'Doomsday Preppers' are ready for anything

2012-11-09T07:00:00Z 2012-11-11T17:26:17Z 'Doomsday Preppers' are ready for anythingBy Gail Pennington gpennington@post-dispatch.com stltoday.com

Is the end near? Is Earth on its last legs? Will civilization as we know it soon come tumbling down, wiped out by some freakish natural disaster, another super storm or (gulp) a mega-quake on the New Madrid Fault?

Preppers think so. They may hope they’re wrong about the chance of a coming plague, nuclear attack or worldwide economic collapse, but just in case, from Addy, Wash., to Bracketville, Texas, and Augusta, Maine, to Altamonte Springs, Fla., they’re prepared, stockpiling food, water, medicine and weapons, ready to go underground or take to the woods at a moment’s notice.

National Geographic Channel introduced TV viewers to a wide spectrum of these dedicated folks in “Doomsday Preppers,” which begins its second season at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Last season, one family turned the pool into a self-sustaining food production system (tilapia, anyone?) and another got ready to enter complete quarantine in case of a smallpox epidemic. Viewers learned the lingo, including BOB, or “bug-out bag,” the kit everyone needs to have ready at all times.

Braxton Southwick brought a scaled-down version of his bug-out bag when Nat Geo introduced him, wife Kara and their six kids to TV critics this summer in Los Angeles. Sadly, he’d had to leave his knives at home in Utah, but he did carry his flashlight, batteries and “SOS” bars — high-calorie food bars, packing as many as 1,600 calories each.

The Southwick kids all practice diverse survival skills, including Braxton Jr., 21, who tans animal hides; Jayden, 18, a certified nurse assistant; and Rylee, 13, the youngest, who hunts with her father.

“It doesn’t consume our lives,” Braxton Sr. said of prepping, adding that it was important to him that his kids “get to be teenagers.”

But Braxton Jr. conceded that “we prep a lot, and we do take it to the extreme.” Still, “You never know when there really is going to be a major disaster. ... It’s really smart to have a plan just in case.”

Recent natural disasters have made the family even more interested in prepping, Kara Southwick said. “Tornadoes and hurricanes make your brain kind of click on (and think) maybe we should look at something on a grand catastrophic scale,” such as having a year’s food supply put away.

(How would they cook the food? “We have a sun oven,” Braxton Sr. said. “We have a thousand pounds of coal buried in the ground under my garden. And charcoal, a thousand pounds of charcoal. And, of course, I’ve got a couple of hundred gallons of diesel fuel and propane.”)

Asked if there were certain disasters — zombie apocalypse, perhaps? — that humans really wouldn’t want to survive, Braxton Sr. said, “As humans, we’re all survivors. We could say now that ‘I’d rather just die than deal with that.’ But, really, when it comes down to it, everybody in here is a survivor, and each one of you would fight for your life.”

The Southwicks put a normal and calming face on “Preppers,” suggesting that the movement — which has already spawned hundreds of websites and a huge amount of merchandise — is just about sensible preparedness.

But Season 1 featured people who were stockpiling not canned beans but weapons, planning to hole up in underground bunkers, fighting off neighbors. And about those weapons: One participant in the show, a manufacturer of survival tools, shot off his thumb in a mishap featured in Episode 3.

As with everything else, the lesson here seems to be about balance. The recent super storm in the Northeast, which left many without power for days, probably gave many of us the uneasy feeling that we’re not prepared at all. Perhaps burying 1,000 pounds of charcoal in the garden is over the top, but wouldn’t a case of water in the basement be sensible?

What “Doomsday Preppers” • When 8 p.m. Tuesday • Where National Geographic • More info nationalgeographic.com/channel/doomsday-preppers

Gail Pennington is the TV critic for the Post-Dispatch. Follow her at stltoday.com/tubetalk, @GailPennington on Twitter and facebook.com/tubetalkPD.

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Gail Pennington

Gail Pennington

Post-Dispatch television critic Gail Pennington watches bad TV so you don't have to. Visit Tube Talk for news, schmooze and occasional rants about everything television.

Every Monday, watch for Gail's Tube Talk video report. And find more news from Gail at facebook.com/tubetalkpd and twitter.com/gailpennington.