Survival and preparedness an untapped market.
Michael and Jeanette Marceau have a sweet little home in the Nantahala National Forest, "livin' the dream" up in the mountains of Western North Carolina. But just in case that dream ever turns into a nightmare, their second home is a bunker.
Forty feet long and sporting a concrete reinforced blast-proof and bullet proof steel door handcrafted and welded by Mike in his home workshop, the shelter was converted from a steel shipping container. It's designed to be a self-contained survival pod that can support four to six people for several months — perhaps more than a year if conditions deem it necessary — complete with running water, ventilation and air recycling systems, dried and canned food storage, generators, shower, bathroom and other comforts of home.
With the popularity of television reality shows like "Doomsday Preppers," some would call the Marceau family "preppers." But putting aside the stereotype, "preppers" are just regular people, but with one exception. These are people that like to be prepared for the absolute worst.
Whereas many Americans simply would be left hoping for the best under desperate conditions, preppers believe in putting in the time and energy to prepare to survive if modern society as we know it were ever to collapse, leading to scarce resources, and even scarcer supplies of basic essentials like food, water, and yes, ammunition.
"What we do today is really no different than what our grandparents did. They always canned food. They always had a garden. And back in the days of the Cold War they had bomb shelters and bunkers, with the government telling the population to be prepared for nuclear war," said Mike Marceau. "We've just gotten that much better at it."
The Marceaus lived in New York and then Florida for a time, but discovered the North Carolina mountains are the perfect environment for them.
"It was 'too cold,' then 'too hot,' and finally 'aaahh, just right,' you know?," said Mike. The family relocated to Western North Carolina, where the couple raised their three girls over the past 15 years, while building and operating Nantahala Cabins vacation rentals located near the Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Nantahala means "Land of the Noonday Sun" in the native Cherokee language for good reason. After experiencing some harsh winter storms with road closings and major power outages in recent years, the Marceaus became interested in exploring ways to live more selfsufficiently. At its extreme, the goal is to be able to live completely "off the grid." They soon found that a lot of people were concerned about survival should the worst happen, and were interested in learning what they had to teach.
"We started having meetings last year," said Mike “with various people giving instruction on topics like food safety, sanitation, canning, solar and wind power, and sun oven baking — the same sun oven used at Everest Base Camp."
The growing interest in the subject of survival was a market the Marceaus sought to capture. With the help of co-owner Tom Kelly, Mike and Jeanette recently opened WNC Supply, Inc., billed as a "prepper supply and survivalist store" located on Highway 441N., in Whitter, just off Exit 74 on Highway 74. "We have everything you need to survive, relatively comfortably, under the worst circumstances," said Mike.
The store recently celebrated its grand opening with a ribbon cutting, a bouncing castle for the kids and a free cookout for customers. The Marceaus and Kelly presented a $5,000 check to Sylva's Good Samaritan Medical Clinic to buy supplies, a contribution for the small community, and something they plan to keep doing.
"We believe contributing to the community is important," explained Mike. "This project is all about helping to bring the community together."
Mike emphasizes the importance of cooperation in the community. "We're very lucky we live in these small communities," he said, "because if something bad happens, we'll bond together. The people that go it alone and take for themselves are going to have a hard time. There's something to be said for being self-sufficient, but it's always better to have somebody to watch your back."
Just what is it that preppers expect to happen that could lead to such dire straits? Perhaps one of the customers in the store said it best. A resident of Sylva in his mid-30s, who preferred to remain anonymous for reasons obvious to any real prepper, "If you're not preparing, you're not paying attention," said the anonymous customer.
A woodworker by trade, he said that he's been studying how to handcraft longbows, with arrows made of native North Carolina rivercane, both for fun and because he may need the skill to survive one day. Yet he insists that he's a pacifist.
"I'm more interested in minimalist survival tactics, making snares and learning outdoor survival in the woods," he said. "You can gather a bunch of stuff, but then the problem is you have to defend it."
What crisis is it that he expects?
