Maybe it takes living without electricity and heat for a while. Maybe it's when trying to fill the gas tank becomes an odyssey. Perhaps it's being trapped in your neighborhood, because even if you have gas, downed trees and power lines make it impossible to pass and mass transit is shuttered.
At some point, it dawns on everyone that being better prepared for a disaster is necessary. And that's what folks on National Geographic Channel's No. 1 show, "Doomsday Preppers," have been saying all along.
The show, which airs Tuesdays, takes on special significance this week as Dec. 21, or 12/21/12, looms. Many people believe the Mayans considered this date the end of the world.
Of course if you believe it's doomsday, preparing is moot. But if you think survival is possible, then this show could help.
National Geographic brought together some preppers and journalists at The Greenbrier, a resort in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., where an enormous bunker designed to shelter Congress is hidden.
On the rolling grounds, preppers show off their archery, fishing and shooting, all necessary skills when civilization ends. It's a brisk Friday afternoon in the hills of West Virginia, where Holly Blevins, a petite mother of three, watches husband Jay position an arrow in a bow.
"My husband probably started prepping 10 years ago," she tells Zap2it, adding her reaction was, "Oh good for you, honey. I am glad you are thinking of us. I just started asking some questions, but I have been getting increasingly serious."
She keeps the family's basement storage space stocked with canned food and medicines, and tends a home garden.
Jay Blevins, a former law enforcement officer outside of Washington, D.C., was deeply changed by 9/11. In the last decade, Blevins notes, more than one million people have died in natural catastrophes.
"I am big on redundancy," he says. "We can hunt, fish and plant more stuff."
There's no ambiguity for Blevins about his reaction in a post-apocalyptic world.
"I want to survive," he says. "I want my kids to survive."
Blevins estimates most Americans spend around $550 a month on various insurances, but preparing for a disaster is the most basic insurance. Some, however, worry about scenarios that seem unlikely, such as nuclear attacks from Russia. At the end of such episodes, National Geographic runs a disclaimer about the possibility of events just shown.
"We struggled with this," Kathleen Cromley, a NatGeo executive producer, says after a screening of the series. "Our preppers have really strong beliefs and they are not always supported by mainstream science. As a network, we are concerned about factual accuracy."
Series executive producer Alan Madison, who traversed the United States for this show, says. "It is a snapshot of this country in the 21st century. We live in an enormous time of change right now."
Fearing the worst is hardly new. The hotel where the preppers and journalists are meeting is the site of an intricate bunker nestled into 37.5 acres in the Copeland Hills. The entrance looks like a maintenance yard, yet leads to a 25-ton blast door and long tunnels, now used to store data.
It's an impressive setup, with safety and secrecy paramount. The government began planning it in 1958 and it stood ready for use, though it never was. In 1992, Ted Gup, an investigative reporter, disclosed its existence and within four years the government stopped funding.
Still, this attention to detail, engineering and defense fascinates the preppers. They devote time to shopping, stocking and planning. Kara and Braxton Southwick of a Salt Lake City suburb, have regular jobs -- she works for a financial company, he is a mechanic -- but their free time is spent prepping to survive highly contagious synthetic smallpox, an epidemic he's certain is coming. They have six teenagers and want to make sure everyone knows what to do. Southwick, too, was inspired by 9/11.
"I don't want to see my kids go though horrible crap or gangs or starve," he says. "If you were told you were going to be in a concentration camp, you would say 'I am going to die.' But they fought to live. So I look at it that way. Human nature is to fight to live."
"If I can convince one person to have a bug-out bag and a plan out of the city and three days food and water," Southwick says, it will have justified doing the show.
Bug-out bags are what people grab when fleeing disaster. They are stocked with food, means of purifying water and starting fires, according to Scott Hunt and Dave Kobler, co-founders of Practical Preppers, LLC, a company that determines how prepared people are and rates preppers on the show.
"I think we are in the last moments of our last days," says Hunt, a mechanical engineer and a former atheist turned pastor. "No one knows the date."
He stresses that prepping need not be expensive, suggesting people begin by stocking up on extra food and cleaning supplies.
"My design is to wake people up, so they would prepare," Hunt says.
Kobler advises packing bug-out bags with radios, seasonal clothing, toilet paper, a multipurpose tool, passports, a paper photo of your family and cash in small bills.
But some who study human nature say this is much ado about nothing.
"The Mayans never predicted the end of the world," says John Hoopes, a University of Kansas anthropology professor, who attended the weekend with the preppers and appeared on NatGeo's "Maya Underworld: The Real Doomsday" on Dec. 4. "I think it's a projection of our fears, of our own mortality. People have been predicting doomsday for 2,000 years."
Photo/Video credit: National Geographic