DECATUR — At all points in Earth’s history, people have believed the end was nigh. Despite hundreds, if not thousands of failed predictions over the years, each new doomsday prophecy still finds its own adherents.
Today marks one of the most publicized “end of the world” dates in recent memory, centered on the Mayan long count calendar — a date that many doomsday groups have appropriated for their own as it approached. But according to Mount Zion resident Bryan Foster, you don’t need to believe in doomsday to want to be prepared for any eventuality.
“I don’t believe the end is near at all, but I do know that we can’t predict Mother Nature,” said the father of three. “In our family, we consider the threat of anything that is factual-based. When you talk about the Mayan calendar, that’s an interesting phenomenon, but for this family (today) will be just another Friday.”
For the Fosters though, “just another Friday” likely looks a bit different than it does for most families. As a proud member of the “prepper” community, Foster is much more likely to spend the night inspecting stocks of canned potatoes or building wilderness survival gear than watching TV on the couch.
Others will just be happy when Dec. 22 arrives.
Lisa J. Lucero, a Mayan expert and instructor in the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s anthropology program, has been deluged with requests for information about the meaning of the Mayan calendar and is frustrated by the misunderstandings.
“I can’t wait until Dec. 22,” Lucero said. “All the long count does is track time. The Maya calendar is cyclical; all that happens on Dec. 21 is that it starts at zero again. The Maya did not think the world was going to end. It will start at zero again in about another 5,200 years. No one needs to worry about anything. If they want to focus on something, tell them to think about renewal.”
Foster, an eight-year Navy veteran, holds three master’s degrees in chemistry, business and management, works locally as a plant manager and insists disaster prepping is vital for all families. He’s written “The Prepper’s Handbook” and “Christian Prepper’s Handbook” on the subject, with a third book coming in February.
“The most important thing for me is to have a balanced approach,” he said. “I created something called the survival triangle. The points of the triangle are food/water, shelter/heat and protection.
“In the middle of a cold winter, if you don’t have heat, it doesn’t matter how many guns you have. If you don’t have food, it doesn’t matter if you have shelter. And if you don’t have guns, you can’t stop someone from taking your goods. It needs to be balanced. I know way too many preppers who just have bunches of guns.”
Foster’s zeal to prep was born out of the American tragedies of 9/11. Living in upstate New York at the time with his wife, Nikki, and their children, the Foster family was caught unaware in a frenzy of panicked consumerism after the World Trade Center towers fell.
“At that time, we shopped one week at a time like everybody else, and we were low on all kinds of food,” he said. “So I told my wife ‘go get some food, just the basics.’ But at all the stores she visited, those essentials were all gone. There were half-mile lines to get gas, and people were trying to barter for it. That was when I promised myself that my family would never be caught unprepared again.”
New York was what Foster considered his family’s “learning phase,” where they first began serious research on prepping. They soon moved to Arizona and started stocking up on essentials such as military MREs, or meals ready to eat. Stores of water in Mylar bags were acquired, and along with them came security devices, including Foster’s first gun. Moving to Illinois in 2008 for work, Foster now considers himself to be in a “teaching phase,” ready to share his preparedness techniques with anyone who is curious. He hosts a well-received YouTube series under his pen name, “Zion Prepper,” sharing tips on everything from food storage and gardening to home defense.
Foster and his family were even featured on the History Channel earlier this year, on a special, “Countdown to Apocalypse: Hopi Blue Moon.” The prepper insists he wasn’t on the show as someone preparing for that apocalypse, though. Instead, he hoped to show his family’s preparedness techniques, which include monthly earthquake drills that the whole family participates in.
“When we did the History Channel, I spent two or three hours with the producers saying, ‘You will not come to my house if I am portrayed as a doomsday prepper,’” Foster said. “We prep to help other people when they need it and to make sure we can self-sustain for as long as possible. My kids are why I do it.”
Although the Fosters prepare in a general sense, there still are many preppers nationwide who have prepared specifically for Dec. 21, 2012, with theories that range from widespread natural disasters to biblical judgment or alien invasion.
Others see such a date as an opportunity for lighthearted, tongue-in-cheek celebration. At Sliderz Bar in Long Creek, an “End of the World Bash” will be held, with a performance by Decatur’s Escaping Neverland.
Operator Sherri Birch said plenty of local residents will be excited for an opportunity to unwind and laugh off another doomsday passed. “We planned it quite a while ago, and it seemed like it would be fun,” she said. “Some people really believe in this end of the world date, but I feel like a lot of our customers are just kind of rolling their eyes and having a good time with it.”
In the mind of someone like Foster, though, the business of surviving a potentially disastrous event is no laughing matter. He sees himself as a rational prepper for events that are geological eventualities, such as the possibility of a huge earthquake in the Midwest. His concerns aren’t without merit, as a series of powerful and destructive quakes hitting as high as 8.0 on the Richter scale once rocked Missouri, Illinois and Arkansas in 1811 and 1812, and geologists suggest similar events are a possibility in the future.
“I’ve asked many longtime residents here, ‘What is the New Madrid?’ and nobody knows,” Foster said. “It’s the biggest seismic zone east of the Rockies, and it’s right here in Illinois. It was responsible for some of the biggest earthquakes the U.S. has ever experienced, and it can happen again at any time. This is factual data that you can get any time from the government’s U.S. Geological Survey.”
And earthquakes are hardly the only real-world danger that Foster has “preps” in place for. He also worries about such things as epidemics, economic collapse and even solar flares knocking out the country’s electrical grid. For a true prepper, there is no scenario not worth considering, and prepping is like layering a warm outfit against the cold: Protection is found in having backups.
As such, the Fosters’ Mount Zion home is only “option one” in their overall prepping plan. They also have a secondary “bug-out location” somewhere in the country, stocked and fortified for an extended stay should they have to leave their primary home. And like their “bug-in house,” it too is likely filled with medications, food and weapons. The family keeps anything that might be of use on hand.
For example, jugs of cheap vodka are kept in a nondrinking household, but are in stock “just in case we ever need it for bartering.” Similar are jars of pre-1982 pennies and nickels, kept for melting purposes because the copper content makes them more valuable as raw materials than they are as currency.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, not everyone in the family is as keen on the art of prepping as Bryan Foster. Nikki Foster participates, but Bryan Foster jokingly describes her as the “wife of a prepper” first and foremost. His 17-year-old son Bryan and 13-year-old daughter Callista are less eager to participate. It’s actually Foster’s youngest son, 10-year-old Camden, who follows his father’s example most closely.
Whether everyone is as enthusiastic as he is, though, Bryan Foster is determined that his family will be safe from any threat. Whether it’s the Mayan apocalypse or the next big quake, he promises that “we’re not going to be that innocent family caught off guard.”
“It’s been a great education no matter what,” he said. “How many people can take a water bottle and make it into a stove? I hope that nothing ever happens and I never have to worry about my kids in a dangerous event. I don’t want to put them through that. But in the meantime, we prepare.”