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Prepping for the worst

Source: Lancaster Online

“Candles and wood.”

It’s Deb Giffin’s mantra.

The Manor Township woman doesn’t want to give up her dishwasher or her fridge.

But, she said, disaster could strike. Civilization shouldn’t count on always having those cushy things. So she’s laying away supplies for a rainy day.

She’s started to fill the pantry of her suburban home with canned pineapple juice, beans and high-energy snacks.

She has fastened a large kerosene lamp to the wall of her living room. She has hand tools galore, a fireplace and bundles of wood from a home-improvement store.

She has an emergency pack in case she needs to clear out.

“I have flashlights that are the crank style” and don’t need batteries, said Giffin, 54.

She also has plenty of company.

Emergency preparedness is growing into an American subculture that some adherants claim is bigger than the tea party movement.

Giffin and others share gardening and survival tips on blogs like The Survival Mom. They belong to groups such as the American Preppers Network, launched 16 months ago by 32-year-old Idaho truck driver Tom Martin.

The thousands of daily hits on will cease, of course, if there’s a monster storm or economic collapse. But one goal of prepping is to get society ready for such events.

The message isn’t always welcome, as Giffin knows.

“My daughter busts on me about being a doomsday person,” Giffin said. Giffin contends she’s just being practical.

Either way, the prepper demographic contrasts starkly with the secretive, backwoods bunker survivalists of the 1970s and ’80s.

Some preppers are hunters and back-to-the-land types, to be sure. Some live on ranches and farms. But many others reside in cities and suburbs, said Kathy Harrison, a western Massachusetts woman who has written a preparedness guide called “Just in Case.”

The prepper world is diverse, embracing concerns about energy use, personal health, overconsumption and waste.

“This is no longer sort of the crazy man out in the cave someplace dining on bats’ wings and frogs’ eyeballs,” Harrison said.

Socking stuff away

Harrison for example, describes herself as a middle-aged woman with “a minivan and a pile of kids” and a backyard swimming pool. “We’re just people,” she says.

But what makes otherwise ordinary folks start packing away sterile gauze pads and tinned meat?

People who become preppers often already have a self-sufficiency mindset, said Art Markman, a University of Texas cognitive psychologist who tracks the preparedness movement.

Calamities such as Hurricane Katrina and the Wall Street meltdown stoke that impulse because they stir doubt about whether government can handle the mess, Markman wrote in an e-mail.

“When trust erodes,” according to Markman, “people want to take over more … basic responsibilities for themselves. People who feel like they are taking care of their own needs are decreasing the anxiety caused by mistrust.”

Hollywood has picked up on the mood with recent post-apocalyptic movies such as “The Road” and “The Book of Eli.”

“We’re realizing how spoiled we are,” Deb Giffin said.

Giffin said self-reliance comes second nature to her because she’s a single mother of three, and because she grew up on a remote Berks County farm that lacked indoor plumbing until she was 6.

With five brothers and three sisters, she noted, “I always grew up wanting for something.”

Her job in the electric utility industry has shown her the vulnerabilities of the power grid, Giffin added.

Recent stories about solar flares and electromagnetic pulse bombs that could supposedly destroy communications networks have put her more on edge, she said.

Now, she’s convincing friends and family to become more independent —slowly.

She said her younger daughter, Jennifer Derr, asked at one point ” ‘What’s a screwdriver?’ She does at least check her oil now.”

Her older daughter, Leslie Egiziano, created The Maven Club, a local self-help group, Giffin added.

Building a prepper nation is a guiding principle of the movement, according to Martin and Harrison.

They both live in rural areas, grow their own food and could live without the grid indefinitely.

But what if some catastrophe undermines law and order?

Harrison said she has no intention of taking up arms, “Mad Max” style: “I’m the first person in the stew pot, I know that. I can’t fend off a gang of mutant zombie bikers.”

She won’t have to, she added, because her neighbors are already on the same self-reliant page.

Whether this ethic is infinitely adaptable to the nation’s neighborhoods is an open question.

Markman lauds backyard chicken raising. And he says personal fitness and health care awareness are especially sensible.

“I think that recognizing that things can go wrong … is a good thing,” he said.

However, he added, “I think that, in general, people underestimate the complexity of really doing everything yourself.”

Martin said he has no warm, fuzzy illusions about what would happen if political and economic systems should fail.

“I doubt if you’d get a Utopian society out of it.” On the other hand, he said, “if a disaster comes through and nobody’s prepared, your instinct cuts in and it’s a fight for survival.”

That’s just the kind of scenerio Giffin wants to avoid, especially for her children.

And so she keeps on socking stuff away. And she keeps on trying to motivate other people to become preppers.

“If something big happens,” she said, “I think people are going to have to realize they’re going to have to get along a lot better than they are now.”