Isolated, self-sufficient and secure.
These are some of the words commonly used to describe a prepper, an openly mocked group of people who prepare — often intensely — for every kind of calamity.
A prepper spends years devising a plan to live off the grid for an extended period of time, with the defences to bat off potential marauders in case a civil war breaks out.
Deep in the mountains, west of Colorado Springs, Fortitude Ranch is doing just that.
From a distance, the 50-acre property looks much like a holiday retreat in the wilderness but on closer inspection, the guard towers and secure perimeter give you a clue — this is much more than just a good location for a campfire.
“If the situation got super bad — a ‘collapse’ is the term we use — [such as] when the economy isn’t functioning, there’s loss of law and order, or a major threat like a deadly pandemic, then our members would come and we serve as a survival community,” Fortitude Ranch chief executive Colonel Drew Miller said.
Colonel Miller — who is a former military intelligence officer — built the survivalist camp after a career in the air force with the elite Strategic Air Command during the Cold War.
He created the heavily fortified compound in preparation for the fall of human civilisation.
“We track 46 different threats, and pandemics are some of the leading ones we’ve been concerned about,” he said.
“But it’s not the only one.”
Preppers say they haven’t had to stockpile, because they’re ready
Fortitude Ranch has survivalist camps in Colorado and West Virginia. It’s building more in Nevada and Wisconsin to keep up with demand.
Each facility can house up to 500 people for a year or more.
“Preppers have been saying ‘I told you so’ for the past several months,” he said.
“Preppers have not been running to the store to stock up, we already have been stocked up.”
Colonel Miller says “97 per cent of the population hasn’t been prepared,” adding that some of them have even mocked preppers.
“In the past there have been some really stupid TV shows making preppers look foolish,” he said.
“It’s nice to be vindicated, because it does make sense to have stockpiles of food and also guns and ammo and the ability to defend yourself,” Colonel Miller said.
Since coronavirus has taken its grip on the United States, Fortitude Ranch has recorded a 10-fold increase in inquiries — almost selling out of beds in two states.
Demand has been so strong, they are no longer answering calls.
But Colonel Miller says he doesn’t think COVID-19 itself will result in the collapse preppers have been planning for, which is why Fortitude Ranch has not called on its members to shelter yet.
He says the fatality rate of coronavirus isn’t high enough to cause widespread civil unrest, which some extreme doomsayers are predicting.
In the event of a lockdown, members are housed in shallow bunkers — rooms are subdivided into 10 by 10-foot spaces — and families are isolated to prevent virus spread.
All adults would be armed with either an AR15 or 12-gauge pump shotgun and are expected to perform active guard duty on a rotating roster during shelter to ward off potential marauders.
The ranches have mass amounts of stockpiled food, greenhouses, livestock and crops.
There is even a burn pit for the disposing of contaminated bodies during a pandemic.
While it might all sound extreme, as a prepper, Colonel Miller believes there will be a time when it is required.
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreak
- Download the ABC News app and subscribe to our range of news alerts for the latest on how the pandemic is impacting the world
- You can also get up-to-date information on the Federal Government’s Coronavirus Australia app, available on the App Store, Google Play and the Government’s WhatsApp channel.
Meanwhile, the fear of widespread food shortages, a lack of medical supplies and the threat of a breakdown in law and order have sent millions of Americans into a panic-buying frenzy.
Shelves of toilet paper have been cleared, canned food bought out, hand sanitiser is no longer available and gun shops have run out of firearms and ammunition in many parts of the country.
“It’s been astronomical,” TK Defense owner Kat O’Connor said.
Over the past week, the gun dealer and firearm trainer has taken a call every five minutes.
“Last week, we just started getting inundated with phone calls, texts, messages, requests for shotguns, ARs, handguns, training classes and ammunition,” she said.
“They just want that peace of mind that if there is chaos in the streets, if there is roving gangs, they feel better when they have them.”
Only in America #panicbuying
Ms O’Connor, who carries a gun in her holster, operates her business behind an unmarked secure steel door in an industrial area of Maryland, where she stores firearms and distributes them to buyers.
She is not actually a gun retailer but serves as the go-between for Maryland buyers and out-of-state sellers.
Your questions on coronavirus answered:
With demand jumping over the past week, suppliers have been sending her stock from all over the country to get to buyers.
“People started to work from home, people wanted to be safe in their homes, everyone went into security mode,” she said.
In the short time I’m in their bunker-like safe house, Ms O’Connor receives 10 phone calls and three people knock on the door in search of guns and ammunition.
One jokes about it being akin to a “zombie apocalypse”. Another customer talks about the irony of her being forced to shut down from Monday night, when business is the best it has been in years.
Photos of people lined up in long queues out of gun shops right across the country have been appearing on social media for days.
What the experts are saying about coronavirus:
- It’s important to know the signs of stress and anxiety and when to seek support
- Australia’s banks can withstand the coronavirus shock but high debt levels leave few buffers
The National Instant Criminal Background check system, administered by the FBI, reportedly recorded 2.8 million inquiries in February. It is the third-highest number since its inception in 1998.
Ms O’Connor says the last time there was a rush on gun sales was in 2016, before the election, but she said that was nothing in comparison to the panic buying she had witnessed in recent days.
“People want a Mossberg 500 or a Remington 870 — they’re the most basic home defence shotguns — they have also asked me for a 12-gauge and ARs. But I can’t just buy anything,” she said.
“And they want to know how to get the handgun licence.”
While many households have been buying up reserves to protect their families, there have been other cases of people bulk-buying for their own commercial gain.
In Tennessee, two brothers hit up several supermarkets and cleaned the shelves of hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes to sell them on Amazon. They ended up with 17,700 bottles.
In response, Amazon pulled their items and thousands of other listings for sanitisers, wipes and face masks, warning if they kept running up prices, their accounts would be suspended.
While preppers are certainly feeling vindicated as people have frenzied across the country, they’re saying coronavirus should serve as a warning for future pandemics, which could be far more deadly.