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N.Y. survivors of Sandy ditch the city to ‘bug out’ in preparation for doomsday

October 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
Some Hurricane Sandy survivors have begun to study up on "doomsday prepping" in case another environmental disaster hits. City slickers by day, survivalists in the NYC Preppers Network head up to the Catskill Mountains on the weekends, armed with just the basics to practice living off the land. Paul Solman reports.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Time for a change of pace.

It’s been nearly a year since superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast. We will have reports tied to its anniversary next week on what’s being done to prepare for extreme weather events.

But, tonight, a different take from a less conventional group of folks preparing for disaster, natural or manmade.

The NewsHour’s Paul Solman has the story.

NARRATOR: All across America, people are preparing.

PAUL SOLMAN: The once-August National Geographic Society’s huge TV hit Doomsday Preppers.

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MAN: I’m going to survive a genocidal siege by building a tunnel that will lead my family to safety.

PAUL SOLMAN: Now, whether they fear terrorist attack, a shift of the magnetic poles, zombie apocalypse, or, these days, more proximate threats like U.S. debt default and global economic chaos, Nat Geo’s ever-more-popular preppers seem to be prepping for a war of all against all, which is why they practice bugging out: quickly leaving their lairs with just enough supplies for a couple of days en route to lives away from their fellow would-be antagonists.

Season three of Doomsday Preppers debuts October 29, the one-year anniversary of superstorm Sandy, which threatened to doom New York. Were there New Yorkers, we wondered, among the two million or so Americans who reportedly consider themselves preppers?

Sure enough, a meet-up group known as the New York City Preppers Network. And so we repaired, one Friday afternoon, to bug-out practice a couple of hours’ drive, or, in case of catastrophe, a couple of days’ walk, north of New York, in what passes for wilderness around Woodstock in the Catskill Mountains. The organizers had said they’d arrive between noon and 1:00 p.m.

MAN: Preppers?

PAUL SOLMAN: Improbably, given that this was prep for an emergency get-out-of-town evacuation, they were late.

Jason? Jason?

When fireman Jason Charles, who runs the meet-up group, arrived three hours later, he explained that he’d had to buy dog food before bugging out.

JASON CHARLES, New York City Preppers Network: My wife, she ran me on a bunch of errands before we had to go.

PAUL SOLMAN: Some buggers-out showed up even later.

WOMAN: I have been camping once in my life, and I had no intentions of ever going back.

PAUL SOLMAN: Jodi Paulovich is a realtor and local cable access TV host.

NARRATOR: Live from New York City, it’s “The Jo Show.”

JODI PAULOVICH, New York City Preppers Network: I am the antithesis of your stereotypical survivalist.

PAUL SOLMAN: But stormy weather had driven city slicker Paulovich and boyfriend Joe Suba, an actor and stuntman, out into the wild.

JOE SUBA, New York City Preppers Network: I was there when Sandy hit. So I have seen people in lines — I have it on video, lining up down the block, Pampers, milk. And it’s like, hey, are you going to stand there, or you are going to do something?

PAUL SOLMAN: Sandy had converted prison guard Preston Williams as well.

PRESTON WILLIAMS, New York City Preppers Network: I had just had surgery on my shoulder, and I was in a sling, and trying to run through waist — I mean, thigh-deep water with an 8-year-old. It was scary, because you didn’t know how high it was going to go. It made you step back and look at everything and say, wow, I need to be prepared.

PAUL SOLMAN: What do you do now that you didn’t do before Sandy?

PRESTON WILLIAMS: Well, I started dehydrating food. Usually, I will try to cook a big dinner, and then I will dehydrate it and pack it away and put it in a barrel.

JASON CHARLES: A disaster, it’s — it’s a test, and this is a test. The basic idea is for everybody in the group to live out of their bug-out bag for two nights.

PAUL SOLMAN: So, armed with food and water, ropes and knives, tents and sleeping bags, the New York City Preppers trekked the two-mile trail up Slide Mountain.

The NewsHour’s suburban slickers, you may not be surprised to learn, trekked back down to spend the night at a motel. But we were back at the campsite at the crack of dawn to see how the preppers had fared.

The first casualty had been Preston Williams, the food dehydrator. He wound up with a case of, well, dehydration himself, a gastrointestinal illness that kept him confined to his cocoon. Jodi Paulovich had had better nights herself.

JODI PAULOVICH: Lying on the mud, and it was so hard, and there were all these tree roots under us, and even though our sleeping bags were pretty warm, it was still freezing. It was just freezing.

PAUL SOLMAN: As might be expected if one were really fleeing the ravages of an October storm in the Northeast.

So, first on the weekend agenda, learning to make a fire, then how to use a compass, read a map.

MAN: There’s true north, grid north, magnetic north.

PAUL SOLMAN: Helpful when setting out to find water, though a word to Joe Suba: Next time, maybe ditch the bottle, and bring a flexible bladder bag, like everyone else.

Also, it turns out there’s a reason for cargo pants. Then it was back to camp for a little gruel: some precooked chicken. Italian tuna fillets in olive oil?

JODI PAULOVICH: Why not? I mean, why bring those yucky cans, if I can could this?

PAUL SOLMAN: And, finally, the critically important first-aid class, with Jason Charles apologizing for his handiwork.

JASON CHARLES: This is by far the crappiest looking stretcher you will see.

PAUL SOLMAN: OK, we admit it: No matter how pervasive preppers are becoming, or how earnest they are, it’s almost irresistible to make fun of them, especially urbanites first venturing out of the asphalt jungle.

But, in the end, we thought we learned something worth sharing. The basic vision of the prepper movement is that ours is a “Mad Max” world, in which, once disaster hits, you take from the other guys before they take from you, or, as Jodi Paulovich put it:

JODI PAULOVICH: We don’t want to be stuck on a little island with crazy people in martial law.

PAUL SOLMAN: And yet here was a stunningly diverse group of random New Yorkers brought together by legitimate fears, with perhaps a whiff of paranoia, who were learning what? To prep for disaster by depending upon each other, to survive, but in community, trusting people they had never even met before with their very lives.

MAN: And when you’re taking him out, always keep his head above the broken extremity.

PAUL SOLMAN: Community, not every man for himself, as the key to survival come doomsday, a hopeful punch line with which to end a news story for a change.