looks he got while doing this).

Strangely, this segment doesn’t have a follow-up with the guy after the experts’ appraisal.

Sorry if I don’t have much to say about this one; apartment prepping isn’t really my thing.

Doomsday Preppers: Tim Ralston

The first prepper featured on this series’ third episode is Tim Ralston of Phoenix, AZ.

He is worried that an electromagnetic pulse from a hostile nation’s nuclear weapon will destroy the electrical grid, which will put us, as he says, “back to the Stone Age!” Clearly, Tim is of the widespread assumption that Stone Age life was short, brutish, nasty, and otherwise unlivable. Dude needs to read him some Ishmael.

Like others on this series, Tim has something to gain from appearing on it. In this case, he’s some sort of survival gear inventor/entrepreneur, and this profile focuses on the “crovel” (crowbar+shovel?), which is basically the ‘Lobo’ of WWZ fame brought to life. It’s a glorified folding e-tool, with a pick and a hammer on one end.

Comes in both ‘Tactical’ and ‘Extreme!’ flavours.

I guess it’d be useful.

Even though his plan is supposedly based on fear of getting his electronics fried, Tim’s bugout plan is to throw the gear in a trailer…and head out of the city in a jeep. I’d really have liked to see his plan for an on-foot bugout, because it would probably throw into sharp relief how tenuous modern life in the southwest really is (read The Long Emergency for more on this). Sure, a trip to your secret survival base may take only 40 minutes on the unrestricted highway pre-disaster, but what about post-disaster? What if your car gets all EMP’d? Are you prepared to hike that distance? And then there’s the matte of water. Unless you’re Cody Lundin (a man with decades of minimalist, quasi-injun survival experience in this region), you’re probably going to have a hell of a time ‘roughing it’ out there.

So, assuming one manages (somehow) to reach the elite compound, what are we going to be looking at? A semi-underground, earth-bermed, south-facing, low-profile earthship that blends into the landscape? Nope, just more shipping containers! We see Tim arrange to buy three big metal boxes (at $2,500 apiece) which he plans on burying in the desert, and in which he will live with sixteen other people. Well, good luck with that.

Since he doesn’t actually have this pillbox built yet, he takes his sons out to the site to do some plinking (I do like the idea of using different-colored balloons as good guy/bad guy targets). Nothing wrong with that…until ol’ Tim goes and blows his thumb off. Yup, you heard that right; headline reads, Man disregards Second Law of Gun Safety. “If you are not willing to see a bullet hole in it, do not allow a firearm’s muzzle to point at it. This includes things like the TV, the refrigerator, the dog, or anything else that would cause general upset if a hole appeared in it.” Clearly, ‘one’s thumb’ falls neatly into that category.

Luckily, the film crew had both a medic and a helicopter standing by to fly this guy off to the hospital where he gets it reattached, although it’s now missing a knuckle, and I don’t see it being very opposable.

So remember, folks:

the four rules of gun safety