While National Geographic’s cameras rolled, Tim Ralston showed off his arsenal of survival weapons in the Arizona desert. As he demonstrated shooting one of his rifles, he carelessly slipped his thumb in front of the barrel and pulled the trigger resulting in a devastating wound and necessitating his evacuation by helicopter to a trauma center.
Mr. Ralston is a star of the new reality TV series on National Geographic called “Doomsday Preppers”–a show dedicated to the profound paranoia, hysteria, and insolence of folks convinced that the end of the world and society is near. From the couple who doesn’t drink but insists on stockpiling whiskey, rum, and vodka (for trading and bartering after the currency collapses) to the New York City firefighter fearful of the Yellowstone super-volcano and the potential for knife fights after society collapses, all the individuals and families featured on the show display the worst traits of disaster preparedness.
While citizens, the private sector, and jurisdictions at all levels are embracing the Whole Community approach in order to minimize damages and increase community resiliency in the face of any disaster, the folks featured on Doomsday Preppers seem to have dismissed the notion entirely that community resiliency is a worthy goal.
Instead, the doomsday preppers focus their efforts on devising methods to isolate themselves from the world. Not only do they come across as paranoid misanthropes, the doomsday preppers are uniquely anti-social. As the firefighter in New York City explains, it’s difficult for him to lawfully own firearms in the city, so he’s settled for maintaining an extensive knife collection and paying for private tutoring sessions from edged weapons instructors. His goal is to learn how to use his knives to stab intruders who would threaten his 90-day storage of food. Besides the knives, the firefighter also keeps a box of broken glass by the door to his apartment (that he shares with his wife and two young children) that he plans to scatter in the hallway in an emergency–both to serve as a warning for and impediment to intruders.
For me, the philosophy behind these doomsday preppers is misguided. While individual preparedness is crucial, the doomsday preppers are not simply preparing as a member of the community, but as exclusions of the community. They conscientiously reject pre-disaster societal norms and substitute it with their anticipated version of post-disaster utopia: a society framed on stand-your-ground and shoot-first vigilantism and fanaticism, which is inherently dangerous.
Rather than investing so much budget and effort into weaponry, I’d much rather see the folks featured on Doomsday Preppers become leaders in their community, working with the elderly and those with access and functional needs to prepare resilient plans during a disaster. While the series shows knife-fighting scenes and rifle practice, I came away asking myself “where was the CPR and AED training?” and “why isn’t Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training mentioned?”.
Political fanaticism masquerading as disaster preparedness challenges legitimate forms of community resiliency and disaster preparedness. Planning and preparing for disasters as a community is a patriotic duty. Ensuring that a post-disaster America continues to be the land of freedom with an enduring form of constitutional government in the face of all types of disasters is patriotic too.
Unfortunately there’s no television show for the emergency managers, public servants, volunteers, community organizers, public health planners, and countless others that work thanklessly to help our communities strengthen in resiliency, planning, readiness, and preparedness.
In the end, it’s not the isolated and paranoid survivalists that define disaster preparedness, but those dedicated to strengthening our communities, helping the frail, supporting the sick and injured, and fostering a climate of resiliency and helpful coordination that are the role models for future generations of preppers. While the isolationists literally prepare their holes in the ground and shoot their hands off in the hopes of outmaneuvering the rest of humanity, those of us who answer the selfless call of duty for preserving and improving our communities will continue our efforts to organize and strengthen in productive and positive ways.
Steve Miller said:
Great article Todd. I could not agree more with every point you brought up here. You really should get this article published. I share your opinion on these new doomsday shows. The newest being Doomsday Bunkers on The Discovery Chanel is not quite as disappointing as Doomsday Preppers on Nat Geo. Doomsday Bunkers has other issues in that it’s just boring. I would like to add one thing to this discussion in regards to how mainstream preppers are portrayed on Doomsday Preppers. If you take any hobby or area of interest that has a lot of people participating you will find the top 5% take it to another level. For example, take a look at sports fans. The mainstream sports fan does not run five fantasy leagues or have twelve video streams of different sporting events streaming into his man cave. The top 5% of extreme sports fan might. This holds true for emergency preparedness. Doomsday Peppers has chosen to find this categories top 5% of extremist and advertise them as the face of preppers…….in reality, nothing could be further from the truth. The show is ridiculous and should be taken off the air. It is not helping or entertaining anyone that I know.
Mike Sorenson said:
While in principal I agree with a community approach to preparing for disasters, I cannot help but to see the value of a moderate approach as presented by the doomsday peepers. If nothing, events like hurricane Katrina taught me that in nearly every society there are people who will propagate chaos to prosper at the cost of others. I for one believe in personal preparness and while you will not find me digging a bunker and preparing for a zombie apocalypse, I have enough food stored my family to survive if cut off from our normal sources. To me this is just common sense; in the event I am out of work due to the economy or the end of the world as we know it 😉 we can survive. If we are all prepared with our families daily needs, we wouldn’t need to rely on FEMA, we could pull together as a community and work to recover from what ails us. Give me one example since the 1970’s where community has prevailed in disasterous circumstances and I will give you one hundred incidences of lawlessnes.
Amber Quijada said:
Great blog Todd! I was just watching this show the other day and was disgusted/amused at many of these preppers. It is so disheartening to see the mindset of these groups who have obviously seen or played too many apocalyptic movies/zombie games.