By Joe Roberts @jrobertsjourno
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Videographer / director: Adam Gray
Producer: Joe Roberts, James Thorne
Editor: James Thorne
‘Urban prepper’ and married father-of-five Jason Charles has stocked his small fifth-floor apartment in Harlem, New York, with enough supplies for him and his family to survive alone for around nine to 10 months.
He has 10 knives stored securely in his apartment, including a BK9 combat knife, and another 50 or so at his lock-up in the Bronx.
His ‘End of the World’ closet is packed with medicine, water, tools, and even home-made detergent, and he keeps a ‘bug out bag’ on hand at all times in case he needs to leave the property at short notice.
Jason told Barcroft TV: “I’m prepping for everything, it’s not one thing: financial crisis, hurricane, tornadoes. If a couple of nuclear bombs go off in this country, who are you going to rely on?
"The government is not going to be able to ship you anything. People think that the country can save you no matter what happens – that is bulls***.”
The former EMT, who was at Ground Zero when one of the towers fell during 9/11, is the organiser of the New York City Prepper Network – a group of NYC residents including doctors and construction workers.
The group go on wilderness retreats to learn and hone their survival skills, and discuss topics including optimal escape routes in case, in prepper lingo, the “s**t hits the fan.”
The 40-year-old also keeps a separate storage lock-up in The Bronx, where he stores additional supplies.
His prepping journey began when he read the novel 'One Second After' by William R. Forstchen, in which an Electro Magnetic Pulse (EMP) is unleashed upon the United States, disabling all electronics.
Jason explained: “There was a part in that book about starvation and how the hero in the book was driving to a town and he saw starving kids: kids laying on the side walk, distended bellies. I’m like ‘I don’t want that to happen to my kids.’
“So, after I read the book, Newt Gingrich had a couple of words to say about an EMP being a real threat to the United States. I went out and started prepping the next day.”
Initially, Jason began stockpiling MREs - 'Meals Ready to Eat’ - spending around $1,000 in his first month on the pre-packaged meals and other supplies.
The prepper estimates he’s spent around $10,000 to $15,000 on supplies and equipment since starting on his prepping journey.
“I don’t want to sit down and think about it,” Jason said.
"I went a little overboard after I read the book and I was like ’s**t, my wife and kids would have to survive.’
“So I flipped out, and now I look back at it, I am glad I did it, but I wish I did it a little slower. I would have saved a lot of money.”
As well as the closet and storage unit, Jason has also prepared what’s known as ‘bug-out bags’ for him and his entire family – should they need to evacuate the city in a hurry.
These backpacks full of survival gear – such as tents, fire-starting equipment, and medicine – remain packed and ready to go. There’s even a bug-out bag for the family dog, Tyler.
Jason said: “Bugging out is when you are in a situation that goes sideways and you have to bug out, get out of that situation. That’s what bugging out means. Bugging out is a military term.
“The most likely scenario would probably be like a pandemic, something like what the flu was, but magnified 100 times.
“That’s where you’d probably bug out. A complete collapse of civilisation.”
The ‘bugging out’ element requires Jason and his family to know more than just ‘urban prepping’ skills – they must also be equipped with knowledge of how to survive in an outdoor environment.
Recently leading the NY Preppers on one of the group’s frequent retreats, Jason had a chance to demonstrate some essential outdoor prepping skills in the New Jersey wilderness.
The weekend retreat was attended by dozens of New York Prepper members, and included knife-safety, fire starting, and shelter building classes.
Marlon Smith, who runs a women’s fashion company and has been prepping for 15 years, said: “9/11 told us that, Hurricane Katrina told us that. There is no cavalry coming. The world has grown too fast, where there are simply not enough resources.
“And that includes, manpower, military, you know. You can go to a town and there may be 50,000 people. You go to Manhattan in New York, there is 8 million. Where do you put 8 million people in a disaster?
“So, you have to fend for yourself - and to fend for yourself, you have got to learn these things.”
This concern for a society ill-equipped to deal with the fallout from a large-scale disaster, in a world where the population continues to rapidly expand, is shared by other members of the group.
“People have gotten a little relaxed, a little lazy when it comes to their own survival,” 32-year-old prepper Jason Sanborn said.
“They do depend on other people, government, the police to be their constant protectors. But it comes down to you are your own guardian, your own survivor, your family’s protector.”
And while Jason dreams of living off-grid and fears how bad it could get in a ’s**t hits the fan’ scenario, he says ultimately people need a sense of community to carry on living.
Jason added: “Listen, there is one part of me that believes that there are people who are good and who stay good when a disaster happens.
“And then there are people who are good at pretending to be good, because when something like this happens, this is when they get to unleash there innermost dark secrets
“Eventually it would be nice to just completely be reliant on your own.
“But the down side of living off the grid is that you are living by yourself, and I think people need one another to survive.”