At the first mention of Mayan prophecies, Kevin Knight bristles quickly.
"That's just ridiculous," he says.
The 48-year-old Avon Lake married father of two might just be the kind of fellow you'd think would go for doomsday predictions.
But you'd only land on that errant assumption after discovering that Knight is a prepper – one of those folks sensationalized and caricaturized in mass media, lumped in with characters from National Geographic's hit show, Doomsday Preppers, and dubbed "survivalists" with thickly negative connotation.
That tendency to push the "nutjob" perception as far as possible concerns him. And he's not alone. The reason he and the rest of the prepper community give shows like "Doomsday" any attention at all is to run course correction on the message since those shows woefully miss the point and send viewers into the backwaters of paranoia and fear.
In reality, local preppers are working to refine life skills in the interest of pragmatism, sustainability and self-preservation – pretty simple stuff that humans have been doing since the dawn of time.
"The whole concept of self-reliance and being prepared is just natural for me," Knight says, leaning back in his chair to recount his family's approach to the matter. He described spending his childhood working up the ranks of the Boy Scouts and later serving as a scoutmaster.
The scouts' motto - Always Be Prepared - is one that stuck with Knight as a young boy. It's also the core tenet at the heart of his working strategy and that of preppers the world over.
Growing up, Knight and his family would watch hordes of unprepared families rush to stores during impromptu angry weather to buy batteries by the dozen and flashlights for the dark night ahead. Twinkie fanatics surely noticed similar frenzies when Hostess announced plans to shut down operations earlier this year.
Which is why Knight founded the Northcoast Ohio Preppers, an informal group that gathers monthly to do away with the media hype and get down to the basics. They talk about what precisely they will need when the outside world turns into a nightmare. They discuss plans to ensure the safety of loved ones. They spend time learning new skills.
They ask questions like, "What in the hell are we going to do when the SHTF and we see TEOTWAWKI?"
Translated from preppers' parlance: Shit Hits the Fan and The End of The World As We Know It.
21 people showed up to the group's first meeting in March 2012. There are now 99 members, and they come from all walks of life.
And more people are getting involved than ever before, thanks in part to national organizations like the American Preppers Network. Co-founder Tom Martin explained that this line of thinking has become more popular in all corners of the country.
"There are all kinds of people involved in the prepper movement," Martin says. "They are a cross-section of America." Moms and dads, lawyers and doctors, young and old. The only difference is they're ready for TEOTWAWKI and you're not.
Knight stresses that it's as simple as a willingness to think ahead -- three months, six months, a year or more.
Dec. 21, 2012 isn't the first date to ever earn the doomsday tag, and it won't be the last. Humans are well versed in paranoia and sensationalism, and also fully capable of screwing this nifty thing called civilization up, incubating and birthing that which we're afraid of to begin with.
When SHTF, there won't be any announcement: no predetermined date, no emergency sirens, no social media campaign. And rather than plagues or locusts or a downpour of blood, the end of the world as we know it is more realistically rooted in financial collapse, natural disasters, or acts of terrorism.
And you could learn a thing or two from the preppers about how to be ready.
* * *
There's considerable value to hunkering down and making sure you've got a plan.
When Northeast Ohio residents woke up to a ravaged lakeshore following Hurricane Sandy's arrival, the notion of legitimate precaution was thrust to the forefront of the local discussion.
Tens of thousands of households went without power for days following the Oct. 29 storm. Utility crews - both local and out-of-state - worked around the clock in communities across our region to restore power. Organizations like the Red Cross moved in and set up emergency shelters at public buildings, accommodating at least 100 residents in some cases.
It wasn't the end of the world, but the situation was far from easy-going for many area residents.
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