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Illustration by The Globe and Mail

Rick Chisholm is ready. If the lake near his house in Leamington, Ont., floods, if the electricity grid goes down or if some other disaster strikes, the 48-year-old IT security professional and his wife have an emergency kit in their bedroom that contains everything they and their two children will need to survive for up to three days, including food, water, flashlights and batteries.

“It’s all in a little tote that can be picked up and thrown in the truck if we need to evacuate and move to another location,” says Chisholm, who launched the blog Prepped Parent in 2016 to offer tips and advice on how to become more prepared for emergencies to those raising children.

Preparing to be self-sufficient in the event of a natural disaster or some other emergency may have once been seen as the sole obsession of people who believe the end is nigh. But prepping, as it is known among devotees, has gone mainstream. Costco now sells a range of emergency gear, including survival kits containing high-calorie food bars, a hand-crank flashlight, waterproof matches, a whistle, first aid kit and a pocket knife, among other items, as well as a one-year supply of food for four people that costs $8,499.99. Prepper meet-up events have seen attendance spike in recent years, and an increasing number of people are seeking out information on prepper blogs – the Canadian Preppers Network blog, for example, receives more than 20,000 visitors each month.

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At its most basic, prepping is having the necessities on hand to survive for a brief period of time, usually about three days, without outside assistance. That usually means storing extra food, water, flashlights, radios and blankets in case disaster strikes, whether it’s a power outage, flood or some other emergency. As we have seen the fallout from natural disasters and other emergencies, from Hurricane Katrina to the Fort McMurray wildfires, despite the fears of the doomsday fringe, prepping for the majority of people is a matter of common sense.

“People used to think of a prepper as someone out in the woods with a tin hat and a bunker,” says Kristen Bullock, co-owner of Briden Solutions, a Calgary-based company that specializes in emergency preparedness and survival supplies. “Now there’s the odd customer who has that persona. But by far the majority, like 95, 98 per cent, are your average family that is just looking for a safety net.”

Illustration by The Globe and Mail

In the United States many preppers tend to lean right politically.

There, prepping reached a peak in popularity during the Obama administration when there was greater anxiety about the economy and national security, says James Rawles, the author of How To Survive The End of The World As We Know It and who also runs the website Survival Blog.

“It’s subsided a bit simply because people are feeling more confident about the economy and our national defence under the Trump administration. But there is still huge interest. From hedge fund managers and bankers down to street sweepers,” he says. “It really is a full cross-section of North American society.”

Prepping is fundamentally about being self-reliant for a few days in the event that services we take for granted are unavailable, says De Nob, owner of the Canadian Preppers Network, a website dedicated to prepping that launched in 2009.

“Our world revolves around services such as electricity distribution, emergency services such as fire, police, ambulance, even food deliveries to grocery stores is a service that could be interrupted. Being able to go without those services is the basis of preparedness,” Nob says.

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Many preppers may be anxious about all the things that are out of their control in potentially dire circumstances and want to curb it with a range of supplies and skills. But even the federal government says we should all have the basics at the ready.

Public Safety Canada recommends that everyone should be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days in the event of a natural disaster or some other emergency, with a kit that includes food and water, a can opener, wind-up or battery-powered flashlight, radio, first aid kit, extra keys for your house and car, cash and important family documents such as identification, insurance and bank records.

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Too many Canadians have yet to assemble such a kit in their homes, says Laurie Pearce, an expert in disaster management at Royal Roads University, in Victoria.

Less than half of Canadians have an alternative source of water and only 21 per cent have taken other emergency precautions, such as checking and replenishing emergency supplies, according to a Statistics Canada report released in 2015.

Cost is one prohibitive factor, but apathy is another. “There’s the question of denial, that it’s not going to happen to me,” Pearce says.

Jane, who lives in Georgina, Ont., with her husband and son (and who asked not to be identified by her last name because she wants to keep her family’s interest in prepping private) took up preparedness following an ice storm that knocked out the power in her community for several days in 2016.

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“We were on a fresh food kick at the time so we didn’t have any processed food and very little canned food in the house,” she says.

The family now has two weeks worth of food stored away and a “bug-out bag” – a prepper term for a bag with essentials you can grab in a hurry and flee the house with – packed with three days worth of food and water, a first aid kit, cash, maps, a whistle and extra pair of shoes and socks near the front door.

She, too, has joined the Ontario Prepper Survival Network. She hopes to attend the group’s sixth annual meet up this summer. Only 60 people attend the first annual meet-up. This year, the group expects more than 300 people.

But if she can’t make it to the event, Jane says she will continue building her skills as a prepper, including dehydrating food and having contests with her husband and teenage son building fires with only flint and steel in her backyard.

“Dryer lint, wax and egg cartons make excellent tinder,” Jane says.

Chisholm is prepped and ready, too, but he is reluctant to identify as a prepper. The word still carries too many negative connotations, he says. He’d rather stick to the basics than deal with misconceptions.

“As people have seen things like Katrina happen and more recently Puerto Rico, you kind of get this thing that the government can’t always swoop in and pluck you out and give you 18 gallons of water. It just doesn’t happen. So you might have to have something on hand or have a plan and the ability to take care of yourself for a while. It’s more about that than waiting for a zombie apocalypse.”

Be ready for anything

There are eight areas of preparedness: water, food, heat, shelter, communication, first aid, safety and sanitation. A proper emergency kit will cover them all, whether you need to take care of yourself or a family of four.

1-person 72-hour Emergency Survival Kit

Handout

Includes emergency food bar, water rations, mylar rescue blanket, light sticks, ear loop surgical mask, tampons, toilet paper, whistle, hand-crank flashlight, poncho, work gloves and first aid kid.

$40.95 through canadiansafetysupplies.com.

4-person Deluxe In Case of 72-Hour Emergency Kit

Handout

Includes emergency food rations, water sachets, water purification tabs, light sticks, candle, waterproof matches, hand warmers, heat retention bags, a radio/flashlight combo, heat canisters, fire-starter pouches, whistle, mirror, tube tent, poncho, first aid kit, toilet paper, camp soap, respirator mask, nylon rope, camp stove, gloves, trowel and army pocket knife.

$299.95 through bridensolutions.ca.

The ABCs of being prepared for a disaster

Hardcore preppers have devised a long list of acronyms and terms that describe their particular interests. Even if you’re not a doomer, you may want to familiarize yourself with some of the more common items from the prepper’s dictionary – just in case SHTF.

Bug In To remain at a specific location until it is safe to head elsewhere.

Bug Out To leave your home and head to a safer location in the event of emergency or disaster.

Bug Out Bag A backpack or other bag filled with essential survival items – food, water, a flashlight, first aid kit, blanket, knife, something to charge devices – that can be grabbed when you must flee at a moment’s notice.

Bug Out Location A predetermined spot, such as a cabin, that is equipped with the necessities of survival that preppers can go to in the event they must leave their primary residence.

Doomer A hardcore prepper who is sure that disaster is imminent.

TEOTWAWKI The end of the world as we know it.

WROL Without rule of Law, meaning the lawless state of society that will ensue following a major catastrophe.

WTSHTF When the stuff hits the fan. Refers to the chaos that will ensue following a catastrophic event.

Zombies People who did not prepare for an emergency and who pose a threat to preppers because they will seek them out for food, water and other assistance.

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