Future-Proofing Life: The Whys and Hows of the Prepper Movement
For those questioning who and what preppers are preparing for, I decided to look for common sense answers.
They are a rather large group of people who plan to get ready to live without help from normal society. It’s not new; people have been preparing for the ‘sky is falling’ for quite some time now. However, it has gained a lot of followers in the last decade. Revenue has grown over 700% by companies catering to them.
Prepping could be considered a philosophy of survivalism.
Survivalism is a movement of individuals or groups (called survivalists or preppers) who actively prepare for emergencies, including possible disruptions in social or political order, on scales from local to international. Survivalism also encompasses preparation for personal emergencies, such as job loss or being stranded in the wild or under adverse weather conditions. The emphasis is on self-reliance, stockpiling supplies, and gaining survival knowledge and skills. Survivalists often acquire emergency medical and self-defense training, stockpile survival food and water, prepare to become self-sufficient and build structures such as survival retreats or underground shelters that may help them survive a catastrophe.
Prepping Survival On The Rise
So what’s driving this fear which is driving the growth of prepping across the country?
Some explanations focus on a tendency toward paranoia in American society or fears of terrorism or natural disasters such as fires and hurricanes. However, actual evidence that directly supports any of these ideas as the main reason is pretty sparse.
Enter Dr. Michael Mills of the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, who decided to help us understand the phenomenon of who and what preppers are and their fears in this current day of age.
He hung out with over 35 preppers in over 15 states to get into their heads.
He found that preppers are motivated by non-stop media coverage of natural disasters and a government that encourages them to prepare for the worst.
It is scaring the hell out of people.
Anticipate, Adapt, Achieve: The Prepper’s Mantra for Modern Survival
When the average person thinks about it, the image of a prepper is of someone getting ready for the collapse of society, at which point money and electric grids, along with all the things that depend on them, will become unavailable.
Preppers are ready to purify water to drink, hunt and butcher for meals, and scare off or even kill anyone who tries to get a piece of their post-apocalyptic bliss, possibly via gunfire.
There may be homemade backyard bunkers involved.
However, that image is partly fostered by the public’s biggest route to being made aware of preppers. The National Geographic Doomsday Preppers is a show I mentioned on this site and does, in fact, add fuel to this fire. (The show has also infiltrated the academic literature, as Dr.Mills cites a study that analyzed the psychology of people who appeared on the show.)
Although Dr.Mills doesn’t explicitly say it, it’s reasonable to wonder whether one can get an accurate cross-section of the who and what are preppers. Studying a community purely from watching people who were chosen to appear on a scripted show based on whether they make for good television. (Yes, scripted…..none of these reality shows spend untold dollars on production without that kind of safety net!)
To find out, Dr.Mills placed ads on some popular and up-and-coming prepper websites, recruited his sidekick, and started his educational road trip. His goal wasn’t ‘an add it up’ study; it was ethnography, which is largely talking to people. Spending time and breaking bread with them. Seeing whether there are common ways in how they think.
You should understand that regardless of how popular these prepper sites such as this one is, they probably won’t produce a full cross-section of the prepper community (remember….scripted) either. Nor will selecting people based on willingness to talk to a researcher.
That said, you’ll still probably get more depth than you would by selecting more great TV.
In fact, one of the subjects specifically told Dr. Mills that “it’s not like on [National Geographic’s] Doomsday Preppers.” They were not preparing for the total collapse of society. They were preparing to deal with a local collapse of services that might last a few months, such as a devastating hurricane. (One year after Hurricane Michael, people were still without homes)
It’s less Armageddon and more Hurricane Irma—which hadn’t hit yet while Dr. Mills was making his road trip but has since suggested that home preparedness for a few months without key services may be badly underestimating needs.
Prepper supplies would typically be enough to only hold out that long, and Dr. Mills said they often referred to these caches as “more than they’d ever need.”
Another key difference is that the preppers had no specific expectations for a disaster likely to happen.
Some lived in flood-prone areas but would invariably mention additional fears like terrorism or outbreaks of new diseases.
Also, for many of them, those risks didn’t produce a sense that disaster was inevitable.
Preparing was more of a just-in-case activity. As Dr.Mills concluded, “Their concerns tend to emerge in response to numerous disaster risks that are widely reported and recognized in wider American culture.”
Fear Mongers: Media and Government
Tornadoes, hurricanes, fires, earthquakes—very few areas of the country with no risk of a natural disaster, terrorism, food issues, and disease outbreaks could happen nearly anywhere.
So what factors drive some people to respond to those risks by being ready to do without both private and government services or any emergency support?
One factor, Dr. Mills argues, is that the organizations responsible for coordinating that emergency preparedness support tell them they should be ready to deal without it. “Federal agencies have recently encouraged American citizens to contemplate surviving disasters without their assistance,” Mills cites a previous study.
And the government also warns people to be ready for risks that have never materialized.
Since 2003, a group within the Department of Homeland Security has advocated that people “have a ‘safe room’, duct tape, and plastic sheets on-hand to secure their home against (unprecedented) chemical terrorist attacks.” Remember that?
A second motivation comes from the media, which provides nonstop coverage of natural disasters and their aftermath. I myself am addicted to the Weather Channel.
Dr. Mills said nearly every subject mentioned Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Sandy, or both. Dr.Mills’ road trip took place in 2014, and Ebola and ISIS both made frequent appearances in the risks mentioned by the preppers (as they might again today).
As I write this, in January 2020, confirmed coronavirus cases crossed 24,000.
Even more to worry about. That thing started up only a few months ago and is already causing economic symptoms with business shutdowns. And the fears of inflation and hyperinflation.
The ‘Prepper Phenomenon’ Conclusion
His conclusion of the who and what are preppers is that those responding to what they’re hearing: “Prepping is a phenomenon with clear, previously unacknowledged links to broader risk communications and concerns in the twenty-first century of the United States.”
In other words, prepping might be an unusual response to the challenges everyone faces when trying to communicate risks to the public. However, it’s on a spectrum of responses rather than a distinct phenomenon.
As Dr. Mills notes, that still leaves a couple of key questions, like why the response is so prevalent in the US. Also, why do most US citizens face the same risks but can’t even be bothered to store some jugs of water, extra diapers, or pack a bug-out bag?
Thank you for the study, Dr. Mills!
Why You Should Consider Prepping
That’s why you should consider prepping. Common sense prepping.
From page one, this site stresses the importance of preparing yourself for what outside forces may throw at you.
We will never tell you that you must build a cave in your backyard filled with food and guns. If we ever get to a point like that, we are all screwed.