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June 23--Thanks largely to TV programs that show people weaponizing their vehicles and stockpiling food in amounts that would make a Costco warehouse groan in protest, there are many unflattering preconceptions about disaster preparedness.
The organizers of the Sustainable Preparedness Expo, however, hope to show folks that planning for survival after a long- or short-term calamity isn't about hunkering down in a bunker. It's about proper training, planning and learning to make smart -- often common-sense -- decisions ahead of time.
"When you are doing something out of fear, you aren't prone to making the wisest decisions in the world," says Nick Meissner, who started the Sustainable Preparedness Expo four years ago in Idaho alongside his wife and fellow preparedness advocate, Lisa.
"We're just really trying to help folks make common-sense changes in their life ... in such a way that, in 20 years, they won't have any regrets."
P5 Preparedness, a prepper supply store that opened last August on East Brainerd Road, is a sponsor of this year's expo. Owner Seth Waller is a local Boy Scoutmaster with 15 years of experience as a survival consultant. He opened his business -- one of only a handful of brick-and-mortar preparedness supply stores -- to help would-be preppers by offering an inventory of hard-to-find supplies they would otherwise have to scrounge for on the Internet. He also offers bimonthly classes on topics such as free-dried food preparation and beginners' first aid.
"It's about being independent from the system," he says.
According to a 2012 survey, many Americans could use the help.
The poll, which was conducted by the Center for Health Innovation at New York'sAdelphi University, found that 44 percent of more than 1,000 respondents didn't have first-aid kits in their homes, and 42 percent didn't have their immediate family members' phone numbers memorized. More than half, 53 percent, had less than three days worth of non-perishable food or clean water in their homes.
The Meissners want to change those numbers, but they don't just preach sustainable preparedness. Since 1999, they have been living off-the-grid in the mountains of Northern Idaho, where their home is equipped with a solar panels, an orchard and an independent water source.
After attracting about 1,800 people to its first run in the Scenic City last year, the Sustainable Preparedness Expo will return to the Convention Center on June 29. Nick Meissner says the popularity of the expo's debut reaffirmed their research that showed a large percentage of people near Chattanooga are interested in learning more about living a sustainable lifestyle and disaster preparation. This year, he says he expects to attract "well over 2,000 attendees."
Guests will be able to shop for supplies and seek advice from about twice as many vendors as last year. They also will have more than two dozen instructional courses from which to choose and covering topics such as gardening, food preservation, solar power systems and herbal medicine.
"We want attendees to walk away encouraged and inspired and motivated with the tools they need to take the first step and then the second step and to have a plan with goals in mind," says Lisa Meissner. "It's a learning process, and we hope to help facilitate their ability to not make some of the mistakes we made over the years and to learn skills that will give them a greater advantage than we had."
Waller says the expo will offer him a chance to network with potential customers but also show them that, contrary to their depiction on shows such as National Geographic's "Doomsday Preppers," many preppers are normal, concerned people.
"Whether it be a zombie apocalypse or an earthquake or a tornado, you should be prepared, just like having life insurance," he says. "What we do here is no different from having life insurance," he says. "The difference is that, where you can't draw from most life insurance policies, I can. I can eat off my life insurance policy; I can power my home off my life insurance policy."
Contact Casey Phillips at email@example.com or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.
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