By Richard ChinMinneapolis Star Tribune
COLUMBIA HEIGHTS, Minn. The tiny house that Bryan Korbel is building in his Columbia Heights, Minn., driveway will have all the comforts of a 260-square-foot home.
There’ll be a shower with an on-demand water heater, a microwave oven, stove, composting toilet, satellite dish and power provided by solar panels. It’s being built on a trailer, so it can be towed anywhere.
Korbel’s self-sufficient micro-cottage isn’t being built out of a Thoreau-esque desire to simplify or to achieve a chic Dwell magazine minimalist aesthetic.
He’s building it for the end of the world.
When all hell breaks loose war, natural disaster, a breakdown in civil society Korbel will hitch his house on wheels to a 1972 Ford F100 pickup. (That’s before the advent of computerized car systems, which Korbel says will be fried by the electromagnetic pulse created by a nuclear blast.)
He’ll haul the structure and his family to a patch of land he has north of Hinckley, Minn., stopping to get supplies he’s cached along the way in PVC tubes buried underground. He’s prepared, he believes, to ride out anything that man or nature might throw at him.
Korbel, 53, is a prepper, of course, that breed of person who stockpiles food, toilet paper and ammunition to last not days, but months just in case.
Preppers see themselves as prudent, sensible ants in a world of feckless grasshoppers, even while they recognize that others consider them paranoid conspiracy theorists and doomsday prophets.
“My wife gave me the nickname Mad Max,” Korbel said. “My brother, he thinks it’s nuts. He’s lazy. I already know he’s going to be knocking on my door.”
Predictions that the end is near are as old as Noah. More modern manifestations have included people who felt the need to build home fallout shelters during the Cold War and pessimists who feared the worst from a Y2K collapse. Events such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina have continued to fuel fears.
The latest bad news: This year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided to reset its famous Doomsday Clock “a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe ” from three minutes to only two-and-a-half minutes before midnight.
The scientific worrywarts cited tensions between the U.S. and Russia, North Korean nuclear tests, climate change, a rise in “strident nationalism” and “intemperate statements” from President Donald Trump and even “lethal autonomous weapons systems” yeah, killer robots among the looming existential threats to humanity.
According to the Bulletin scientists, in the 70-year history of the Doomsday Clock, the last time things have been this bad for the planet was 1953, just after the U.S. and the Soviet Union developed the first hydrogen bombs. At that time, the scientists deemed we were only two minutes to apocalypse.
Selling peace of mind
No wonder Costco is selling $3,399.99 packages of freeze-dried and dehydrated emergency foods that promise 31,500 total servings, enough to feed four people for a year, with a shelf life of up to 25 years. The food shipment arrives on a pallet that is “black-wrapped for security and privacy.”
Or you could buy end-of-the-world supplies from a specialty retailer such as Safecastle.com.
Safecastle was started by Prior Lake resident Vic Rantala after 9/11 because he saw a niche for an online source of affordable, quality, long-term stored food.
The company has since branched out to sell surveillance robots, radiation detectors, folding “bug-out” bicycles intended for paratroopers and a 35-piece pet survival kit designed for a “CATastrophe.”
“We sell stuff nobody else sells,” Rantala said.
You can even buy an underground fallout shelter that costs more than $100,000.
“We early on developed a relationship with a steel plate shelter builder in Louisiana,” Rantala said. “Our builder has done seven-figure bunkers for people.”
He said his best-seller is something homier: canned, cooked bacon with a shelf life of more than 10 years.
Rantala, 59, said his background has included service in the Army, intelligence work for the government and communications and consulting for corporations. But selling prepping gear has become “kind of like a life’s mission.”
The shelters he’s sold have saved lives in tornadoes, he said. Some of the food he’s sold to preppers ended up being eaten when the disaster turned out to be a job loss.
“We sell peace of mind to people,” Rantala said.
Even though he sold the company a couple of years ago, he continues to work for it. He said sales are close to $50 million a year.
He estimates that as many as “10 percent of the population are into prepping these days,” although he admits figures can be fuzzy because preppers are notoriously secretive about their preparations.
