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Are Preppers responsible for the unprepared?

Posted By Patrice Lewis On 12/07/2012 @ 5:56 pm In Commentary,Opinion | No Comments

Last week on the website Emergency Management, there appeared a blog post written by an emergency manager named Valerie Lucus-McEwen in which she made a grave error in judgment. She called doomsday preppers “socially selfish.”

She based this startling conclusion on the National Geographic’s “The Doomsday Prepper” series and concluded that because the people featured in this show were spending their OWN time and their OWN money to stockpile their OWN resources in order to prepare their OWN families for whatever disastrous scenario they foresaw, they are selfish. Specifically, as another emergency manager phrased it, this is “a level of indulgence that is selfish and counter-productive to providing for the common good.”

“You might wonder,” wrote Ms. Lucus-McEwen, “why someone like me, who has been in the business of encouraging disaster preparedness for a very long time, is so critical of people who are doing just that. It’s because they are being socially selfish – preparing themselves and the hell with everyone else. Instead of spending time and energy making changes that would benefit the larger community, in their very narrow focus of loyalty they are more concerned about themselves. … Our job is to prepare individuals and communities and jurisdictions and regions and – ultimately – the globe for disasters, knowing we won’t always succeed.”

Little did Ms. Lucus-McEwen realize she was opening an enormous can of worms. The blog post got blitzed with comments, universally condemning her for her conclusions and asking why it was the job of ordinary preppers to “provide for the common good” at their own expense.

The people featured in the Doomsday Prepper show – many of whom, granted, were featured because they were extreme – aren’t emergency managers. It’s not their job to prepare an entire community (much less the globe) to meet a disaster. So they’re doing the next best thing: making sure their families and friends won’t require government assistance in the event of an emergency. (Incidentally, Ms. Lucus-McEwen admits that she herself wouldn’t make it more than a week or two without outside assistance.)

So anyway, Ms. Lucus-McEwen got hammered by preppers who universally condemned her attitude and pointed out that in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, just about the only immediate help many residents had came from their more-prepared neighbors.

In an effort to clarify her position, she wrote a follow-up piece entitled “What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate.” In this post, she labored to distinguish between Doomsday Preppers (whom she still believes are selfish) and Disaster Preppers, who are shiningly good with halos over their heads.

The distinction between these two types of preppers appears to be based solely on Ms. Lucus-McEwen’s opinion of the preppers’ plans for their own supplies. These are the supplies, I’ll remind everyone, which preppers spent their own money, time and effort to acquire. Without the slightest bit of evidence or proof, Ms. Lucus-McEwen claims Doomsday Preppers will never, ever share their supplies with anyone else; whereas Disaster Preppers will be the souls of generosity who will unhesitatingly distribute everything they have, without reimbursement or complaint, during an emergency.

I, along with many in the prepping community, found this attitude disturbing to the point of creepy. It was exacerbated by the follow-up comments as she replied to reader questions. “It really doesn’t matter how much food you have or what you buy with your money,” she writes in a comment. “The tipping point is how you use it. … Is it something you are planning to hoard or are you working in your community to make sure everyone else is prepared also. I’m not sure how else to say it.”

Oh, you said it just fine. We got the message loud and clear. You want preppers to release their “hoarded” supplies during an emergency to unprepared people who – despite all warnings – preferred to spend their surplus cash on big-screen TVs and iPads instead of beans and rice. Remind me again, who’s selfish?

It is no more logical to ask preppers (“doomsday” or otherwise) to be responsible for the entire community by distributing their supplies, than it would be to ask Ms. Lucus-McEwen to distribute her 401(k) to the community when a disaster strikes. You might say that a prepper’s 401(k) is his pantry. Same thing. Exactly the same thing. But no one calls those who refuse to liquidate and distribute their retirement savings “selfish.”

Every prepper I know – and I know a lot – makes the distinction between those who CANNOT prepare and those who WILL NOT prepare. We plan to help those who cannot prepare (the elderly, the handicapped, etc.) during times of disaster.

But the vast, vast majority of unprepared people are NOT elderly or infirm. They are ordinary people with homes, jobs and enough surplus cash to buy nice cars, restaurant meals and fancy electronics. These people are the “community” of which Ms. Lucus-McEwen speaks. Preppers have spent many years futilely urging such people to stockpile necessities in the event of a disaster. For their efforts, the preppers invariably are accused of wearing tinfoil hats and trafficking in conspiracy theories. Ms. Lucus-McEwen admits it’s hard enough for emergency managers to make inroads into these communities. How much harder is it for Joe Prepper to make a dent?

Therefore many preppers have made their own “communities” that differ from Ms. Lucus-McEwen’s definition. Prepper communities consist of like-minded people who have spent years working toward self-sufficiency and who plan to band together and share knowledge and resources during hard times. These people do not plan to be a burden on others unless they are faced with circumstances beyond their control.

But to emergency managers, this isn’t good enough. Ms. Lucus-McEwen’s job includes making sure communities “have a disaster plan that everyone understands, that identifies where resources are. …”

That’s the part I find creepy. Whose resources? And if FEMA can’t come up with enough of their own supplies, what do you suppose they’ll do when they locate a prepper? That’s right, strip them bare for the “good of the community,” thus reducing the prepared family to the level of every other unprepared individual standing in line at FEMA camps.

If this doesn’t cement the widening chasm between government edicts and personal responsibility – culminating with public confiscation of private property – I don’t know what does.

Pressured by the avalanche of emails and comments that still vehemently disagreed with her distinction in shades of preparedness, Ms. Lucus-McEwan offered an apology in which she further differentiates between “obsessed preppers” and “dedicated preppers.” She understandably took a dislike to the “obsessed preppers” who wrongly called her nasty names, though she never addressed why their efforts to prepare for the “end of the world” was necessarily a bad thing (or even any of her business). She offered her more sincere apologies to the “dedicated preppers” who, she finally admitted, have made efforts to reach out to the community.

But Ms. Lucus-McEwen must remember: No matter how active “dedicated” preppers are in their community, they are still prepping first and foremost for their own family’s safety. These are individuals with limited budgets, not emergency managers with government funding.

To me, the selfish ones are those people who refuse to lift a finger to make sure they have emergency supplies on hand – and then demand their more prepared neighbors feed, clothe and house them after a disaster. And that includes people like Ms. Lucus-McEwen.

To her credit, Ms. Lucus-McEwen has offered her blog as a platform for dissenting opinion. That’s quite big of her – and I mean that sincerely.

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