IF you live in south-west Victoria, you’ve probably just survived a few days without the internet, phones, ATMs, and EFTPOS.
No big deal, right? You don’t need those things to live, right? A lack of communications made day-to-day life difficult, but not impossible.
But what if the electricity grid shut down? You could survive a day of blackout easily.
But what about two days? Three? A week?
The Telstra outage has made a few people around the south-west think about this scenario — at least one resident has already written to The Standard about the need to be prepared for such an eventuality, pointing out that we tend to rely too much on day-to-day living with little thought for the future.
Some people don’t live like this.
These people are known as preppers or survivalists.
Some people make a distinction between the two.
Preppers tend to be portrayed at the rational end of the scale — they stash a few canned goods, always have a good supply of water handy, maybe own a generator or chemical toilet.
“There’s also a problem in that ‘preppers’ tend to be lumped in with hard-core, even paramilitary ‘survivalist’ types,” one anonymous Victorian prepper told The Standard (he was one of the few who agreed to respond to our emailed questions — one online Aussie group responded angrily to such requests, while many sites warn members not to talk to the media).
“In reality, preparedness is a continuum, a sliding scale. On one end, you’ve got people living from pay day to pay day, nothing in the bank, no insurance.
“On the other end you’ve got the paranoid tinfoiler convinced that the government is going to kill everybody or the world is about to end, feverishly squirrelling away semi-automatic weapons, (ready-to-eat meals) and barter items to trade with if there’s anyone left when he finally emerges from his underground bunker.
“Somewhere in the middle you get people with comprehensive insurance policies, a financial cushion and a bushfire plan; people who think food in the pantry is like money in the bank; ‘homesteaders’ as they call them in America, who just want to be as self-sufficient as possible.”
The anonymous prepper said he was trying to prepare for “somewhere between ‘hey, the power’s out’ and ‘oh, shit, nuclear holocaust!’”. Others write on websites of being ready for “everything from a local and short-term problem to a global, multigenerational collapse”.
While some Aussies post about being prepared for a “shock wave (that) will sweep over the earth, followed by tremendous winds”, the Americans take it to extreme levels, talking about weapons, “preserv(ing) the church in case of doomsday” and setting up “teams” and new civilisations in case of the end of the world as we know it.
John, the Victorian-based webmaster of preppergroups.com, told The Standard that of the 11,000-plus members on his site, the bulk were Americans, with about 150 from Australia.
He said he started the site in a different format in 1996 after seeing a need for a place where like-minded people could share their concerns and ideas on prepping and insisted being ready for worst-case scenarios was commonsense.
“It’s understanding that in the end everyone is pretty much alone in any emergency,” said John, who didn’t give his last name or location.
“It might be for hours, days or weeks in the case of something major like a cyclone, bushfire, earthquake etc.
“So preppers take it on themselves to be able to look after themselves and their loved ones if the need arises.
“Most have done some first-aid training, most will have generators ready for power failures and some food stockpiled.”
John pointed out the prevalence of “bug-out bags” in cyclone and bushfire-prevalent areas as a sign of low-level prepping and pointed out that previous generations were far more self-sufficient.
“(But) if you suddenly took away electricity today — and for an indefinite period — how well would most people cope or be prepared?”
He said the recent devastation of Hurricane Sandy in the US was a good example of why prepping wasn’t such an outlandish notion.
“When something bad happens, odds are that the authorities will be caught as off-guard as most of the public,” John said.
“Emergency services will be stretched to the limit (particularly with budget cuts of late) and any help may be a long time coming, if at all.
“Prepping is stepping up now and saying you will do your best to come through any event as best as you can.”
The anonymous Victorian prepper agreed prepping was not a new idea.
“What people call prepping these days, used to be called commonsense,” he said.
“Before the era of supermarkets and Centrelink and government disaster assistance and superannuation and inexpensive transport, anyone who didn’t put a bit of money aside for a rainy day, or keep a bit extra in the pantry ‘just in case’, was considered foolhardy.”