Preparing for Doomsday

By Noah Graff

Neil Strauss in CEP uniform, March 18, 2009 (L.A. Weekly)

I recently finished reading Neil Strauss’s Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, the story of the author’s quest to prepare for the day when the “$#*! hits the fan” in the United States. You know, the day when our government can’t protect us, our infrastructure crumbles due to an attack or natural disaster, or we have to fight our own despotic regime.

Personally, I don’t spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what I’m going to do in the case of an apocalyptic event in the United States. I believe there is a real possibility that a huge catastrophe could strike, but I have remained focused on my selfish pursuits of prosperity, love and fun, rather than on stocking water and non-perishables in my basement. I also rationalize that there is an exponentially greater chance of dying from threats such as disease or a car accident than a terrorist attack or natural disaster. It is sometimes an impulse to label the folks who vigilantly stockpile food, water, gold and guns as paranoid and unsophisticated. But as Strauss says in the book, “We make fun of those who we’re most afraid of becoming.”

Prior to writing Emergency, Strauss was a best selling author and music columnist for The New York Times and several other publications. Several years ago, I read Strauss’s entertaining and enlightening best seller, The Game, which told the story of his quest to become a master at picking up women — a goal he accomplished. That quest was obviously a different challenge than learning to survive in the wilderness in the event of the apocalypse, but Strauss claims that the stories of both The Game and Emergency were not planned to be books, they were simply his own personal pursuits that later lent themselves to becoming fascinating memoirs.

I think what gave the book extra power for me is that Strauss and I come from somewhat similar backgrounds. He grew up in Chicago, is Jewish, socially liberal, and had parents who never owned guns, never went camping and called the handyman for work around the house.

After September 11, 2001, and the debacle following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it dawned on Strauss, as it did for many Americans, that we are vulnerable. As the first decade of the twenty-first century continued, his distrust of the government headed by George W. Bush brought about an obsession to acquire a second passport to a country he could run to if the United States was no longer safe. After extensive and frustrating research, he found only one country he viewed as satisfactory that had a relatively easy path to citizenship. Almost every country Strauss researched required a person to be a resident for several years, often five years. The Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, a country comprised of two small Caribbean islands, grants citizenship in less than a year to a person who invests $350,000 in a piece of real estate in the country (at least this was the policy back in 2007 or 2008 when Strauss applied for citizenship). So he took out a loan to purchase an apartment on Saint Kitts (it was easy to get a loan with no money down at that time) and began the process to acquire citizenship there.

Then he realized that he still needed to prepare to first survive a catastrophe so he could actually make it out of the United States in the event of one. So he learned to ride a motorcycle to bypass the traffic that could ensue during a catastrophic event. He took an elite course in firearms, training with soldiers destined for Iraq and Afghanistan. He attended the world renown Tom Brown Jr’s Tracking School. Strauss had grown up hating camping, having only done it a few times at summer camp. He chronicled the hell he experienced during his first few days of tracker school, recounting a cold rainy night during which he slept in a soggy thin sleeping bag, peeing on himself, all the while in constant fear of deer ticks. But he eventually made it through the hell and toughened up. The book also describes Strauss receiving knife training from an instructor named Mad Dog, who made him kill and skin a goat. Strauss also took an urban escape course and taught himself to cook food using a fire pit he built in his backyard.

But after all those practical survival courses, Strauss still worried he wouldn’t be prepared to deal with the stress that would accompany Doomsday, so he became a certified EMT, hoping that the ambulance experience would ready him for high pressure situations. But he still didn’t feel prepared, so he became a search-and-rescue volunteer, joining CEMP, the California Emergency Mobile Patrol. He noted that this was an ironic decision, as it meant he was going to work for the government he distrusted.

In the end, after his experiences working in an ambulance and then with CEMP, Strauss finally came to the realization that he cared more about helping his fellow American citizens than perfecting his own escape plan. The cool part of the book is how Strauss explores his evolving mindset. He changed from a naive and carefree city slicker into a paranoid self-proclaimed “runner.” Then he finally became a self-reliant man, more interested in staying in his home country to help others than just protect his own skin. He eventually did receive his Saint Kitts citizenship, which he appreciated, but he no longer viewed his duel citizenship as salvation.

After reading Emergency, I better understand the mindset of so called “survivalists.” I’m more aware of possible catastrophes that we Americans need to be prepared for. And, if a liberal, intellectual city boy can become proficient with guns and knives and wilderness survival, perhaps I can and should become more prepared myself.

Question: Are you currently prepared for when the $#*! hits the fan?

