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B.C.’s preppers are preparing for the worst

VANCOUVER — Much of B.C. lies under the cover of darkness. Phones have gone silent, roads have split and sewer lines are spewing their contents to the surface. Some buildings are still swaying, others have partially collapsed.
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Denise and Allen Japp stand at the entrance to the Mission storeroom containing some of the supplies they have accumulated and organized to help them survive a disaster.

VANCOUVER — Much of B.C. lies under the cover of darkness. Phones have gone silent, roads have split and sewer lines are spewing their contents to the surface.

Some buildings are still swaying, others have partially collapsed.

The city of Vancouver has been shaken into submission with a 9.0 magnitude earthquake.

Those in the downtown core stumble out of the rubble of one of the world’s greenest cities quickly turning grey.

Amid the dust and debris, Denise Japp rummages through what she calls her “get-home bag.”

First-aid kit? Check. Spare food, clothing and water? Check. Shelter, fire-starters, protection? Check.

For years, she has lugged it to work along the West Coast Express into the city’s core.

It’s time for Denise to put her plans in motion. She and her partner, Alan Armbruster, have spent years preparing for this day.

She has 72 kilometres to walk home to Mission, where she knows Alan expects her eventual arrival.

It will be their base of operations as they ride out B.C.’s worst disaster in history.

Denise unfolds her map and goes over her route one more time. Should things get really hairy, she has extra cache spots of food and supplies along the way.

Cell phone calls clog the networks, so Denise texts Alan to let him know she is shaken, but otherwise all right.

With emergency personnel attending to the fallen, she surveys her surroundings and starts her two-day journey home.

“It’s not anything really crazy; it’s just a different way of thinking – to be always prepared,” says Denise, from the comfort of her Mission home.

It’s a cosy Saturday night in mid-December 2012 and no; the world did not end – though Denise and Alan have prepped for it, in whatever manifestation it arrives.

The Mission couple are among a small but budding community in B.C. of survivalists, or ‘;preppers’: a term that still doesn’t pass the spellcheck on your computer, but has been coined across the continent by the highest-rated program in the history of the National Geographic Channel – Doomsday Preppers.

Yes, they do watch it. But unlike many of its subjects, they don’t believe in the rapture or the apocalypse – whatever you want to call it – that signals the end of days.

They don’t think the world will end on Dec. 21 – when the 5,125 year Mayan long-count calendar abruptly ends – as nearly one in 10 Canadians say they do, and as do the thousands worldwide expected to descend on the Yucatan Peninsula to witness it first-hand.

Their concept of catastrophe is much more measured.

Originally from Ontario, both Denise and Alan lost their well-paying jobs when the auto industry crashed in 2000. They then moved to Florida, where Alan always wanted to own a dive shop.

“Then Sept. 11 happened,” Alan says, regretfully.

In Florida, the couple saw hurricanes – and prepping for them – first-hand.

“Basically how not to do it,” Alan says. “People waiting till the very last minute, then it’s a scramble.”

Alan describes mad dashes for food, and lineups at hardware stores for supplies.

“They’d buy up all the sheets of plywood and nail them on their windows. Once the storm passes, they throw them in the dump, wait a couple weeks or a month and a half for the next one . . . over and over and over again.”

Denise and Alan settled in B.C. in 2007, where Alan took a job as a bus driver.

Covering ground from Vancouver to Kamloops, Alan’s “get-home bag” is fitted for five days of survival.

“There’s really a lot that can go wrong here – there could be an earthquake, a tsunami . . . there are two volcanoes,” says Alan. “I really don’t think the world will end because of zombies. I see people acting like zombies, but a zombie apocalypse . . . no.”

If the walking dead did happen to roam the Lower Mainland, Alan and Denise would be prepped for that, too.

Their three-bedroom, 2,000 square foot Mission home has been custom-fitted to sustain their survival.

An African-style, keystone garden (uses very little water and has a compost in the centre which makes it self-fertilizing) has been planted in their backyard. Bee boxes have been set up to pollinate what they’re growing. Barrels litter the yard, collecting rainwater to purify and store in a 275-gallon container. Extra food, fuel and equipment have been purchased and put away.

While both have firearms training, Alan is skilled in the bush should their home become unsafe.

He is currently working on fitting a mobile trailer with a kitchenette, shower and heaters if they have to hit the road.

A common concept among preppers is to have a “bug-out” location: somewhere you can go if your home is compromised.

Theirs is somewhere in the Interior, though they aren’t going to draw a map for you.

“We don’t have family here. We’re looking out for ourselves at this point,” Denise says, unabashedly.

A little further into the valley, a Chilliwack resident named Glenn has been venturing into the bush and sharpening his survival skills for the last two years.

