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 ScenariosPlayABC News
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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.

"I just wanted a back-up country in case I didn't like the way mine was going so that I could just leave," Strauss said. "That's where it all began and my only goal was to get a second passport, which I got, to the island of St. Kitts. Then I started realizing that it's all about having the skill to be self-sufficient, and I think that there is a side to it that is just fun ... as a guy, you should probably know it anyway."

Neil Strauss Owns Livestock and a 'Survival Bike'

Inside the garage of his Hollywood Hills home is a sports car that seems appropriate for a guy who counts rock stars as friends. But he's also got a specially-designed motorbike, the Rokon, that would allow him to speed away in tight situations.

"It's sort of your ultimate all-terrain survival bike," he said. "The wheels are actually hollow and can store water or gasoline, two gallons each."

The bike is stores along stockpiles of canned food, bottled water, and toilet paper. And, in the backyard? His goats, which serve not only as pets but also as a source of milk, and he says, meat, should it ever come to that.

But for Strauss, having survival skills that can help him out of a bind is more important than having the toys. While he practices those skills to keep them fresh -- including working as a volunteer EMT -- he said he hopes he'll never needed them.

If, Strauss said, "you spend your whole life preparing for doomsday and doomsday never happened," Strauss said. "Two things: you were wrong and you have wasted your life."