Even Kurt Wilson, owner of the Coeur d'Alene-based Survival Enterprises, feels the pain of a turbulent economy. Repetitively lifting cases of powdered eggs and canned chunks of chicken, beef and turkey has Wilson suffering from a torn rotator cuff and elbow strain. That's because business in the survival industry is the best it's ever been -- even topping sales in the months of pre-Y2K panic.
"Y2K was a point in time people could look at and say it's going to hit the fan then," Wilson says. "There's an inability to predict now. Humankind has no prediction on what's going to effect them at any given time."
There are all sorts of what-ifs that Wilson says could trigger massive food shortages across the country: natural disasters, like floods and hurricanes, or man-made ones like nuclear war and the credit crisis.
For whatever reason, more and more people are stocking their bunkers and pantries, and they're not just stereotypical camouflage-clad survivalists. Wilson's clients include a 92-year-old grandmother and an interior designer from New York. He sells bulk food to professors, politicians and the Joneses down the street.
The increasing traffic to Jim Rawles' popular SurvivalBlog.com reflects the increasing interest in the survival movement. Visitors have tripled in the past 12 months.
"Up until a couple of years ago, it was a right-of-center phenomenon," he says by phone from his self-sufficient retreat "somewhere west of the Rockies." "Now I have as many left-of-center readers as I do right-wingers."
Rawles says a broader spectrum of people are seeing the wisdom in preparing for loss of jobs or something bigger. "It's a number of things, primarily the economy," he says.
Many of Rawles' Website visitors spend hours sifting through SurvivalBlog.com's archive of more than 3,500 articles on topics ranging from disaster preparedness and self-sufficiency to wilderness survival and bartering.
Though it's easy to develop a Chicken Little attitude, Rawles says most people have avoided panic. The closest thing to panic right now, he says, is a rush on guns and ammunition due to fear that the Obama administration will enact tougher gun laws or bans. "There's a hint of panic in the air, but even then people are being well-reasoned," Rawles says.
Both Rawles and Wilson say panic is the worst mistake a newbie survivalist can make. Following 9/11, Rawles fielded an e-mail from a New Yorker who bought hundreds of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat).
"Not only is it a recipe for gross indigestion," Rawles says, but it's not a sufficient way to go about stocking up for long-term survival. A whole hour of Wilson's Armchair Survivalist radio show (available in podcast at his Website www.beforeitstoolate.us) is dedicated to "Survival Stupidity."
The biggest mistake one can make is freaking out, says Wilson. Never mind that the theme song for his show is "Eve of Destruction" -- Wilson says a common-sense approach is best.
The second- and third-biggest survival faux pas?
Stocking up on guns and electronic gadgets.
While some say they could hunt for food if things really get that bad, Wilson says about 250,000 people within an hour's drive are going to have that same idea. He advises people to start stocking up on food now and to buy as much as they possibly can -- even if it means forgoing mortgage payments. The banks are so busy with their own crisis that Wilson believes they'll be forgiving of a missed payment or two.
There's a very small window left to stock up, he believes, and time might run out by January when Barack Obama is sworn into office.
If there's a run on the nation's grocery stores, Wilson figures the shelves will be empty within three hours. Most people, he says, only have enough food in their homes to last about a week.
While Wilson sells food -- everything from bacon in camouflage cans to canned butters and cheeses and freeze-dried fruits and vegetables -- he also advises his online readers and listeners about ways they can prepare for food shortages even if they don't have $160 to invest in a case of freeze-dried pork chops.
He watches grocery ads. If canned corn is on sale three for $1, he buys a case. He gleans from farmers' fields and bakeries and even says to watch the grocery store dumpsters for boxes of slightly imperfect, yet perfectly edible, produce.
In one episode of The Armchair Survivalist, Wilson takes listeners on a tour through his house. He suggests making a list, room-by-room, of things one would need if the stores suddenly closed.
Stocking up is not just about food. He's stashing toiletries, plates and silverware and a whole lot of spices. He has three or four shelves of spices in his bunker. "You could eat fried dog crap if you have the right spices," he says.
He also stocks up on treats like popcorn and candy for the kids. A lack of bunker or space is no excuse for not being prepared, he says.
The New York interior designer who orders from Survival Enterprises is a good example of how people can find creative ways to store food. He stacked cases of powdered eggs and put a drape over the top to create a coffee table. The "buffet table" behind his couch is a similarly disguised stockpile of food, topped with a decorative candelabra. A platform bed also adds bunker space.
"You'd never know he has six months of food in a one-bedroom New York apartment," Wilson says.
There's no "if" in Wilson's mind. It's simply a matter of when. "Those who paid attention will survive that much better than those who didn't," he says. "Those who didn't have a nickname, and it's 'victim.'"
Rawles implores those who are planning ahead to consider those who haven't and won't. He says, as a Christian, he stocks up with charity in mind. When he puts away a one-year supply of food for a family of five, he instead tries to think of it as a six-month supply for two families.
"A lot of people are horribly na & iuml;ve and under-informed," he says. "If there is a crisis, we're going to have to help out neighbors and family members that are not well prepared."