Americans Stock Up to Be Ready for End of the World

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Tess Pennington, 33, is a mother of three children, and lives in the sprawling outskirts of Houston, Texas. But she is not taking the happy safety of her suburban existence lightly.

Like a growing army of fellow Americans, Pennington is learning how to grow her own food, has stored emergency rations in her home and is taking courses on treating sickness with medicinal herbs.

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"I feel safe and more secure. I have taken personal responsibility for the safety of myself and of my family," Pennington said. "We have decided to be prepared. There all kinds of disasters that can happen, natural and man-made."

Pennington is a "prepper", a growing social movement that has been dubbed Survivalism Lite. Preppers believe that it is better to be safe than sorry and that preparing for disaster – be it a hurricane or the end of civilisation – makes sense.

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Unlike the 1990s survivalists, preppers come from all backgrounds and live all over America. They are just as likely to be found in a suburb or downtown loft as a remote ranch in the mountains. Prepping networks, which have sprung up all over the country in the past few years, provide advice on how to prepare food reserves, how to grow crops in your garden, how to hunt and how to defend yourself. There are prepping books, online shops, radio shows, countless blogs, prepping courses and prepping conferences.

John Milandred runs a website called Pioneer Living, which is one of the main forums for discussing prepping. It provides a range of advice for those who just want to store extra food in case of a power cut, to those who want to embrace the "off the grid" lifestyle of America’s western pioneers. "We get inquiries from people from all walks of life. We had a principal from a school asking us to talk to their children. We have doctors and firemen and lawyers," he said.

Milandred lives in Oklahoma and, should society collapse around him, he is well placed to flourish. Indeed, he might not notice that much. His house has a hand-dug well that gives him fresh water. He grows his own food. He has built an oven that needs neither gas nor electricity. He can hunt for meat. "If something happened, it really would not affect us," he said.

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February 20, 2010