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Preppers to share skills at convention

WANT TO GO:

Prep-Con 2012

WHERE: 5345 Big Tyler Road, Cross Lanes

WHEN: 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: Adults $20, children ages 6 to 12 $12, younger than 6 free.

INFO: 304-982-2850 or www.providencellc.us

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- While most of the state will be thawing and/or drying out by this weekend from the latest natural disaster to befall the state, local survivalists or "preppers" will meet in Cross Lanes on Saturday to mix, mingle and share thoughts about being ready for the next catastrophe.

Bob Keller is one of the sponsors of Saturday's Prep-Con 2012. The 45-year-old engineer and former West Virginia State University professor-turned-shopkeeper and survival guru will give a talk on solar applications for the prepper.

Other talks during the conference include "7 Essentials of Disaster Preparedness" by Crisis Response International Director Chuck Reber and a keynote address by Steve Nolan, publisher of SurvivalWeek and The Beacon.

Keller, a Charleston native, owns and operates Keller's Survival Store, a small, out-of-the-way shop near the very end of Washington Street West, where most of the business fronts have given way to houses and yards. His store sells a little bit of everything.

"We started this thing as a pawnshop and survival store," he said. "But the pawn business got to be a headache, and we just quit that."

A few odds and ends from that business remain -- mostly used DVDs that Keller was quick to point out are at rock-bottom prices. He needs to get rid of them to free up floor space for more of his prepper stock.

The survival business, he said, has been good.

Along with racks of camouflage clothing, he has military-style MREs (meals ready to eat), an extensive collection of knives, gas masks and a selection of books.

Some of it, he acknowledges, is probably more useful than others. Not everybody needs a crossbow or a sword -- even if both seem to be in fashion on NBC's post-apocalyptic drama "Revolution."

What people are interested in, he said, is usually broken down by how they think they'll handle a crisis.

"It comes down to whether you want to stay or go," he said.

Different kinds of emergencies call for different approaches.

Keller asked, "What would you do if you had 10 minutes to get out of your house and never come back? What would you take?"

Along with supplies, Keller offers advice.

"If you need to be on the move, you should have a bag you can just throw in the car and go."

This is called a "bug out bag."

The standard bug out bag, Keller said, includes things like 72 hours worth of food and water, a tent, a first-aid kit and the means to make fire, but Keller recommends adding things that are irreplaceable.

"Digitize your photos," he said. "Back up your family pictures and important documents on a thumb drive. That's a lot easier than stuffing your car with photo albums."

However, leaving a home is probably not what most of his customers mean to do.

He said, "About two-thirds of people I see want to stay in their homes. The other third has a remote location in mind -- a farm or property, something elsewhere they can get to."

For most of those people, Keller recommends incorporating solar technology. On the basic level, that could mean using solar-powered lanterns and radios, which Keller said he sells a lot of, but he's really a proponent of solar generators.

Keller, who taught mechanical engineering at WVSU for 10 years, mounts solar panels onto a rolling base slightly longer than a riding lawn mower. The panels are connected to a converter then to a battery with a monitor.

With just one of these panels, Keller said, he could get enough power to run a refrigerator, four lights and a television. In the summer, the generator could be used to power fans or an air conditioner. In the winter, heaters could be plugged into it.

"You can get one of these for about $700," he said. "Considering the loss of what's in your fridge or freezer, it pays for itself."

Keller added that he's working on smaller versions that could be used for oxygen machines or other medical equipment.

Any generator, he pointed out, has its pros and cons. Solar energy, naturally, relies on the presence of sunlight.

"But it's also silent," Keller said. "If you fire up a diesel generator, everybody knows whether you have power or not. With a solar generator, nobody knows except you."

That might be beneficial if a particular disaster lingered, he added, or if power stayed down throughout an area for an indeterminate time.

A certain amount of paranoia is part of the prepper community, but Keller said his customers aren't much concerned about the zombie apocalypse or the winding down of the Mayan calendar. They're not waiting for doomsday so much as reading what they see and looking ahead toward some kind of breakdown.

"Personally, I think we're all watching things," he said. "And there's a lot to be concerned about."

He said you don't have to be a devoted Fox News viewer to see there's a lot of instability. In fact, much of the state got a taste of that this past summer.

On June 29, a powerful derecho tore through the region, upended trees, shredded power lines and left hundreds of thousands without power during a miserable heat wave that lingered for weeks.

"In June, I think we saw how fragile our infrastructure was."

Keller said there's been an uptick in sales since that disaster, but it's not necessarily the people some might think.

"The prepper community is kind of secretive," he acknowledged. "But a lot of that has to do with how they think they're perceived as nuts."

Keller doesn't think they're crazy. They're just people with plenty of reasons to be nervous.

"It's about 50-50 men and women," he said. "I get people in here all ages, all socioeconomic backgrounds. I've got lawyers and garbage truck drivers. I've got retirees. I've got housewives."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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