Staff Columnist

Doomsday preppers don't seem so crazy now, do they?

For hundreds of Americans who die each year due to extreme weather events, it's the real end of times.

Damage from the derecho storm on August 10th is seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Damage from the derecho storm on August 10th is seen in an aerial photograph in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, August 11, 2020. (Stephen Mally/Freelance)

The power is out, so you can’t turn on the TV or radio, or even open the refrigerator. All your rechargeable devices are dead, but it hardly matters because your cellphone doesn’t have any service to make calls, much less access the internet.

Maybe your vehicle was destroyed in the storm, or maybe tree limbs and downed utility infrastructure are blocking your driveway. In any case, you can’t get to the supermarket or convenience store. Even if you could, they don’t have milk or meat or gasoline to sell you.

Help from the government and the corporations is coming, but it will be a few days — at least. With God’s mercy, hopefully you still have an intact roof and clean water from the faucet.

Nearly 120,000 still without power in Cedar Rapids, Iowa City areas, though some restored

Neighbors face daunting cleanup in Cedar Rapids area after devastating derecho

You’re hungry, vulnerable and cut off from the rest of the world. It’s a real-life doomsday scenario, and it’s the brutal reality that tens of thousands of Iowans woke up to this week after a derecho storm wrecked central and Eastern Iowa with 100 miles per hour winds.

Preppers and survivalists usually are depicted as paranoid lunatics. But you don’t need to be obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear war or a zombie apocalypse to see the importance of disaster preparedness — all you have to do is watch the weather in Iowa.

For the dozens of Iowans who have died due to extreme weather events in the decade or so that I’ve been covering the news — and hundreds of Americans who meet the same fate each year — that tornado, flood or heat wave was the end of times. You’re foolish to think the same couldn’t happen to you.

This is not meant to lay blame on victims of such disasters. To the contrary, it comes from an understanding that well prepared people are best suited to help others in need, especially when our usual support systems are shut down.

I started following the prepper movement several years ago after I watched a marathon of “Doomsday Preppers,” the former National Geographic television series. Each participant’s time on the show ended with a short segment called “The Odds,” in which the narrator brushed off the risk of whatever crisis the prepper was focused on. It was a way of reassuring viewers that this person is crazy and you shouldn’t listen to them.

Coincidentally, the first season of Doomsday Preppers in 2011 featured a woman preparing for an infectious disease pandemic similar to the flu. “While it is likely that a pandemic will occur in our future, it’s impossible to predict the timing and severity of such an event,” the TV writers concluded, as if to say, why even worry about it?

But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States this spring, supply shortages ensued. There was a national campaign to shame people who “hoarded” toilet paper and sanitizing products. The people who defied the advice to only take what you need were called selfish but everyone who has long ignored the recommendation to store basic necessities was held blameless.

It’s unfortunate to see prepping pigeonholed as a radical right-wing conspiracy. Properly understood, hippies on communes practicing permaculture are just as much a part of the movement as militiamen building compounds with chicken coops in the rural backwoods.

No doubt, the government has a legitimate role to play in responding to extreme crisis situations, but if that is your first and only line of preparedness, you’re going to have a bad time.

And you don’t need a bunker to be a prepper. Water jugs, canned goods, propane and batteries are good places to start.

adam.sullivan@thegazette.com; (319) 339-3156

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