“Sometimes you don’t even tell your family members,” he said. “It can be a little bit of an obsession, I have to admit.”
Nuts or narrative
“It’s good to have something stored away,” said Peter Behrens, a psychologist who recently retired as a professor at Penn State University in Lehigh Valley, Pa. “Some 72 hours’ worth of food is great.”
But he said prepping can turn into a “non-substance pathology,” similar to hoarding and excessive gambling, when taken to the extreme.
“A lot of people get into this as a pastime,” he said. But he said, “It’s a slippery slope to becoming irrational and aggressive.”
Behrens said prepping is cause for concern if a person starts hoarding firearms and ammunition and if more than 10 percent of a person’s income is devoted to prepping. And he warns that prepping can be similar to being in a cult if a person gives up long-standing relationships with friends and family members to associate only with other preppers.
“This is a situation that revolves around anxiety,” he said. “It doesn’t match with rational behavior.”
But Richard G. Mitchell, who studied survivalists as a sociology professor at Oregon State University, said preppers are people who may just want to resist a humdrum life of comfort and consumption. They want to create a personal narrative of themselves as the rugged individual who’s going to survive disaster.
“They want a place where they feel meaningful,” he said. “Survivalism is a storytelling process. There’s a certain satisfaction to that.”
He added, “These are people who are hobbyists. They’re amused by the process. They’re entertained by it. They’re proud of it. They’re nuts in the sense that they’ve not accepted the status quo.”
Knowing he’ll survive
Korbel has stored enough beans, lentils, rice, pasta and soup to feed his wife and their two sons still living at home for a year and a half. He’s prepared to grow his own vegetables, mill his own grain and vacuum-seal the foods he’s preserving.
“These are good for 50 years,” Korbel said, showing off the homemade pemmican balls he’s made of beef, peanut butter and nuts.
He stores a couple hundred gallons of water and enough gasoline to fill his truck tank three times. He’s got gas masks that he bought at Fleet Farm, and suits to protect against a chemical attack that he bought online. There are weather radios, two-way radios and first aid kits on every level of his house. The upper floor has escape ladders.
He lives about 4.5 miles from the center of Minneapolis, a little too close in case a nuclear bomb goes off in the city center. Ten miles would be better, he said. But his wife is happy living in Columbia Heights, and the mortgage is almost paid off.
“Yeah, there’d be severe burns, structures coming down. But still survivable,” he said.
Among the things that worry him are tornadoes, civil unrest, racial tensions, terrorists, conflict with Russia, a government that “goes rogue.”
“I wouldn’t consider myself a conspiracy theorist. But I do think about it a lot,” he said. “If a comet lands on me, I’m not going to worry about it.
“My worst fear would be a financial breakdown” and a collapse of the monetary system, he said. “You’ve got people bartering in gold, silver, jewels.” Or ammunition.
Korbel has set aside some of that as well, along with handguns, rifles and shotguns.
“I also have compound bows. My boys, they’ve trained in compound bows. My wife is trained in that,” he said.
“You need to defend your property and yourself,” he said. But he said, “I’m not prepping for a war. I’m not trying to hide anything. I’m not trying to overthrow the government. I don’t want to get shot. I don’t want to shoot anyone.”
Korbel is a Metro Transit driver and an Army veteran who used to work as a carpenter, a contractor and a semitrailer truck driver. He’s been married 25 years, and his wife is a nurse.
“He likes to be our protector,” Betsy Korbel said. “There’s a lot worse things to be doing.”
Korbel said he’s been a prepper about 12 years. Last year, he estimates, he spent about $7,000 on the activity.
“When I turn 80, I might turn around and look at this stuff and I might say, ‘OK, maybe I bought too much,'” he said.
But he said he pays for prepping with side income he gets from recycling metals from old laptops and wires and driving for a food delivery service.
“I love it,” Korbel said of his preoccupation with preparing. “It’s something I enjoy.”
“I know I’m going to be able to survive,” he said.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.
