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Americans get set for disaster day

Chuck Izzo at his house in Virginia
Ready for anything: Chuck Izzo has enough supplies for two months

By Madeleine Morris
BBC News, Greenville

If there was ever a major disaster in northern Virginia, Chuck Izzo's house is Greenville is where you would want to be.

Tucked away in his pantry are enough tinned food and water to last for two months.

In the basement an inverter hums quietly, charging batteries that could easily power most of his three-storey home's lights and appliances for nine hours.

And for when that runs out, he has a wood-burning stove with a two-month supply of fuel pellets so he can cook and heat the whole house.

Mr Izzo is a "prepper", one of a growing number of Americans who are preparing their homes and families to survive a major disaster they believe could arrive at any time.

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Chuck Izzo explains what it means to be a 'prepper'

"We realise the frailty of infrastructure so if it fails, we're prepared to deal with a crisis like that," he explains.

"It could be electricity, it could be a medical emergency. It could be something caused by a man-made disaster or a natural disaster."

I don't think it's paranoia. I think it's just a degree of readiness.
Chuck Izzo

While there have always been people who have anticipated and prepared for disaster, "prepping" as a discernable movement has emerged only in the last 18 months, with the growth of online prepper networks and blogs.

Since its inception just 15 months ago, the American Preppers Network and its associated state networks now get more than 5,000 hits a day.

Preppers debate issues like whether to "bug-in" or "bug-out" (to evacuate or stay when disaster strikes) and more mundane matters like gardening tips.

Blogs such as The Survival Mom and Suburban Prepper give tips on preserving and growing food, discuss the pros and cons of having a gun, and offer advice on ham radio.

Matt Jarvis
I think it's something more people my age should think about
Matt Jarvis
Prepper, 22

"There are a lot of people out there who feel the same way as I do, but don't know that there's others out there like them, so it's the prepper networks that provide that online community for people to come together online and talk with each other," says Matt Jarvis, the man behind The Prepper Podcast.

From his bedroom in rural Kentucky, Mr Jarvis records and posts his weekly conversations with other preppers and survival experts.

Mr Jarvis is 22 and still lives with his parents, yet he has put aside three months' worth of food and water, plus other supplies, in case disaster strikes.

He is most worried about hurricanes after one destroyed many of the houses on his street two years ago, but economic collapse and terrorism are also concerns.

He acknowledges it is unusual for someone of his age to be thinking so much about potential disasters, and putting hard-earned money into preparing for something that may never come.

"But I think it's something more people my age should think about," he says.

Survivalists v preppers

Preppers are keen not to be seen as survivalists - the stereotypically anti-government, wood-dwelling, gun-toting hermits of past decades.

Rather than isolating themselves in preparation for Armageddon, preppers tend to have normal jobs, mingle with their communities and take a more relaxed view about looming disasters.

Tom Martin, who began the American Preppers Network makes the distinction. "A survivalist is more a specific term," he says.

"For me, a survivalist is someone who can go into any type of situation and live off the land. Me, I'm not like that.

"People call themselves survivalists because they've got guns and MREs (military ready-to-eat meals). A prepper is a more generalised term. "

Food storage at Chuck Izzo's house in Virginia
Preppers prepare with tinned goods, not living off the land

While most preppers tend to be politically to the right, or even libertarian in their views, their back-to-basics approach to food cultivation and preparation, as well as use of alternative energy sources, paradoxically means they have much in common with left-of-centre environmentalists.

But according to Professor Michael K Lindell, editor of the International Journal of Mass Emergencies and Director of the Hazard Reduction and Recovery Centre at Texas A&M University, the recent growth in prepping is a sign of uncertain times.

"There is a general feeling of greater personal responsibility that we've seen in a number of different surveys," says Professor Lindell.

"Plus, people have the money and knowledge to invest in these different types of survival resources, as well as the feeling that they really are at risk.

"It's all these different trends that are coming together that are leading to this kind of behaviour."

Many preppers cite the American government's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 as a key motivator behind their approach to survival. The economic crisis of the past two years is also frequently mentioned.

So are preppers paranoid? Chuck Izzo says not.

"Having a couple of months' worth of food, some first aid training, potentially if you can afford it having a back-up power system to maintain the electrical systems in your house… I don't think that's paranoia," he says.

"I think that's just a degree of readiness. I think it improves our confidence and our quality of life."



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