(WALA) - It can happen in an instant or with very little warning - a disaster strikes and your life is turned upside down.
Along the Gulf Coast, we prepare ourselves every year for hurricane season and the potential destruction it can bring. But there are those living amongst us who are prepared for much more.
They call themselves preppers and to them it's a way of life.
Chances are, you have one or more as a neighbor and don't even know it. They don't advertise what they do even to their close friends and families, in many cases. To them, preparing for the worst has become a way of life and their reasons for prepping are as varied as their personalities.
"It could be anything," said Justin Teet, a prepper living near the city of Mobile. "It could be we wind up going to war or a nuclear reactor messes up."
For Valerie, a wife and mother who lives in a small town, the concern is something else.
"The worst case scenario is probably if the…when the economy fell and governments would fall," she said.
We've seen it all around the world and within our borders. Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and wildfires have destroyed the lives of millions.
We now know that we're not safe from terrorist attacks here at home and we've seen major power grids go down for long periods of time.
A faltering US economy has been slow to recover and has many worried as the value of the dollar continues to drop.
The difference between a prepper and the rest of us is not as drastic as you may think. They just have a broader view.
"Most preppers prep for everything," Teet pointed out. "It's not about they're worried about one certain thing happening. It's about making sure you have the supplies or the means to survive no matter what happens."
Teet started prepping when he began a family a short time ago. Since then, it's something that's always on his mind. He doesn't make a trip to the grocery store without spending a few extra dollars on non-perishable food or other supplies.
But Teet has a problem. As prepared as he may be, he lives in a heavily populated suburb of Mobile and worries about how ill-prepared most of his neighbors are. Protecting his family and his stockpile of necessities is a top priority.
Because of this concern, he has purchased and has become skilled at using several firearms. To him, stockpiling ammunition is nearly as important as food and water.
"Desperate times, people do desperate things. You saw what happened in New Orleans after Katrina," Teet pointed out. "People panicked and most of the people that were doing the looting and the robbing probably didn't do anything like that a day in their life, but when it comes down to you have to provide for your family, people will do whatever it takes. So if they're willing to do whatever it takes, you need to have the means and the supplies, whether it's guns or whatever it takes to do the exact same thing."
Safety for his family is a top priority and it may mean getting away from his house. It might be because of the imminent threat from a chemical spill, a terrorist attack or any other disaster that would throw the population into a panic. In a case like that, time is of the essence and he's ready to bug out.
"I'm in an area where I can avoid most major highways. If you don't have a plan, probably the easiest way is some kind of farm, woods... you know, something like that where there's not a lot of people," suggested Teet. "I've got everything I need to where I don't have to stop and think about planning or have to stop and go to Walmart and try to stock up on stuff."
Teet keeps necessary items in his "bug out bag." It's a backpack he keeps packed and at the ready in case he has to leave home quickly.
"Basically, this has everything that I would need if something suddenly happened and I had to grab, besides my kids, one thing," he said.
Experts say you should pack a three-day supply of food and water when you bug out. In most cases, things will start to calm down by then and returning home may be possible. Teet's bug out plan will take him to an isolated piece of property with abundant wildlife and natural streams. With a good water and food supply, he's prepared to provide for his wife and two young children for an extended period of time.
But, what if disaster strikes while you're on the road and separated from your family? A prepper is ready for that scenario as well. Teet has built a special box into the back of his SUV that holds supplies for up to two days - enough time for him to get home.
As ready as Teet may seem, he's not satisfied with his level of preparedness and strives for more knowledge and a support system.
"I'd really like to try to be more dependent on myself than the store, but definitely stock up on more supplies and finding other preppers," Teet said. "You'll find that there are groups around the country where they'll actually get together and they'll meat and they'll talk and give each other tips and tricks."
As it turns out, Teet has more company than he may realize. In
Baldwin County, Valerie and her family take pride and comfort in being better prepared than their neighbors. She started gardening and canning many years ago and is now teaching those skills to her children.
She's a member of a group of women that calls themselves the "Prepper Chicks." Most of them are prepared to stay at home and live off their resources if disaster strikes.
In the Mobile area, we found a fairly large prepper association. They call themselves SAPP (South Alabama Preparedness Project). Most refused to openly discuss their reasons for prepping, their tactics or their level of preparedness, although "off the record" they were a wealth of information and made it clear that they were there to simply be an outreach for others like them who wanted to share their knowledge with others.
Three members from the group did agree to meet and go on the record with some of their viewpoints. The first thing I wanted to know was what their major concerns are.
"You do have those kind of thoughts that, you know... what's going to happen to the dollar," offered Allen Shaw. "What's going on with the euro? What's the political climate in this country?"
"Twenty years ago, if I told you there was to be terrorist attacks within the United States, you'd laugh. The Twin Towers did come down," Cecil Wiggins added.
"I think the ‘catastrophic' element is very dramatic and it makes people go, ‘Oh, that would be so shocking,' but it wouldn't take a catastrophic event for us to be in crisis," said Lisa Becker.
That's just a taste of a very interesting and candid discussion we had with this group of Mobile–area preppers.
In part two of this series, Hal will continue my discussion with them and introduce you to more of the "Prepper Chicks" from Baldwin County. You'll see how easy it is to turn your small piece of property into a wealth of resources and have fun while doing it.
American Preppers Network
https://www.facebook.com/AmericanPreppersNetwork - Page
https://www.facebook.com/groups/AmericanPreppersNetwork/ - Group
APN Alabama preppers forum
http://preparednesspro.com/ & https://www.facebook.com/preparednesspro
Online meet-up groups
South Alabama Preparedness Project Facebook group
"Prepper Connection" - Hollywood, Fla.
"Florida Survivalist Network Region 3" - Jacksonville Beach, Fla.
"Shreveport Preppers" - Shreveport, La.
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