The so-called prepper community has a long list of concerns—and for quite some time Ebola has been near the top of it. Experts, though, are split on whether the confirmation that the disease has entered the U.S. will spur a rush in equipment sales.
Even as awareness of doomsdayers grows thanks to a reality series on the National Geographic Channel, sales of supplies like canned food and hand-cranked flashlights had actually begun to level off before Tuesday.
And since Ebola has been on the community’s radar for so long, many people have already stocked up.
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“I think that a lot of people who are involved in the preparedness community already have the supplies to handle a wide variety of crises,” said Daisy Luther, who runs The Organic Prepper blog.
“Many of us do keep pandemic supplies on hand: things like nitrile gloves, N95 and N100 masks and sanitation supplies. Others who have been aware of the need but who have not yet made the purchases will very likely be on Amazon, ordering the necessary supplies, just in case this does turn into a pandemic.”
People with closer ties to the survivalist retail world, though say they do expect to see some kind of sales bump. (Early figures from Amazon bear this out; as of Wednesday sales of a type of full-body protective suits were up 131,000 percent and sales for one type of mask had risen 18,000 percent in 24 hours. Amazon does not give actual sales figures.)
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“I think you’re going to see some of those people panicking,” said Vic Rantala, former owner of Safecastle, which has been servicing the survival market for over 12 years.
“Those who are most fearful at the moment will be locking themselves into their homes—maybe first going out and topping off their supplies at their local stores, as opposed to ordering products that will be coming through the mail—because to take delivery of something means they have to answer the door.”
Officials with the American Prepper’s Network say it’s premature to be talking about a lockdown, even for the most cautious preppers.
Instead, they say, this is a good reminder to check inventories on things like surgical masks, and perhaps follow the example of some Asian countries, where it’s not uncommon for people to wear those masks as they walk around town.
“The worst thing we can do as a nation, or a community, is to panic at this point,” said Dr. Joe Alton, a spokesman for the network who also goes by the name “Dr. Bones.”
“When we talk about preparedness, we’re not just talking about beans and bullets. We’re talking … about becoming medically prepared as well. There’s a lot you can do with bandages, masks and medicines that you can’t do with bullets or MREs.”
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Alton, though, says he believes the case in Texas won’t be an isolated incident, and he predicts more cases will pop up over the next few months.
“It’s definitely a warning bell,” she said. “It’s similar to a storm warning during hurricane season. You know that there is a possibility the storm will hit, so you check over your supplies, you keep your vehicle filled with fuel, and you pay close attention to the news. In the event that the threat becomes real, you want to be able to practice social isolation as a preventative course of action.”