The following is continued from our feature story, Zombies. Nuclear War. Earthquake. Pandemic. Click here for part 1.
Utah Shelter Systems' Paul Seyfried ships survival shelters to preppers nationwide. Photo by Adam Finkle.
Rumors are flying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will buy up (or seize) all private emergency food stocks. Several booths are offering get-rich opportunities to buy and sell gold, silver and jewels. “There is an influence from the political side. A high percentage of people here are fearful of total economic collapse,” Moon says. (Ironically, several vendors represent multi-level marketing plans that depend on an optimistic future to enrich participants.)
Not surprisingly, Utah’s Constitutional Party is prominent at the exposition. For sale on the tables, alongside Shelf Stable Recipe Book and Cooking with Powdered Milk are titles such as Promises of the Constitution and Awakening to Our Awful Situation and popular treatises on the threat of one-world government. Neither the Utah Democratic Party nor Sierra Club rented tables.
Jerry “The Cob” Cobb, an instructor for St. George-based onPoint Tactical survival school, has one of the more cohesive explanations for the impending breakdown of society: a civil war between America’s conservatives and its progressive-dominated government. Obama and his supporters are not about to let democracy play out, he says.
“Liberals will do whatever it takes to hang on to power. It’s a basic principle of survival,” Cobb says. “It would be the same if conservatives were in power. People will do anything to survive.”
onPoint trains civilians in urban escape, survival and “exiting the grid.” “If an event comes—it could be anything—everyone will want to get out of the cities,” Cobb says. In this desperate dog-eat-dog scenario, onPoint’s training departs from most disaster plans. “FEMA’s 72-hour kits help you hold it together in the Superdome,” Cobb says. “We teach: Don’t go to the Superdome—you will die there. The veneer of civilization is thin. When people are hungry, they will do anything. ”
Instead, for $800, onPoint will put you through three days of training in the arts of defense, evasion, disguise, lock-picking and hot-wiring vehicles. You’ll leave with a lock-pick kit complete with bobby pins.
When it’s pointed out that the skills onPoint offers could be used for nefarious purposes, Cobb solemnly explains, “We emphasize that if you take these measures, you have to live with yourself. If you take someone’s car, you may have taken their only means of escape.”
Cobb agrees with the signs around the hall announcing this gathering is likely the “last” Utah preparedness expo—a reference to the unrest around the globe, congressional paralysis and what some call the Barackalypse. “My paranoid side says the government doesn’t like these expos,” says Cobb. “They like people to be passive.”
It’s important to point out that every prepper—whether they own a food freeze-drier or are building a bunker—emphasizes: “I’m not a conspiracy nut.” Amid this boom is the Utah Division of Emergency Management, trying to carry out its charge to prepare for major disaster. “People need to be aware. We know Utah is at risk for wildfire, flood and earthquake,” says Utah DEM spokesman Joe Dougherty. “We know help will come, but we don’t know how long it will be before it arrives.”
The division works closely with prepper businesses, particularly Emergency Essentials, which co-sponsored the 2013 Great Utah ShakeOut earthquake-awareness drill. “We have a really good relationship with a lot of these companies. They have been beneficial to get our message out,” Dougherty says.
But to many survival experts, the DEM is at best hapless and its guidance may even be harmful in the case of a complete societal meltdown.
“We know there are what we would call extreme preppers out there—who have taken it to another level,” Dougherty says. “We’re trying to reach a common denominator.” The UDEM would be delighted if every Utahn wrote out an emergency plan and pulled together a 72-hour emergency kit.
The happy few
One of the counterintuitive aspects of the prepper movement is that everyone—vendors and buyers—seem upbeat about this business of apocalypse. Despite the horrific scenarios they predict of inferno, pestilence, destruction, dismemberment, death—not to mention subsisting on really awful food–no one, not even The Cob, seems particularly downbeat. Sometimes, it even seems they are looking forward to using all their training and equipment.
Tim Pedersen, of Emergency Essentials laughs when asked if he has a career based on destruction, darkness and the ultimate of bummers.
“We are an education business,” he says. “Peace of mind comes from information and the darkness shrinks as the light comes in.”
Burying yourself alive
If you know anything at all about apocalyptic preppers, you know the ultimate “bug-out” plan is pinned on retreat to the boonies where an underground shelter, stocked with several months worth of food, diesel fuel, guns, ammunition and a few board games, awaits.
Connoisseurs of bomb shelters go to Utah Shelter Systems in Salt Lake for the “Cadillac” of bunkers that the company has been building and shipping nationwide since 1986. And demand for the tubular shelters that range in price from $50,000 to $120,000 is bigger than ever.
“After 9/11, I had no life,” says Utah Shelter Systems President Paul Seyfried, who has his own shelter hidden in central Utah. On a sunny day, a crane is loading one of the company’s 12-foot diameter, 50-foot-long corrugated steel citadels on a flat-bed truck bound for Tennessee. There workers will finish it out, installing granite countertops to match its suburban interior décor, then several months worth of food, water and medical supplies will be stored beneath the floor hatches. In a separate bunker 50 feet away a diesel generator will be buried with ample fuel to power the main shelter in style. “They won’t even hear the generators running,” Seyfried says.
More importantly, the shelter is also fitted with Swiss-made, state-of-the-art blast valves, which will automatically seal during a nuclear shockwave, and air-scrubbers to remove toxins. USS is the North American distributor for installation of the Swiss-made equipment. The shelter entrance is protected by a steel blast door designed by USS to withstand the heat and pressure at the center of a nuclear blast—not to mention the pounding of hunger-maddened humans.
Seyfried says people who are not preparing for a major disaster—he personally leans toward a nuclear attack or a rogue nation’s electromagnetic pulse strike that would disrupt most electronic devices—are “living in denial of technical reality.”
“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” Seyfried says. “I’m only doing everything the U.S. Government is doing in pre-positioning stocks of water, food and medical supplies. Except I’m doing it for my family.”
He scoffs at expecting government help in a catastrophe. “When it’s least expected, you’re elected,” he quips.
“I don’t lie awake and worry about what might happen. I can feed my family for many years without having to go to a store,” Seyfried says. “The skeptics have to be right every day—I only have to be right once. I sleep good.”