Disaster preppers do their best to be ready for worst

Robert Sarnes has enough supplies at his home in Puyallup, Wash., to keep a family of four going for two weeks, should there be civil insurrection.

PUYALLUP, Wash. — Do you have 12 cases of peas and beans, seven pounds of powdered milk, 50 pounds of flour, 50 pounds of rice, 20 pounds of frozen chicken breasts, a 4,000-watt generator and some 35 gallons of gas in containers to run a freezer?

That’s just a sampling of what Robert Sarnes has stored in his family’s home — in the pantry, in the garage that’s stacked with metal and wood containers.

Sarnes is prepared for a disaster, and you’re probably not.

Especially you Seattle city slickers, says Sarnes, in wonderment at your naivete.

“Seattle? Maybe 1 in 1,000 families could survive more than five days comfortably,” he says.

By the way, in case the thought crosses your marauding mind about breaking into Sarnes’ home, he also has “in excess of 17” pistols and rifles in a safe in his house.

Plus, he’s packing a compact .45 in a holster under his T-shirt.

Why pack heat around the house? “I mean, in an emergency, I’m not gonna tell somebody, ‘Wait a minute, I’m going to get my gun.’ You want to be as prepared as you can be,” says Sarnes.

Sarnes, 43, married with two young daughters, is a prepper, part of an ever-growing group throughout the country who have decided that if they haven’t stocked up that pantry shelf for a long emergency, nobody else will.

We’ve gone through periodic bouts of preparing for looming disaster. Aging baby boomers might recall news stories about people putting fallout shelters in their backyards during the Cold War and especially around the time of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

These days, the Internet instantly connects you with others who worry what disaster the future might bring.

Tom Martin, 34, a long-haul truck driver based out of Port Angeles, Wash., is the founder of the American Preppers Network, or APN, as it likes to call itself. The website started in 2009, and now, he says, more than 16,000 people nationwide regularly take part in the site’s forums.

“Prepper” is a term that has become better known since the National Geographic Channel began airing a reality show last June called “Doomsday Preppers.” The show describes itself as exploring “the lives of otherwise ordinary Americans who are preparing for the end of the world as we know it.”

The program has been a ratings bonanza with a 60 percent male audience an average age of 44.

A recent topic of discussion on the prepper website was, “What do you fear/are you prepping for?” The responses included “economic collapse and the subsequent civil unrest,” an earthquake and an “EMP attack,” the latter referring to an electromagnetic pulse burst that supposedly could cause a mass power-system collapse.

Enough people have such worries that the prepper phenomenon has gone mainstream. Costco recently offered on sale for $3,199.99 a nine-month supply of emergency food to feed four people. The chain now has a “disaster-preparedness” section on its online catalog that sells everything from vegetable seeds for a one-acre garden ($42.99) to a powerful standby generator ($2,999.99).

At his Puyallup home, Sarnes answers the obvious question about keeping guns around with two children in the home.

His daughters, he says, have been well-trained in gun safety.

One of them is home from school because she’s feeling buggy. She goes through the drill about gun safety, led by her dad:

“What do you do when you see a gun? You tell a grown-up or police officer. Don’t touch it. If you do handle it, muzzle to the ground, finger off the trigger, treat it like it’s loaded even if you know it’s not, never point it at anybody.”

In agreeing to talk to a reporter, Martin and Sarnes are a bit unusual for preppers, who can be secretive. Martin says one reason for secrecy is that during a disaster, people who failed to prepare can “come knocking on the door.” Better to keep it a secret how much you have stored up.