Ready for Disaster? 'Preparedness Movement' Members Say They Are

Let's face it: The news these days can be a little depressing.

People can't drive because gas is too expensive, the price of food is skyrocketing, families are losing their homes, the stock market is tanking and the Arctic ice caps might be melting, plunging the planet into serious trouble.

A lot of people take in all this news, shrug it off and just push on with life.

But not everyone.

At the Tom Brown Tracking, Nature and Wilderness Survival School in Waretown, N.J., they're preparing for the worst. The school attracts people from every corner of the nation who want to learn how to build a fire, make stone tools and absorb an American Indian lifestyle and philosophy.

The SurvivalistsPlay

Brown said the word "survivalist" conjures "images of a bunker stocked with food and ammunition, or a soldier, or some dirtbag suffering on a glacier."

But he says that couldn't be further from the truth.

"Survival is like the garden of Eden. It's like going home," he said.

New Threats?

People have been preparing for the end of the world since the beginning of time.

The first big survivalist movement of recent time came during the Cold War and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust.

More recently there was the near disaster that was called "Y2K." That's when many thought society would come to a screeching halt because of a computer malfunction tied to New Year's Day in the year 2000.

"People were coming in here, they were panic stricken. ... What if the computer shuts down, what if NYC doesn't get running water. The water system, God forbid, could shut off," Brown sad.

Brown says people today see a new threat on the horizon.

"There is an overall apprehension that I feel," he said. "A fear that I can see it and feel it in people. I can feel it in the streets when I have to go out and get something from a store. And I watch people very carefully and there is a rhythm and a cadence that is developing that I noticed back as we approached Y2K and it's happening again. But, as I say, this one isn't going away fast."

It's the reason people come to his school: to learn how to survive if the government isn't there for them -- if things get really, really bad.

Dennis Souza of Seward, Alaska, for one, isn't optimistic about the future.

A Plan of Action

"I think we're just gonna run out of oil or it's gonna be so high priced that we're gonna have to change our lifestyle," Souza said.

Years ago he was preparing for nuclear war -- it didn't happen. He was ready for Y2K as well, but the lights stayed on.

This time, Souza and others like him think the problem is oil.

He says society is in for a big change.

"I just think that everybody should have a plan of action, have emergency kits," Souza said. "I've got relatives that live down South that haven't got a clue. They would just sit out on the curb and wait for somebody to come out and rescue them. It ain't gonna happen. [Hurricane] Katrina proved that."

Souza is ready -- ready to hunt for wild game, fish in a nearby river or grow food in a greenhouse. And if all that fails, he's ready to use his basement as a grocery store.

"This is our basic pantry we keep here. I figure I have about, oh, at least eight months' worth of food if we don't supplement it by hunting or fishing," he said.

The menu includes tomatoes, mushroom soup, canned milk and beets. It isn't pretty, but Souza said this is what it takes.

"I probably got another 100 pounds of dried pinto beans. And I'm a pretty good bean cook," he said.

If things get really bad, he'll dig into his supply of sealed nitro-packed food that's meant to last for decades. Even with all of this food, he'd prefer to have another six months' worth of supplies.

"That would make me sleep better," he said.

Prepared or Pessimistic?

Souza doesn't call himself a "survivalist" but rather a member of the "preparedness movement."

He was one of the few people who agreed to speak on camera. He said others, including his stepson, are worried they'll become targets for people in need after some future calamity.

Back at Tom Brown's East Coast survival school, the students include a retired banker.

"I am aware that things could get out of hand," Larry Scharff said. "And I do believe these classes would assist me in being prepared."

Brown isn't sure oil is the problem. He's worried about global warming, among other issues.

But the point, he says, is the same.

"You have to look at the earth as an island -- kind of like Easter Island where they ran out of wood and literally died. That is going to happen here if we're not careful."