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Modern-day preppers prepare for the unexpected, even if doomsday never comes

It's another hot evening in the Old Pueblo as you sit in your air-conditioned home, drinking a cold beverage while watching satellite television. Suddenly the TV goes off, the lights fade to black and all appliances stop running. Normally, service is repaired in a few hours, but what if it takes days, weeks or months?

While this is the plot of NBC's Revolution—a J.J. Abrams' adventure that explores what life would be like if the power went out—it's a reality that preppers plan for, both physically and mentally.

The term prepper is perhaps a softer word for survivalist. As Tucson prepper Todd explains, "Survivalism got a really dirty name in the '80s, where the archetype was a camo-clad Bible thumper who lives in the woods with a pile of firearms."

Todd defines a prepper as someone who makes preparations to outlive or outlast any number of man-made or natural disasters. "Modern-day preppers run the gamut. There are people interested in gardening, hydroponics, aquaculture, canning ... there is no one cookie-cutter description of a prepper."

Todd has met a lot of preppers as a co-organizer of the Southern Arizona Preppers Meetup group. With a membership of 400-plus, Todd says, "We are your neighbors. We're people at your church. We're people you run into at work."

Todd comments on the National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers, saying the show profiles preppers as outsiders. "I know doctors, lawyers, nurses, military, civil servants, people who stock shelves ... You can't put a finger on one portion of society and say, 'These are the preppers. These are the outsiders.' We're not outsiders; we're everybody."

It is fair to say, however, that not everybody understands the prepper mentality. "I've been called everything from anti-government to paranoid to all kinds of rotten names," says Todd. He admits that being called paranoid seems to be the most common label.

Todd says he is frequently asked by non-preppers what if a disaster doesn't happen. Many say that he will have wasted money on prepared food. But Todd simply eats the food, adding it to daily meals. He tracks what food he has, when it was purchased and what the expiration date is. Once a food item is nearing expiration, it is eaten and replaced.

There's a lot more to the prepper way of thinking besides stockpiling food and other supplies. Topics at the Meetup group have included learning how to store and purify water, how to handle firearms, set up radio communication and even "how to deal with your shit when it hits the fan."

As the online moderator of the Arizona Preppers Network Forum (arizona.preppersnetwork.com), Janet Liebsch also believes education is key to preparedness. She and her husband, Bill, published the book It's a Disaster! ... And What Are You Gonna Do About It? (www.itsadisaster.net) The 200-plus page book is a disaster preparedness, prevention and basic first-aid manual. Pretty much every disaster is covered with explanations, definitions, references and tips in an easy-to-read format. They market the book to schools, businesses, non-profits ... anyone who takes an interest in preparedness.

Liebsch says the preparedness world can be doom and gloom, and has its share of fear mongering. "But that's not what the Prepper Network is trying to do. It's more about encouragement, learning about self-reliance, teaching people how to take charge of their lives.

"There will always be extremes on both ends, the naysayers and the hunker-in-the-bunker types," says Liebsch. "I think a lot of membership in the Prepper Network is kind of in the middle. We try to do what we can to prepare ourselves and others."

While Janet and Bob Liebsch got involved in preparedness work in the late '90s, Todd says he has been a prepper "since the beginning." Growing up in Southern California, his parents had an "earthquake garage" with water and supplies. The family mantra was: Expect the best. Be prepared for the worst.

"I think we are teetering on very bad times," says Todd. "I would love to never see any of this happen, but I would rather have the ability to feed, clothe and protect my family than not."

Todd also sees beyond his family's walls. "I love my town and I love my community. If one person goes, 'Wow. Something bad can happen. I'd like to have food and sanitation supplies and a first-aid kit for my family.' If one person gets that benefit, I'm pleased as punch."

More by Irene Messina

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