- Oregon 'Hate Map' Reveals 11 Racist, Separatist Hate Groups In The State - Patch.com - August 18th, 2017
- Doomsday Desperation - Southern Poverty Law Center - August 18th, 2017
- 'American Made' Review: Tom Cruise Flies Between Comedy and Tension, Missing Both - TheWrap - August 18th, 2017
- North Korea: Nuclear War Fears Spur Sales of Preparedness Goods ... - Fortune - August 14th, 2017
- For Doomsday Preppers, the End of the World Is Good for Business - New York Times - August 13th, 2017
- Film Review: Good Time - Consequence of Sound (blog) - August 13th, 2017
- What I Learned From the Neo-Nazi in My Prison Book Club | The ... - The Marshall Project - August 11th, 2017
- Nine Inch Nails - Webster Hall, New York City - Gigs - Reviews ... - Soundblab - August 11th, 2017
- Film Review: The Glass Castle Fails on Almost Every Level - Splice Today - August 11th, 2017
- If North Korea targets Guam, how should the US respond? - Fox News - August 11th, 2017
- Naked - slantmagazine - August 10th, 2017
- Noir Thriller Wind River Examines An Ignored America - Willamette Week - August 10th, 2017
- Silicon Valley luminaries are busily preparing for when robots take ... - Mashable - August 10th, 2017
- Review: Nolan's 'Dunkirk' is as Riveting as it is Groundbreaking - First Showing (blog) - July 23rd, 2017
- Do you Have What it Takes to be a Christian Survivalist? - CBN News - July 19th, 2017
- Morning Star :: No growth but lots of opportunities | The People's Daily - Morning Star Online - July 19th, 2017
- 'War for the Planet of the Apes' Review: Finale of biblical proportions - Rappler - July 18th, 2017
- Queued Up: 'The Lego Batman Movie,' 'XX,' 'Logan,' and More - Aquarian Weekly - July 12th, 2017
- Film Review: War for the Planet of the Apes - Consequence of Sound (blog) - July 11th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ... - Norfolk Eastern Daily Press - July 8th, 2017
- Review: Paranoia thriller It Comes At Night is impressively tense and ineffably creepy - Norwich Evening News - July 8th, 2017
- DJ CherishTheLuv, Music Missionary - HuffPost - June 30th, 2017
- What it Means to Finish Pikes Peak + Results - Hot Rod Network - Hot Rod Network - June 29th, 2017
- 'It Comes at Night' a Spellbinding Tale of Family and Survival - Shepherd Express - June 29th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - Charleston Express - June 26th, 2017
- Where billionaires are stockpiling land for the apocalypse: Map - The Real Deal Magazine - June 19th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - Business Insider Nordic - June 17th, 2017
- Map reveals where billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse - SFGate - June 15th, 2017
- Billionaires are stockpiling land that could be used in the apocalypse here's where they're going - The Advocate - June 15th, 2017
- Next "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KRTV News in Great Falls, Montana - KRTV Great Falls News - June 11th, 2017
- Veteran teaches disaster preparation skills at Heights library - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 10th, 2017
- It Comes At Night stars on survivalism, the apocalypse - WDEF News 12 - June 9th, 2017
- Recently unveiled documents reveal anarchist strand festered at Evergreen for nearly a decade - The College Fix - June 9th, 2017
- Margaret Atwood on the utopias hiding inside her dystopias and why there is no the future - Vox - June 9th, 2017
- Humanity 2.0: The Unstoppability of Singularity - HuffPost - June 8th, 2017
- Upcoming "Far Cry" video game is set in Montana - KTVQ Billings News - June 6th, 2017
- Survivalist shares experience in Harker Heights - The Killeen Daily Herald - June 5th, 2017
- Click Your Hiking Boots Together: Oz Farm Is NorCal's Eco ... - 7x7 - June 3rd, 2017
- You'll Find Far Cry 5 ProvocativeEven if It's a Mess - WIRED - June 1st, 2017