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26 thoughts on “Preparing for Doomsday

  1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

    I was into watching that show “Preppers” for a while. Even made a half-hearted attempt at storing some drinking water in my basement, but I couldn’t get into it much. I’m prepared for when the (*&%^*( hits some fans, but not the Apocalypse fan. I am getting prepared for retirement, housing, healthcare, watching my loved ones grow older, securing income sources, investments etc.. These things seem much more pressing to me than the big “what if” of a disaster. The people on the “Preppers” show only seemed concerned with disaster, they didn’t seem to have much else going on in their lives. I wonder if they’ll look back from their death bed and wish they had focused on something a little more important, family, happiness, spiritual well-being etc.

    1. Robert MacLachlan

      A little common sense and perspective is helpful. Since I live in the Northern US, winters are unpredictable and so is the food supply at the local supermarkets during a blizzard. The store gets cleaned out quickly when the semis stop coming from the Denver distribution centers. It does not have to cost a fortune to keep several months food supply in the basement. Given the fact that the $ is devaluing due to inflation, food costs are escalating and your cash earns nothing in the bank, you might as well spend it on items that can be used in an emergency. Think about how much people spend on vacations and a new SUV. A small home power generator can be invaluable. Katrina is an example of how no one can count on the Government helping you out. You don’t have to live in a bunker to be prepared to unforseen events.

      1. Emily

        Yeah, you’re probably right. I could be better prepared. I’ll be waiting in the ration line with all the others.

  2. Erik

    No one is. I don’t care how many guns and cans of sardines you have, no one is truly prepared for something catastrophic. I live on a piece of land that could provide sustenance for a while in the event of a disaster, but I wouldn’t count on it being that easy.

    As the poet Mike Tyson says- “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. All the “prepping” doesn’t mean you will survive the initial disaster, or the ensuing chaos.

    Live in the moment. Be happy. What’s a life filled with worry and fear worth, anyway?

  3. Karl

    Better prepared than whitey, you need to understand who will be calling the shots in the future.

  4. bob

    I am as prepared as I think I need to be realizing that most would not survive a devastating catastrophe! I love the pot shot at George W Bush though Noah but it didn’t surprise me coming from a liberal. I am sure Americans feel much more secure with the current residing idiot, campaigner and thief! This country is in more trouble, from within, and should pay attention to the path we are on and not so much about “the big one” when California drops off the map!

    1. Erik

      How is describing what’s in the book a pot-shot at Bush? Read carefully.

      Either way, no reasonable person could argue the Bush Administration did anything like a competent job of dealing with Katrina. I can admit when I vote for the wrong guy, and with Bush, I did. He will be remembered for his contribution to the great recession in future history books. Comparing that to the current administration, and projecting how they would have handled it is a pointless, wasteful exercise.

      You do support your own argument, though. Partisan bickering is killing this country…. Both sides are in the wrong. Too many people follow mindlessly.

      1. Robert

        Katrina was hurricane and New Orleans sits below sea level. If you are going to blame anyone for the lack of mobilization out of New Orleans, blame Mayor Ray Nagin, who refused to evacuate people in spite of ample warning for days.

      2. Erik

        Blame Ray Nagin. Blame George Bush. Blame Obama.

        Blame someone, right? Amazing what passes for discourse these days.

    2. Karl

      You speaking truth Eric, it’s Bush’s fault, good job calling the worst president out Noah.

  5. Josh

    I’m hesitant to take seriously a work of this nature by this author. I’m not sure why this “survival expert” has dedicated so much of his time to writing books about being a pick-up artist, co-authored books with Marilyn Manson and Jenna Jameson(How to make love like a p*rn star), co-authored a book called “How to make money like a p*rn star” etc etc, the list goes on. All of Neil Strauss’ previous works seem to have absolutely nothing to do with survival or collapse. This book to me seems like a cheap attempt at making money on the hysteria following the election of our “evil socialist president who will destroy America.” I wouldn’t be taken in by it if I were you.

    1. Emily Halgrimson Post author

      I don’t know if it’s worth dismissing completely. We all grow up, change, learn as we go. I’m not too familiar with this man (mostly through Noah when he was really into the pick-up book lol), but it sounds like he’s not afraid to roll up his sleeves and delve into the things that are hard and uncomfortable for him. That’s not a common trait, and is admirable. Maybe not a true survivalist guide, but for us lay people, it’s intriguing to read a sincere person’s honest account of pursing something completely out of character for them.

