As extreme weather brings more natural disasters, like flooding and wildfires, more Americans are experiencing them in their own backyard or seeing them play out on TV. As a result, preparing for disasters might be more mainstream than in the past. National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers show is hugely popular. Families used to build bomb shelters; now people are packing emergency bags for the next big weather event. It’s become big business.
On a rainy weekend in Gonzales hundreds of people stream into a big convention center to try on bulletproof vests and sample freeze-dried soups and yogurt. Those who can stomach it take a hands-on workshop on how to stitch up wounds, because presumably there won’t be any hospitals when the world ends.
Bryan Castillo and Lynzee Gray wear latex gloves as they carefully lean over a cold, sliced-open pig’s foot and use a medical skin stapler to seal the cut.
“Wow that’s easy,” says Gray.
“In the apocalypse we’re going all staples,” laughs Castillo, commenting on how much easier staples are than traditional stiches.
They’re joking about the apocalypse, but some people at the National Preppers and Survivalists Expo take the threat very seriously.
Alex Fontenot is an electrician who wants to make sure he’s prepared for anything. “If - I know I’m going to sound like a crazy prepper here - but say, the so-called apocalypse happens, or something like that were to happen - you want to get out. You don’t want to be in the city when that happens,” says Fontenot. He explains that the city would be a more dangerous place to be in the case of a big emergency because there are more people and less food. He’s here to find what’s called a “bug-out” bag.
“In Louisiana you’d call it a hurricane preparedness bag… you have a med kit, you have dry rations, you have emergency water, knife, matches - you have everything you need so that if you have to go somewhere you have the basic necessities,” says Fontenot.
Preparing for emergencies doesn’t seem weird to Fontenot. He saw the water rise high outside his Baton Rouge apartment this summer. Luckily, the house wasn’t damaged - but many of his neighbors lost their homes. He says it was scary, “It definitely made me concerned for my wellbeing and that of my girlfriend.”
That fear can mean big business. Event organizer Ray McCreary says a few thousand people turned out for the Gonzales show, and the expo travels all over the region. The American Preppers Network has more members than ever, 40,000 nationally.
“That’s why we place these events after a natural disaster, in a city nearby, because most people don’t realize they need to be prepared until after the fact, and then the realize ‘hey, I could’ve used a water purification system.’”
These days, it’s not just the fear of natural disasters driving up sales of bulk foods and emergency supplies, but the contentious presidential election. There’s been an uptick in interest in this type of prepping all over the country as people worry about civil unrest.
Robert Meyer is a professor of risk management at the Wharton School of Business, “Leading up to the election, and afterwards, there was sort of this sense of impending doom and chaos of an unspecified nature that got people worried about the future.”
But whether you’re worried about a natural disaster or a civil war, Meyer says, “There are just preparedness people and there are non-preparedness people.”
In Louisiana we have a lot of preparedness-people, like Fontenot. He says a little part of him hopes a disaster will happen so he can test his skills. “You want to be able to use all these things that you’re buying but you don’t want to have to rebuild after all that,” he says.
That mentality makes sense to Meyer. The only problem is, there’s this funny psychological trick. Meyer explains, “People, unfortunately, one of the things they learn when disasters don’t happen is that the next time they pack their suitcase a little bit lighter and pack a few less supplies and so forth and they find themselves underprepared.”
So basically, the more prepared we are - the less prepared we might end up being.
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