Survivalist frenzy is a boon for business

Written by Eleanor Beaton

The previous decade saw its share of disasters and near misses: Y2K, 9/11, the South Asian tsunami, the Northeast Blackout of 2003, Hurricane Katrina. And if the forces of terrorists, tectonics and power grids weren’t enough, the global economic meltdown sealed 2000s’ fate as one of the most disaster-prone decades in recent memory.

The result, according to Gerald Celente, director of the Kingston, N.Y.-based Trends Research Institute, is the rise of neo-survivalism. Neo-survivalists, also known as “preppers,”prepare for the worst, be it environmental catastrophe, war, famine, disease or various other scourges. Think Lost meets Robinson Crusoe meets The Day After Tomorrow.

A recent hash of books and movies predicting teotwawki — “the end of the world as we know it,”in survivalist shorthand — give cultural credence to the trend. American novelist Cormac McCarthy’s best-selling book, The Road, and the movie of the same name tell the story of a man and his son fighting for survival after an apocalyptic event destroys modern society, while disaster flick 2012 focuses on the end of the Mayan calendar.

But don’t let the bad news depress you; where there is potential crisis, there is opportunity, says Celente: “As the neo-survivalism trend grows, the survival business will boom.”

The trend is picking up extra steam south of the border, where natural disasters such as hurricanes along the Gulf Coast, earthquakes and forest fires in California and twisters through the Midwest have been particularly prevalent. The American Red Cross had 160,000 more volunteers in 2009 than it had in 2008 — a dramatic rebound from the drop of 82,000 from 2007 to 2008.

Jim Rawls, the Moyie Springs, Idaho-based editor of, saw his readership double in the past 12 months to 220,000 unique visitors each week. What’s more, his readership has gone mainstream. When he launched in 2005, readership surveys suggested mainly conservative Christians were visiting his site; today, surveys show his average reader is just as likely to eschew the Bible and drive a Prius. “This trend crosses the spectrum,”says Rawls, a former army intelligence officer.

Rawls points out that although the market for emergency-preparedness kits is filling up, there are still lots of opportunities in the sector. For example, “People are completely clueless about long-term food storage,”he says. Companies that can provide “survival foods,”such as nitrogen-packed edibles with long shelf lives, could tap into this trend, Rawls says, especially if they can also educate their customers about how to store them.

Michael Baruch, president of American Family Safety Inc., a Toronto-based survival-kit distributor, recommends focusing on school boards, governments and businesses. “They’ve been the biggest drivers in our business,”says Baruch, who founded his company in 2003 following the blackout that left much of Ontario and a chunk of the U.S. without power.

And for organizations, disaster expertise is in short supply, says Adrian Gordon, president and CEO of the Burlington, Ont.-based Canadian Centre for Emergency Preparedness. “Awareness levels about the need for preparedness have gone up, but people still aren’t sure where to begin,”he says, adding that the need for expertise is especially great among smaller companies that can’t afford to hire a major management consultancy to develop a preparedness plan. Gordon cites a recent American Express Small Business Monitor report, in which 58% of the 500 businesses surveyed said they were not prepared for an emergency. “They know it’sneeded, but need help getting it done.”

Chuck Wright, director of the Toronto-based World Conference on Disaster Management, says there are also opportunities for firms that bring personal and organizational preparedness together. More and more of the CEOs who attend the annual conference are looking for personal preparedness plans for their employees, he says.

Rather than the more common company-wide preparedness plans — which create a blueprint for how companies should deal with server breakdowns, ammonia leaks, power outages and the like — personal plans are tailored to individual employees and lay out how they’ll carry out their job function in the event of a disaster. Wright says such plans address personal concerns such as having adequate food and water, and care for children.

Another opportunity, according to Celente, is to create schools and courses that provide training in self-defense and close combat. Scary? Perhaps. But when it comes to teotwawki, any preparation is better than none.

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