The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention doesn't seem like a federal agency with a sense of humor, but this year it used a joke to get attention. They put out a guide for a zombie apocalypse at www.cdc.gov/phpr/zombies.htm.
In all seriousness, they have left the site up because officials said if people are prepared for zombies, they are pretty much prepared for anything. For zombies, doomsday, volcanoes, tornadoes and beyond, this is what the CDC says every family needs to have:
• Water (1 gallon per person per day)
• Food (stock up on nonperishable items that you eat regularly)
• Medications (prescription and nonprescription)
• Tools and supplies (utility knife, duct tape, battery-powered radio, etc.)
• Sanitation and hygiene (household bleach, soap, towels, etc.)
• Clothing and bedding (a change of clothes for each family member and blankets)
• Important documents (copies of your driver's license, passport and birth certificate, to name a few)
• First aid supplies (Although you're a goner if a zombie bites you, you can use these supplies to treat basic cuts and lacerations that you might get during a tornado or hurricane.)
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
At the beginning of 2012 the Tennessee Preppers Network put out a roll call on its website asking members if they were ready for the year.
One man said he had sold his company stock, bought gold and silver, and ordered 1,500 more rounds of ammunition and three months of freeze-dried food.
"I just sent off my ATF Form 1 for the customization of a shotgun and I finally purchased my CC gun of choice," the man wrote.
Others talked about buying getaway land, digging caves and storing more than 1,000 gallons of water.
"Hanging in there. Trying to keep food stores growing a little every week. Will start veggies in the greenhouse soon. Hubby still thinks I'm crazy for prepping, but maybe he'll come around," another wrote.
"Still holding down the fort," another wrote.
Whether it's religious prophecy or natural disasters or Cold Wars or economic collapse or political unrest, a lot of Americans have been preparing for the worst. Although the preparedness movement has been around for years -- and especially strong in the South -- it's been popularized by reality television, end- of-the-world predictions and the recession. The Mayan calendar may have ended without a global hiccup, but there are plenty of other possible disasters looming, preppers say.
And for hundreds, it's a lifestyle that goes far beyond emergency readiness. They talk in special lingo. They resist the idea of government help. They would never put their lives in the hands of FEMA, TEMA or GEMA, and they are fearful for anyone who would.
It's hard to determine how many preppers there are in the Tennessee Valley, especially those who approach preparedness as a hobby.
But the prepper community locally is growing.
John Martin, owner of Shooters Depot, said gun sales have soared in the last three years, up by nearly 100 percent. Fear of crime and possible gun restrictions have inflamed interest in firearms, but so has prepping.
Because of demand, Martin said he's selling military backpacks that preppers call "bug-out bags" -- portable survival kits -- and military ammunition cans.
"The power going out. A tsunami. These are the real issues," Martin said. "[Preppers] don't expect [the country] to be taken over, but if our social structure breaks down I have no problem with a bug-out bag. That is just simple Boy Scout preparedness."
Some are lured into prepping because they've seen disasters turn to panic. Scott Hamilton, an Athens, Tenn., resident who retired from the Army, grew up in Louisiana.
"Every year we knew a hurricane would come," he said. "We prepared always. Always have fuel. Always have food. Always have water."
He has also seen natural disasters rock other countries.
Now, he co-owns a prepping equipment and training business called Three Sixty OSI. He's found that people are very secretive about what they have and don't have in their stock. And prepping can be costly. Shelves of food expire and have to be replaced.
In his car he keeps two bags. One has parachute cord, Gorilla tape, a field knife, a lighter and energy snacks. The other bag has $300 worth of medical equipment including splints, braces, tourniquets and blast bandages.
John McIntire, a former Marine who lives in the Harrison Bay area and has been prepping for nearly 30 years, said he is just carrying on the Depression-era sensibilities of his parents and grandparents. Live with less. Don't expect anyone else to take care of you and your own.
"During the Great Recession people had houses they owed $250,000 on that were worth $75,000. This has shocked them about reality," McIntire said. "I'm too proud to ask for assistance."
There is a bell curve in the prepping world, he said. Some people think they know the day Jesus will return. Some people think they need to form a militia to fight the government. Some people are just paranoid. Others are less extreme.
Ryan McKinney, a 30-year-old Cleveland resident who has been sucked into the national zombie craze sparked by shows like AMC's "The Walking Dead," has made one of his cars into a zombie-proof vehicle. It has a roof rack, an ax on one side and a shovel on the other, spare tires and gas cans.
He said he's not sure if the zombie apocalypse will come or not, but he'll be ready.
"People ask, 'Is that government issued? What branch of the government do I work for,'" he said. "My dad thinks it's cool. My mom thinks I am crazy."
In a storage room, McIntire keeps hundreds of cans of food and hundreds of pounds of rice and beans. Hours away, he owns 14 acres of land that he calls "site 2" where he built shelters for his family. He's working on his garden. He has no debt outside his mortgage. He keeps tablets of potassium iodide that keep the body from absorbing radioactive poison. His wife has been an expert with the bow and arrow.
He has calculated and thinks his family could live off the grid for 18 months, he said. There is a gun in his getaway bag, just in case.
"It's not a friendly world out there," he said. "There are still the Red Chinese, and the Russians really aren't my friend. People are realizing, regardless of the social programs and safety nets, that really they are responsible for themselves."