MINNEAPOLIS —Over the years, Bryan Korbel has been teased by co-workers, friends and relatives who said he was a little nuts for stockpiling months of food, water and other supplies for a disaster that never seemed to come.
The jokes have stopped.
The coronavirus pandemic that has gripped the world “might prove I wasn’t crazy after all,” said Korbel, 56, a Columbia Heights resident who works as a trainer and supervisor for Metro Transit.
Korbel is a “prepper,” one of those people who believe in having the supplies, tools and knowledge that would enable them to survive without the things that the rest of us take for granted: fully stocked grocery stores, tap water, electricity.
Now, with grocery store shelves being cleaned out, sales of toilet paper limited and Minnesota essentially shutting down, people who told Korbel he was taking disaster preparation too far are changing their tune.
“They tell me, ‘Now I understand what you do,’” he said.
Kevin Stevens said he’s experienced the same thing.
“I have always told my friends and co-workers that I am a prepper, and have been laughed at, called crazy, hysterical, etcetera,” said the 47-year-old Eagan resident. “So, yes, plenty of other people know I’m a prepper, and yes, they are now asking me for advice, or saying I was right.”
Stevens and other preppers are quick to point out that they are well beyond having enough toilet paper and food to last for a virus outbreak.
“I am prepped for far more than what is coming down the pike right now,” he said. “Anyone who considers themselves a prepper is more than prepared for something like this.”
And, like many preppers, he’s convinced that pandemics aren’t the worst of what could happen.
“We’re not even looking at losing power, or water or sanitation services,” Stevens said. “This is easy compared to the things that are coming in the near future.”
Korbel, for example, said he has enough food to last 2½ years. He also has gas masks, suits to protect against chemical attacks, compound bows and extra gasoline.
Joe, a Rochester-area prepper who asked to be identified only by his first name, said his efforts have “already paid off. Too many are rushing to the stores to buy supplies once new (coronavirus) cases are announced, which is something that I am very glad to have avoided.”
The 31-year-old computer engineer has everything he needs, including a stack of books to read if he has to isolate himself for a long time at home.
“The last time I went to a store, I was able to look upon empty shelves of masks and thinning shelves of toilet paper without concern,” Joe said. “I was there to buy seeds for the garden this spring.”
But he said being prepared isn’t only about taking care of himself. Preppers, he said, help the community at large.
“By not participating in panic buying, that is less load on the overall system, which is hopefully a benefit to the broader community, as well,” Joe said. “If your household has several weeks of supplies on hand already, you probably have no need to go fight your neighbors at the supermarket for the last roll of toilet paper.”
Despite their stockpiles, Korbel and other preppers admit that they aren’t invulnerable to coronavirus. In fact, Korbel said he and his co-workers at Metro Transit deal with the public so much that his chances of getting the illness are pretty high.
“I’m not Superman. I don’t have a shield around me blocking it just because I prep and store,” he said. “But do I feel more ready than others if a quarantine came? Yeah, a little bit.”
Joe maintains that “by giving myself the option to be self-reliant for a while, I very much hope that I am able to minimize the risk to myself and, if we are unlucky enough to get any sort of illness, our ability to isolate the household helps protect the community, as well,” he said.
The coronavirus crisis has created a demand for more than pasta, paper products and hand sanitizer.
Christian Schauf is an entrepreneur who grew up in Barron, Wis., and used to play in a Minneapolis-based rock band called Catchpenny, which used to tour in Iraq, entertaining American troops.
Schauf now lives in Utah and sells a 72-hour, 35-piece disaster survival backpack through a business he founded called Uncharted Supply Co.
His $350 “Seventy2 Survival System” includes food, water, a first-aid kit, tools, an emergency tent, antibacterial wipes and an N99 air filtration mask.
But, according to the company’s website, “Coronavirus has sold us out.”
The website estimates a two- to three-week wait for new survival packs.
“Unfortunately, the best time to get prepared for any emergency is long before it actually happens,” said Joe. “The next best time is right now, but with a measured and rational approach, so your neighbor doesn’t have to panic, either.”
Experienced preppers say the best thing is to gradually build up supplies through “copy-canning,” or just buying twice the amount of the nonperishable food that you normally eat and storing the extra.
“It’s easy to start small, and every little bit helps,” Joe said.
Korbel advises people to think of the stored food like an emergency savings account that you can tap into for personal setbacks, not just local disasters or national emergencies.
“If you get unemployed, you’ve got a couple, three weeks of food to hold you through until you find more employment,” he said. “You get in a car accident, you break your leg, and you can’t go to work, at least you’ve got some food and you can dedicate what money you can get to paying your rent to keep your house.”