Do you ever wonder how the bigger names in the prepping world got their start? Or how preppers' needs differ from place to place? This is a fascinating look into the community in New York, especially one of the most prominent and respected voices in the area for many years, Aton Edwards.
The Doomsday Preppers of New York
A couple of weeks ago, on a leisurely Sunday afternoon, 40 people gathered at a church in Washington Heights for a show-and-tell session sponsored by the New York City Preppers Network. One by one, they stood in front of the room and exhibited their “bug-out bags,” meticulously packed receptacles filled with equipment meant to see them through the collapse of civilization.
New York hardly seems like a natural location for what has become known as the prepper movement, but in fact the city’s prepping community is not only large and remarkably diverse, its leaders say, it’s also growing rapidly.
To the unprepared, the very word “prepper” is likely to summon images of armed zealots hunkered down in bunkers awaiting the End of Days, but the reality, at least here in New York, is less dramatic. Local Preppers are doctors, doormen, charter school executives, subway conductors, advertising writers and happily married couples from the Bronx. They are no doubt people that you know — your acquaintances and neighbors. People, I’ll admit, like myself.
People join the prepper movement for countless reasons, each as unique as the people themselves. That's part of what makes the community strong – no matter how you got in, everyone has the common goal of being prepared and protecting those they love.
EARLY IN MY TRAVELS, I was told the man to see for a deeper understanding of prepping in New York was Aton Edwards, founder of the International Preparedness Network and author of the emergency survival guide “Preparedness Now!” Mr. Edwards, 51, is often called the city’s foremost expert in personal disaster preparation — he has appeared on the “Today” show, has taught his “Ready Up!” seminars to hundreds of participants with partners like the Red Cross and has set up, as part of the National Urban Self-Reliance and Preparedness Program, “incident command centers” across New York, like the one he recently created for the hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa in the Bronx.
There are organizations and meet-ups all over the country to get to know your fellow preppers and compare notes. From big cities to small towns, there's likely a group near you.
As I got to know him better, Mr. Edwards told me the story of his own interest in disaster preparation, which began, he said, in 1972, when he went to see “Deliverance” on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. (“I thought it was a camping movie.”) He entered the theater as a relatively normal 10-year-old, but emerged as a Prepper: “I said to myself, ‘Gee, I should get to learning everything possible to prevent that situation from occurring.’ ”
Acquiring skills over the next two decades from military manuals and from Soldier of Fortune magazine, he said he went one day to a course in civil defense hosted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and recalled being horrified that the government was still relying on “cold war supplies of vienna sausages and five-pound bags of sugar.”
It was not by chance, Mr. Edwards said, that prepping first took root in New York in the black community: he himself is black, and in the 1990s he became a frequent guest on “The Open Line,” a call-in radio show on the “urban adult” station WBLS. Around the same time, he started giving classes in disaster preparation at the National Action Network, the Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights group. “Obviously,” Mr. Edwards said, “because of our history, black folks know that bad things happen.”
These days, he added, the prepping movement is “the strangest mishmash of people you could ever find — black, white, men, women, everyone. It looks like America.”
Mr. Edwards has also entered the Prepper market, and one day I accompanied him to Westchester to observe a consultation he was doing (at $120 an hour) for Jeff and Joanna Lee Doster, a couple in their 50s recently transplanted from Manhattan. The Dosters — he is a retired marketing executive, and she is the author of “Celebrity Bedroom Retreats” — found themselves without a home during Hurricane Sandy after the poorly timed sale of their apartment on West 57th Street.
“We felt so helpless,” Ms. Doster said as we arrived. “That’s why we called Aton.”
After examining their new house — “Decent elevation, but not too solar-friendly” — Mr. Edwards issued his analysis. The Dosters rely on electric power for their heat and water, and given the prevalence of long winter power failures in their town, Mr. Edwards recommended a 60-gallon Aquatank water-storage mattress for under the bed. He also suggested at least 10 boxes of Nuvona emergency food and advised the couple to invest in two electric bicycles, energy-saving lights (“If you want to get jiggy with it, try the LEDs”) and a rooftop windmill for alternate generation.
“Now your worst-case scenario is that something goes down at Indian Point,” he said, referring to the nuclear reactor in Buchanan, N.Y., 30 minutes away. “You’re in the peak-injury zone. You’d get a pretty serious dose of radioactive particulates.”
The Dosters looked terrified.
“The good part?” Mr. Edwards reassured them. “This is a rental.”
What has your initiation into the prepper movement looked like? What first got you interested?