  6. Joe

    If invading Iraq and responding poorly to a hurricane (because that’s totally the President’s job?) was enough to to make this dude *so* terrified of the government under George W Bush – that he had to completely transform his life…….how does he feel after half a decade of the Obama government using the IRS to target political enemies, recording metadata from virtually every cell phone in the country, warrant-less wire tapping AP reporters, shipping guns to Mexican drug cartels and then using evidence of American guns in Mexico as a platform for proposing gun control, labeling journalists as “criminal co-conspirators” for doing their jobs, etc?

  7. Jeff

    I’ve been slowly, gradually moving towards a more self-sufficient lifestyle for several years. Some would say too slowly, that I’m gonna be un-prepared if and when it does happen.Maybe, but then I don’t start from near as far away from self-sufficiency as many. (Kill and skin a goat? Are you kidding me? I’ve been doing that since late childhood. Cabrito anyone?)
    At this late juncture, my prepping consists of building a home in the country, on land we own free and clear. Completely out of our hip pocket. No mortgage. Tryingto keep it as energy efficient as at all possible, to the extent that I’m trying to figure a way to afford a solar array big enough to go completely “off the grid” as far as power, and a windmill and well for water. House should be livable in the next year, actually could be livable in a couple of months if time were available. Weekends only is slow to build 2000+ sq ft of steel building house. Especially if it’s just a one man crew. But it’s coming along.
    So yes, I’m “prepping ” as I go along. Water filtration systems, kill zones around the perimeter, food plots to attract game, gardens, bulk water storage, lots of little things. And all of it will still be useful and used when I retire in a couple of years, even if the fecal material DOESN’T hit the horizontal oscillator.

    1. dan

      On land you “own” “free and clear”….??
      You’re kidding right?

      1. NOBODY really owns their land in the USA.
      If gov. whats it they will take it. Or when the SHTF anybody
      with more muscle and firepower than you will take it from you.

      2. If SHTF do you think banks will be foreclosing on thousands of defaulted mortgages?? I don’t think the banking system will be functioning or have a clue.

  8. ed

    I do my best not to sleep with the light on. If @#* hits the fan I have plenty of guns, ammo, cash, and I still know how to hunt, fish, and plant a garden. Other then that I don’t waste time thinking about it.


  9. Dave Bradley

    If Iran sends a nuke to hit the northeastern corner of Indiana, I’m gonna run out and try to catch it.

  10. Bob

    Interesting, I will get this book and read what he has to say.
    I did read William Forstchen’s fiction novel, “One Second After”, and a third of the way in I had new respect for anyone who had taken the time to be prepared, I highly recommend reading this book if you are even the least little bit interested in what could happen after and EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse).
    Interesting Noah, that you had asked if we were ready for a calamity, and the comments that followed. Politics always seems a topic, was surprised to see the race comment. This looks like an indication of what would happen if the government was in capable of maintaining our “status-quo”
    As for me, learned how to hunt at an early age and survive, can do most of what it takes to be self sufficient. We have enough to get by for a month or two.
    If you are currently on medication, for say, heart attack or diabetes you may not last long after a disaster anyway. Read “One Second After”, it is a riveting, fictional account of what could happen. Be interesting to hear comments about this scenario.
    Thanks for reading

  11. R in NYC

    regarding the Author, I prefer John Wesley Rawles if I want true honest prepping advice. Please look him and his books up, he is the real thing!
    I was a boy scout, “always be prepared” we learned. Prepare for the worst, pray for the best. I am not worried about the alien/zombie apocalypse, or the Russian/Chinese overthrow of the USA. Although I am trying to be ready for that as well 😉 . That said emergencies come in all shapes and sizes, from a death of a loved one and losing one’s job, to a Katrina. We are in NYC and I am told don’t worry. I remind everyone of the numerous blackouts, hurricane Sandy, and tornadoes (Yes we had one on September 17, 2010). And what would you have said on 09/10/2001 if I told you that some planes would knock down the WTC complex…
    That said, what is wrong with having a 3 day go bag for each family member with some clean underwear, water, energy bars and “stuff” (see for more info)? Why not have a bunch of rice, beans, pasta, jarred sauce, canned vegies and other staples in your cupboard, along with some cases of bottled water, and a good water filter? Can you say water main break?
    We have been lucky here in NYC, it has been many years since the riots & lootings, but look at Ferguson and how quickly that was without the rule of law. So get a license, a gun, and lots of training. Look up Warren v DC – SCOTUS said you have NO right to police protection! I rather have it and not need it than need it and not have it. Do you expect your house to burn down? NO, but you still pay for fire insurance each year. Being prepared is no different. It IS insurance for you and your loved ones. So get started today! As I said you don’t know what YOUR end of the world scenario may be. As the Founding Fathers of our great country did quite often – Pray on it and come to your own conclusion.
    Have a Blessed Easter, and be safe!


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