Inside the house, Wiseman greets his two little boys, one of whom is old enough to babble excitedly. He gives candy to the younger boy since Mom isn't home yet and turns on cartoons on the flat-screen television. The children's nanny says goodbye and leaves through the sliding door.

Wiseman surveys his territory. "After the collapse," he says, "I'm going to miss the nanny."

Preppers find a strange optimism getting ready for a doomsday scenario. Like a person moving from a safe childhood to an uncertain adulthood, they feel awakened and realize that no one — not their parents, not teachers, not FEMA — could be counted upon to save them in a true emergency. So they find strength in taking control over a potentially scary future.

"Nurse Amy" and "Doctor Bones" host a popular prepper podcast.
Courtesy of Amy Alton
"Nurse Amy" and "Doctor Bones" host a popular prepper podcast.

Nonpreppers might laugh... until doomsday. Wiseman is realistic about how friendly folks are going to be in a collapse: "You'll have a million predators who own guns and have made no preps. Those are the people to guard against."

As I stand to leave in the driveway, I ask why a prepper like him would live on the barrier island, usually the first place ordered to evacuate during a disaster. He smiles: All he needs is a key to the drawbridge. Once most of his neighbors have evacuated, he'll canoe across the Intracoastal Waterway to the mainland and climb up to the bridge house. There, he'll turn the key and raise the bridge, keeping his family safe from us, the hungry masses, the zombies.


Because the only disasters we know are the ones we have survived, preparing for an unprecedented one is a little like getting a flu vaccine. Every year, a new formulation is cooked up in laboratories and shipped across the world, based on researchers' best predictions of what this year's strain will look like. To arrive at this conclusion, the scientists look at the viruses of the past, how they've responded, mutations they've made. Still, the needle that goes into your arm at Walgreens contains, essentially, just an educated guess.

For many in South Florida, the seminal disaster — the one they relive while they're preparing — is Hurricane Andrew. On August 23, 1992, Wiseman was a student at Cardinal Gibbons High School in Fort Lauderdale. After the Category Five storm rolled in from the Atlantic, he volunteered with the cleanup effort in poor areas of Homestead. "There were dogs running around and live electrical cables in the street," he recalls. "It had never really dawned on me that that could happen."

Nearby in Kendall, Jorge Villa also drew inspiration — and a new career — from the hurricane's aftermath. An exporter with an engineering degree from the University of Miami, he took his pregnant wife and the rest of his family to his warehouse space across from the Tamiami airport as the hurricane arrived. It was a clear, breezy evening. He bolted the roll-down door, and the family laid out sleeping bags. By 1 a.m., he could hear the ventilation fans being ripped off the roof. By 2 a.m., it sounded like a freight train was running over the building. The rooms filled with water. His wife felt like she was going into labor.

When he emerged, devastation was everywhere. Warehouses just like his were gone. Airplanes were scattered. He spent the next seven years of free time devising a shelter that could withstand hurricanes and virtually any other attack. Today, the yard outside the warehouse is filled with 18-ton bunkers: Octagons of white-painted concrete atop thick, square steel legs, they look virtually immovable. In the office, a child's drawing shows one of the UFO-like objects, with the name of his company, U.S. Bunkers, scrawled along the top.

Villa will custom-manufacture one of these units for anywhere from $8,000 to $60,000. Options include beds, built-in toilets, air-conditioning hookups, toxic-gas filtration systems, gun turrets, rocket-propelled-grenade armor, video surveillance, plumbing, and snappy wood trim. Villa says he's sold "a couple of dozen units" since starting manufacturing in 1999. The units are hidden in backyards around the state, away from the prying eyes of neighbors who would seek shelter in a time of need.

The bunkers are geared toward people like the South Florida preppers, who are a remarkably social bunch. I arrive early one Saturday evening in February for the monthly meet-and-greet barbecue at Wiseman's shop. An older man named Mr. Ike grills hamburgers in a parking space while families with children fix up plates and pop sodas under a canopy of camouflage netting.

Wiseman has been running a promotion: Buy 100 rounds of ammo and get an Army-surplus metal ammunition can, a little smaller than a shoebox, for free. Not only can these boxes be used to store bullets or other items but they can also be fashioned into a rudimentary Faraday cage. Wiseman explains: Many preppers fear an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) of destructive gamma waves, triggered by a nuclear weapon launched in the sky or by a solar flare. Within minutes, such a pulse could fry our electrical and communications grids and destroy the integrated-circuit chips inside all unshielded electronics. But get one of these boxes, line it with foil, and pop an extra phone or radio inside: instant shield.

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8 comments
KennyPowersII
KennyPowersII

Homeland Security  just placed an order for 450 million rounds of .40 caliber ammo, for domestic distribution to various and sundry law enforcement agencies. War baby. WTF?

Chris J Petrovich
Chris J Petrovich

We welcome one and all to join us on our  southfloridapreppers meetup group or find me on my facebook and linkedin pages  or  on  survivalistnow    To clarify, it wasn't Zulu Rebels, it was IFP Zulu Nationalists demostrating against Mandela's ruling ANC Party, and it wasn't a slit throat, it was a burning tire on the poor guy's head. They also omitted my best experiences from Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Zambia, and Uganda watching the bodies wash up on shore from Rwanda.....while America's President in 1994 ignored it, because it was an election year. 1 million people in 100 days. Also, I am a plain Non-Hyphenated American........

Chris J Petrovich
Chris J Petrovich

We welcome one and all to join us.   To clarify, it wasn't Zulu Rebels, it was IFP Zulu Nationalists demonstrating against Mandela's ruling ANC Party, and it wasn't a slit throat, it was a burning tire on the poor guy's head. They also omitted my best experiences from Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Zambia, and Uganda watching the bodies wash up on shore from Rwanda.....while the US President in 1994 actively suppresed coverage , because it was an election year. 1 million people in 100 days. Also, I am a plain Non-Hyphenated American........

Chris J Petrovich
Chris J Petrovich

We welcome one and all to join us on our  southfloridapreppers meetup group or find me on my facebook and linkedin pages  or  on  survivalistnow   To clarify, it wasn't Zulu Rebels, it was IFP Zulu Nationalists demostrating against Mandela's ruling ANC Party, and it wasn't a slit throat, it was a burning tire on the poor guy's head. They also omitted my best experiences from Angola, Liberia, Mozambique, Zambia, and Uganda watching the bodies wash up on shore from Rwanda.....while America's first Black President Bill Clinton ignored it, because it was an election year. 1 million people in 100 days.Also, I am a plain Non-Hyphenated American........

FQS9000
FQS9000

The alternative to these guys are the Democraps who think that you can spend money you don't have forever.  Neither one is likely to be correct.

AnotherSoFloPrepper
AnotherSoFloPrepper

Allegedly, they need it for practice.  However, it may that a lot of us will be getting two to the chest and one to the head. 

Steven g.
Steven g.

Not gonna defend the prepped , we saw civil collapse in he wake of hurricane Katrina... Just 1 example of a million that could happen... Question is when. For our families sake , we cannot pretend that everything is in crystal clear color... When over all we only control ourselves and not our external world and the forces that work within it. I don't think having a backup plans a bad idea.

 
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