Suburban Survivalists: 'I Just Want to Be Prepared'

Photo: Suburban Survivalists: I Just Want to Be Prepared: From Survival Bikes to Survival Courses, Some Take Extreme Precautions for Worst-Case Scenarios
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Zoltan Hites clamped a pair of handcuffs around his wife Christine's wrists, helped her into the trunk of a car parked in a parking garage, slammed the lid and waited for her to escape.

Less than five minutes later, the trunk popped open and Christine climbed out. Doesn't exactly seem like a romantic weekend, but they were learning how to make a quick getaway.

They're not spies-in-training. They're survivalists -- people who are dedicated to being ready for and surviving the worst-case scenarios.

The Hiteses paid about $800 a piece to join a dozen or so other people at a Los Angeles hotel for three-day retreat with onPoint Tactical. Under the supervision of instructor Kevin Reeve, the participants will learn extremely advanced survival skills, such as how to pick a handcuff lock with a bobby pin.

"I'm not worried," Zoltan Hites said. "I just want to be prepared."

Hites, a tennis instructor, and Christine, a stay-at-home mom to their two children, make a hobby of being prepared for disaster.

"If an earthquake or something happens, people get scary," Christine said. "You need to know how to protect yourself and your children, and get away from the people who are there to do you harm and not help you."

They were getting tips from Kevin Reeve, who founded onPoint Tactical in 2004. His survival business offers seminars in various wilderness survival techniques as well as this course the Hiteses attended, titled "Urban Escape and Evasion."

"We have a saying in the industry that we're about nine meals away from anarchy," Reeve said. "The supermarkets are usually cleared out within the first two hours of an emergency, is typically what happens."

While his clientele used to be exclusively law enforcement and military, Reeve said he has seen a major shift in the past two years.

Kevin Reeve Says the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina Changed His Outlook on Survivalism

"I'm getting a lot more citizens," he said. "Just normal, everyday, civilian citizens who are saying, 'Whoa, you know what? Things are not going really good.' There seems to be generally a sense that the veneer of society is fairly thin."And he has seen a noticable uptick in enrollment among average Joes since the Japanese earthquake and tsunami made headlines.

"Hate to say it," he said, "but as conditions worsen worldwide, my business seems to grow."

But it was a disaster closer to home that really changed the way he thought about survivalism. The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Reeve said, was the turning point for his thinking about why civilians need to be prepared for emergencies. It ultimately led to a fully functioning business.

"After Hurricane Katrina," he said, "It occurred to me that we really need to have these skills available to the general public because of the terrible brutalization that happened to the population that was left behind in the wake of Katrina. Violent, violent episodes that shouldn't have happened. People should have had a way to get out of the city."

Hurricane Katrina was also a catalyst for a rather unlikely survivalist, writer and former New York Times music critic Neil Strauss.

"Watching Hurricane Katrina and seeing that our own government, even with a disaster that they know is coming, can't necessarily help their people," Strauss said.

His book, "Emergency," offers his account of his gradual conversion to survivalism, spurred several years ago by his distaste for the Bush administration.

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