A licensed mechanic and avid outdoorsman, he is pretty new to the prepping concept, but is picking it up fast – watching survival videos on YouTube and attempting to reach out to other local preppers online.

“I feel that a lot of us are kind of solitary,” the Ontario transplant tells the Sunday Province.

He is a soft-spoken family man who wants to share his thoughts on prepping, but also wants to keep his full identity under wraps for the safety of his family.

He does it for his two kids, Glenn says, though he doesn’t like to spook them with any sort of doomsday talk around the house.

So he turns to his friends, looking to talk about preparing for a major disaster. It could be an economic collapse, he tells them, or a phenomenal weather disaster. It could even be a national defence problem.

“It’s peculiar. I had to tone it down,” he says. “Most don’t like to face the facts that something like that may happen.”

If something catastrophic did happen, Glenn and his significant other have a plan in place.

The safety of their home is the first option, but Glenn envisions “a more nomadic situation.”

“It doesn’t take people very long when they’re hungry to start turning on each other,” he says. “The chances of having to leave the Valley are, to me, quite high.”

He has handpicked a location in the B.C. interior and hopes it’s well thought-out.

His family each have their own bug-out bags ready to pack into Glenn’s well-equipped ’78 Ford 4x4. It would act as both their shelter and transportation to what he calls “higher ground.”

But they may need help along the way, Glenn says.

He would like to meet other B.C. preppers and share knowledge and tips – maybe even start the foundation of a community that would come together in the event of a major disaster.

Glenn isn’t the only local prepper scouring the web for others like him.

On one local forum, a prepper from Abbotsford arranged for a late-November meeting at a Tim Hortons somewhere in the Valley.

He said he’d be the guy in the beard and ball cap, but another said wait – he too would be sporting a beard and ball cap. To avoid confusion, one guy suggested a sign on the table that read “preppers” – another said to just look out for the guys in beards in ball caps.

Glenn joined the forum too late to attend the meeting, but he’ll go to the next one if it happens, he says.

Online, a growing number of local preppers are calling for people with distinct skills – be it doctors, dentists, craftsmen or survivalists – to get to know each other in case they need to form “well-cohesive groups,” as Glenn describes it.

“You might start to develop these friendships and some of these people might become part of a bigger plan,” he says.

Bob, from the Lower Mainland, has been prepping his whole life for a time his dad described to him as “when SHTF.”

“My dad always said, ‘;you will be on your own, when SHTF.’” says Bob, who is withholding his surname for business reasons. “He said, ‘;a simple hike in the woods can ruin your day, always be prepared.’”

Bob says he preps for his family, preps for the unknown.

He has stock piled everything from food to medical supplies, as well as legal firearms for game. He has acquired survival, self-defence and small arms skills during the years.

He’s been in the military and has lived in the North – without power – for eight years.

In total, Bob has invested well over $10,000 in what he describes as “just the basics, not including other equipment and training, and food stocks.”

“I think with all the current events such as floods, wars, earthquakes, social unrest, virus outbreaks, solar flares coming – you need to be prepared.”

“I have seen how Governments respond to need and how they fail. I also do not, and will not, be in a food line-up, much like we have seen in the U.S. recently.”

Bob cites the much-publicized lack of government response to the October 27, magnitude 7.7 earthquake off the coast of Haida Gwaii as an example – “we found out after it happened.”

Just this week, the City of Vancouver announced they will be releasing a public-awareness video in the hopes that residents buy an earthquake preparedness kit and form a plan in the event of a disaster.

Bob has three plans in place. Plan number one is local, with a reasonably close bug-out location. If that’s unfeasible, his second plan is to reach people he knows and trusts, who hold “prepping items” for him.

His last resort is an “Alamo-type” location for the family to retreat to.

“The third is a place we never want to have to go to. This means all else has failed and we can’t go back to our old home.”

Bob looks at the coming end of the Mayan calendar as just one more reason British Columbians need to get prepared.

“December 21st is just another day, or is it? I don’t know, so I prep.”

Words of wisdom from your local preppers:

“Create a plan, especially if you have family. Make a plan for how you’re getting to your kids and where you’re taking them.” Denise Japp, Mission.

“Get info. Go to the Emergency Management B.C. website. I’ve heard many people say they’re going to be the first ones eaten. They haven’t prepared for anything.” Alan Armbruster, Mission.

“There are things and skills you’ll need to have with you. Start having meetings, start getting together – brainstorm – get ideas to add to your arsenal.” Glenn, Chilliwack.

“The guy next door will first ask you for food, then he will demand it, then he will try and take it... if we all prep a little we can prevent some of this from happening.” Bob, Lower Mainland.

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