As a New Orleans police officer in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Kevin Diel learned how quickly a disastrous event can bring a city to its knees and bring out the worst part of human nature.
“Within about a week of it hitting, it completely changed my mind. This was a whole new world, and there was nobody to help,” Diel said.
He used his wits, the few supplies he had on hand and what he could scavenge to survive the ordeal until order was restored.
Diel, now a private corporate security officer, considers himself a member of a community that focuses on emergency preparedness, or “preppers” as they call themselves.
“You don't necessarily need to be preparing for the end of the world, but just what you'd consider a personal emergency,” he said.
One of Diel's interests is “homesteading,” or creating off-the-grid houses from alternative building supplies. He owns a small acreage in western Lincoln County, where he's building a dwelling out of two 20-foot shipping containers. A water well has been dug and solar panels installed.
“It's designed to be waterproof, windproof and fireproof ... to keep out the elements,” he said.
When the project is completed, Diel plans to attach a cabin to the end of the containers. “It'll take a little longer to power all the essentials, but it's a work in progress,” he said.
‘We're regular people'
Building a remote compound may seem extreme, but Diel doesn't. He's a clean-cut, well-educated 29-year-old who shares a home with his girlfriend in northwest Oklahoma City.
“From the old '90s survivalist to the New Age people to the soccer mom who just buys an extra case of food, I think it applies to a lot of people who don't (necessarily) call themselves ‘preppers,'” he said.
Prepper is a better word than the term survivalist, which conjures up images of “that '90s militant, Ruby Ridge type,” he said.
“I hate the ‘S' word, because that's exactly the image that was tied to that word back in the day,” said Mark Smith, the organizer of the Spring 2012 Preparedness Expo scheduled Saturday in Del City.
“We're regular people. We're housewives and accountants, lawyers and teachers. We're not that guy,” Smith said.
“Do I feel that firearms play a role in preparedness? Yes. But so does a screwdriver and a can opener. There's a time and a place for anything,” he said. “A rifle is not always the answer, and in fact, most of the times it's not the answer. And if it is, it's a pretty screwed-up question.”
Smith owns Southern Plains Consulting, which specializes in formulating emergency preparedness strategies for individuals and families. A former Marine, National Guardsman, aircraft mechanic, correctional officer, casino security officer, volunteer fire chief and emergency medical technician, Smith started his consulting business after he was injured in a wreck while firefighting in Virginia. He
“Preparedness is a lifestyle. It's not a fad, it's not a weekend project. It's a journey, not a destination. There's always more to learn,” Smith said.
Along the way, you increase both the quantity and the quality of your options; the more options you have, the better off you'll be, he said.
“As we go through the process of living a preparedness lifestyle,” he said, “there is always that next challenge, that next class to take, that next purchase. But to me, that's part of the fun.”
Having fun and networking are two reasons Smith puts on the Preparedness Expo in the fall and spring. Saturday's expo will include short workshops, products and information.
Michael Olson will teach an afternoon workshop on “bugout bags.”
“A ‘bugout bag' would be a get-home bag or whatever you want to call it. You have your bag with you and it will help sustain you for 72 hours,” he said.
His bugout bag, which he will use in the workshop, includes about 18 pounds of food, ways to filter and purify water, flashlights and other essentials.
Olson, a former Marine, and partner Joseph Lambert operate Survival First Wilderness Survival School. When Olson's not teaching people how to survive in the rough with just their wits and a few tools, he's a chef in Oklahoma City.
“Basically, I started this school in memory of my great-grandfather, who taught me these skills growing up,” he said.
“We're survivalists. A lot of people think that's a bad term, but it's not. We're not a militia. We're not there to hurt anybody,” Olson said.
Survival First has three tiers of wilderness survival training — from the two-day, one-night basic course to the advanced six-day course. Classes run from $300 to $650.
“With these skills, you can survive anything, really. All the skills I teach can be used in urban environments, the wilderness, pretty much everywhere,” Olson said.
“My expert class is probably 60 to 80 miles of hiking. I'm nice in the basic class. I'm not that nice in the advanced and expert classes,” he said.
In the basic course, students are allowed to bring tents. In the advanced and expert courses, they sleep in shelters made from natural materials and are taught how to find their own food in the wild.
“I want to teach people so if they get into a situation, it may save their life or save the lives of people with them,” he said. “If I can help people, then that's great.”
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