- 'Alien: Covenant' and the Nature of Horror - Film School Rejects - June 1st, 2017
- Via 'The Florida Project,' meet two of the youngest stars in Cannes Film Festival history - Los Angeles Times - June 1st, 2017
- Alien 3 is far from the worst Alien movie. In fact, it's pretty great. - Vox - Vox - May 23rd, 2017
- These Minnesota doomsday preppers are ready for disaster to strike ... - Grand Forks Herald - May 14th, 2017
- These Minnesota doomsday preppers are ready for disaster to strike ... - Duluth News Tribune - May 11th, 2017
- Are you ready when disaster strikes? These Minnesota doomsday preppers are - The Bozeman Daily Chronicle - May 9th, 2017
- Homesteading and Survivalism Living a simple life - May 6th, 2017
- On Ketamine and Added Value - E-Flux - May 6th, 2017
- A Memorial Day Festival for Colorado's Most Famous Cannibal - 5280 | The Denver Magazine - May 4th, 2017
- Learning Survival Skills - Mother Earth News - April 30th, 2017
- Seedship Review The best parts of Sci-Fi - A 90s Kid - April 30th, 2017
- Vanishing: Where Is The Music Of The Impending Apocalypse? - The Quietus - April 27th, 2017
- Community pays tribute to 102nd anniversary of Armenian Genocide - Twin Falls Times-News - April 25th, 2017
- To Sunderland owner Ellis Short - this is for you - Roker Report (blog) - April 25th, 2017
- Did the Movie-Theater Audience Ruin Personal Shopper for Me? - New York Magazine - April 23rd, 2017
- Mitzvah-Lite: What We Miss When We Only Follow Moral Commandments - Forward - April 21st, 2017
- Conan Exiles to be released for the Xbox One in second half of 2017 - Windows Report - April 17th, 2017
- Adrienne Truscott Presents Solo 'Non-Dance', THIS at New York Live Arts - Broadway World - April 13th, 2017
- Conan Exiles is coming to Xbox One here's why you should care - Windows Central - April 13th, 2017
- A Small Step for Man: Life Frightens Without Inspiring - The Georgetown Voice - April 12th, 2017
- The Founding Fathers Of Survivalism - Survive Tomorrow - April 7th, 2017
- Brazil Really Needs Its Most Hated Politician - Bloomberg - April 7th, 2017
- Crazy In The Desert - Men's Journal - April 7th, 2017
- Bunker mentality - The Exponent Telegram (press release) (registration) - March 27th, 2017
- Coming of age after Purim - Jerusalem Post Israel News - March 23rd, 2017
- Jay Weatherill's big energy call is a survivalist fix of last resort - The Guardian - March 17th, 2017
- South London's Phobophobes Share Sinister New Music Video - Broadway World - March 10th, 2017
- One of Trump's treasury assistants is a survivalist who invented a bizarre techno-bow - The Verge - March 10th, 2017
- Wingin' It - The Portland Mercury - March 8th, 2017
- Feminist pacifism or passive-ism? - Open Democracy - March 7th, 2017
- How a mythical 'hermit' criminal hid in the woods for decades - New York Post - March 4th, 2017
- Wolf Pack 2017 - Creative Collectives Australia - March 1st, 2017
- MAGIC Fall 2017 Fashion Trend: Puffer Jackets WWD - WWD - February 28th, 2017
- Witnessing the Ghosts Of the Past and the Struggles Of the Future in Kashmir - The Wire - February 28th, 2017
- The Essential Animation Charms of 'My Life as a Zucchini' and 'The Red Turtle' - Film School Rejects - February 26th, 2017
- Green politics can save us - Drexel University The Triangle Online - February 24th, 2017
- Phobophobes Announces New Single and UK Tour with LIFE - Broadway World - February 20th, 2017
- Lynn Hummel column: Always something to panic about - Detroit Lakes Online - February 17th, 2017
- Commentary: Always something to panic about - Park Rapids Enterprise - February 15th, 2017
- The Wild Eight is survivalism served extra-cold - Eurogamer.net - February 9th, 2017
- Bomb-shelter builder stays busy as customers prep for 'Trumpocalypse' - Duluth News Tribune - February 7th, 2017