The next big disaster could strike anywhere, anytime and a growing number of people are getting prepared. They are the preppers next door stocking up on food, supplies and all the tools needed to survive.
In the past few years, we've seen superstorms, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and meteor strikes around the globe. Few could have predicted the devastation from these deadly disaster.
"Since the year 2000, more than a million people have died in catastrophic events," said Jay Blevins, an ex-law enforcement officer and self-identified prepper.
These catastrophic threats have led to an explosion of people like him who are preparing for the unthinkable. He and his family have created a self-sustaining fortress in their Virginia neighborhood.
As he walks into the garage, Blevins points to his stockpile of tools, guns, medical supplies, bottled water and food. He points out his hunting rifle and 308 rounds. As he goes around the garage, you can see an array of knives, axes and machetes on the wall. Each one has a different purpose -- some for hunting, some to cut down trees, others for self-defense.
"We've got sleeping bags, tents things like that," he also pointed out.
In the corner is a generator for power outages. He keeps dozens of gallons of gas in a shed out back to keep it running if needed for weeks or days. If the family has to leave in a hurry, each person has a "bug out bag" stocked with food and emergency supplies. But the garage is only a sampling of their supplies. For the rest, you have to go down into the basement.
"We've got about eight months worth of food," Blevins said.
As he opens the pantry, the lights come on to reveal shelves full of food: cans of fruits and vegetables, powdered drink mixes, vitamins and more medical supplies. That's only half of it. He walks across to another closet.
"This is the long-term storage food," he explained. "A lot of this stuff lasts between 10 and 25 years. It's mostly freeze dried. It's everything from carrots to macaroni, different vegetables, fruits."
Together with a network of 15-other prepper families, the Blevins also run emergency preparedness drills.
"We're preparing for the breakdown of social order caused by an economic collapse," he proclaimed in an episode of the National Geographic television's hit series “Doomsday Preppers.”
In the episode, he shows how to make homemade pepper spray using large squirt guns. The group runs through a scenario to defend the home from people trying to break in.
"Let's get the house secured, let's get the windows locked," someone yells as people outside try to bang down the doors.
It's reality TV that goes to extremes. That's what stuck out to Charlie Parsons, Vice President of Global Development and Production for National Geographic television. He describes the show's viewers as two different types.
"I think there is an emotional reaction you have when you watch this show and that's what makes it so appealing and it's ‘I can't believe I'm watching what I'm seeing’ or ‘That's cool. I want to know more,’" he said.
Parsons had a gut instinct from the start that the show had potential. What he had to do was figure out how to make it work.
The economy wasn't doing well, and it was only a few years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The timing was right as people wondered who would take care of them in a disaster if the government couldn't.
“Doomsday Preppers” was the answer, teaching people to take care of themselves.
"Some people do believe an asteroid is coming. Some people are worried about solar flares, the economy collapsing, and some people, it's an earthquake or a tornado," Parsons said describing the wide range of people featured on the show.
After two seasons, “Doomsday Preppers” is one of National Geographic television's highest rated shows. More episodes are set to air this summer.
Once considered on the fringe, preppers are now going mainstream. It's estimated there are three million preppers in the U.S.
Dr. Carl Lejuez, a psychologist and Director of Clinical Training at the University of Maryland, believes much of it is triggered by fear.
"As the world becomes more dangerous and things feel more difficult to control, it becomes for many people a way to have a little bit of control over something in their lives," said Lejuez.
It's a fine line between prepping and paranoia when every minute of every day is thinking about impending doom. In a 24/7 news cycle, Lejuez says the barrage of disasters can also feed anxieties.
"As you start doing this, it can become an obsession in its own right and you start to think you need to do more. You can always be safer," he said.
If people start to isolate themselves from friends and family, avoid going places and spend all their time and energy prepping, that's when he says it crosses the line.
At first, Holly Blevins didn't share her husband's passion. But she is proud to call herself a prepper now. In one episode, as they run a drill, the mother of three declares, "My only thought is to make sure none of these men get past me to my kids."
Becoming a mom is what now motivates her. She calls it her “momma bear instinct.” She can survive with much less, but knows her children need her to protect them.
"They know mommy and daddy are preppers," she said.
The Blevins teach their kids survival skills in everyday activities such as camping. They learn how to fish, make a fire and how to use an emergency blanket if needed. In many ways, they are very much a normal family.
On this night, they sat around the table sharing cookies and milk before bedtime. They talked about school, sports and their day.
"They go on with their lives,” Holly said. “They play with their friends, go to their soccer games. They don't put too much stock into it.”
They have a large garden in the back, which provides fruits and vegetables for canning. All of the trees and shrubs are edible, producing fruits and berries. They have rain barrels which collect fresh water.
Prepping is just a way of life, but it can also be a large financial investment. The Blevins estimate they've spent $15,000 to $20,000 amassing all the supplies they need to be prepared. They've acquired it gradually over time, and now cycle through their food as it expires and restock.
Jay Blevins has now written a book about it, titled “Survival and Emergency Preparedness Skills.”
"We're living in a time where there are a lot of uncertainties,” he said. “There's uncertainty in the economy. There's uncertainty in politics, there's uncertainty in natural disasters.”
One of the main things he says people can do is keep a "get home bag" in their car or at their desk should something happen and they need food or supplies to get home.
Consider what happened on 9/11 when people got stuck trying to escape the city. Blevins has got home bags for everyone stocked in the car. It's come in handy on occasion, when the kids are stuck in traffic and need something to eat and drink.
If something more serious really does happen, preppers know they'll also have what it takes to survive.
WTTG FOX 5 & myfoxdc
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