"It's a different world," he replied. "Consider what's been happening with global climate change and weather patterns, with all the natural disasters recently. Look at the economic crisis around the world, including here in the U.S. All it would take is another major economic crash," he concluded.
A paramedic shopping in the store, who also chose to remain nameless, thinks there will likely be a pandemic of Biblical proportions in the coming years. Having some experience in the matter of disease, he wants to be prepared. Yet another customer said he lives right down the road from the store, and that while he doesn't really consider himself to be a prepper at all, he thought it might be a good idea to stop by and get "a few essentials" together in case he and his family ever need them.
Mike and Jeanette have their own take on the matter.
"I think it's always good to be prepared, to be more self-sufficient," said Jeanette. "I feel better knowing that I can take care of my family if things get bad."
Mike has a more extreme perspective, but he's realistic. "It's not going to be a so-called 'zombie apocalypse' but it could be just as bad," he said. "There's any number of potential threats. There could be an economic collapse. Some people think there will be an outbreak of disease like the H1N1 virus, Avian or Swine Flu. Or North Korea or some other country could strike the U.S. with an EMP [electromagnetic pulse] in the upper ionosphere that would destroy our electrical infrastructure, stop modern automobiles in their tracks, and short-circuit all electronics that aren't isolated and protected." Mike said a simple solution to that possibility is an insulated metal trash can container that can isolate small- to medium-sized electronic devices from the blast. "I don't care about my cell phone," said Mike. "My music is going to be protected," he laughs. With more than 500 albums on his iPod, in an emergency Mike and his family could jam out in a cozy bunker while panic and chaos ensue outside.
A 2009 fiction novel written by Montreat Christian College English professor William R. Forstchen, details the significant threat of an EMP attack. Written close to home, the book revolves around a fictional history professor and former U.S. Army Colonel named John Matherson that, like the author, works at Montreat College. The widowed father of two daughters is well-respected in the Black Mountain community, but faces immeasurable odds when the town is paralyzed, like the rest of the nation, by a sudden surprise EMP attack. Phone lines suddenly go dead, along with all the electrical devices, and the entire United States is suddenly thrown back into the 19th century. Within weeks, millions are dead and some desperate survivors turn to cannibalism.
The book is based on an actual study conducted by the U.S. Air Force and presented to members of Congress on Sept. 10, 2001, which warned that the nation and its military forces were vulnerable to an EMP strike, an attack that would be devastating to the nation. Unfortunately, writes the author, the study was presented the day before the events of 9/11, and was completely forgotten. Military equipment and installations, and especially civilian infrastructure, were never modified to protect the nation against an EMP.
"There's no guarantee that our allies would come to our aid, whether they might take their time, or help at all," explains Mike. "Driving, you may not be that far from home, but on foot it could take two or three days just to get back home."
It's not an unlikely scenario, asserts Mike, considering the modern era in which we live. Then there's the threat of natural disasters like wildfires, tornados, blizzards or other unexpected events, all of which lead him to only one conclusion: "Everybody should have a bug-out bag." He points out that there's a stigma attached to the term, and that some people are better with the concept if you call it a 72-hour bag. Whatever you choose to call it, it's a relatively lightweight, smaller bag packed with supplies essential to survive the first three days of any emergency.
It's just this kind of proactive, forward thinking that could save a person's life some day. The Marceaus established WNC Supply, Inc. as a one stop shop for survival materials of all kinds, including MRE’s, bulk foods, long term food storage systems, canning supplies, solar panels, Faraday bags (to protect electronics like computers and cell phones), aquaponics systems, gardening supplies, camping gear, tools, ammunition, knives, surgical kits, first aid kits, water filtration, water storage, paracord survival bracelets, bug out bags, propane canisters and more. The exterior features the slogan "Patriots welcome here" and advertises "Ammo" in large letters that can be seen from the road. Inside the store, one can find everything from solar panels for permanent installation on the house to notebooksized lightweight travel solar panels for small appliances, phones, lanterns, GPS and other electronic devices. There's even a hand-held scope that registers infrared heat signatures to see animals and people in the dark.
The dehydrated food supplies alone take up an entire aisle of the store. Mike explains that dried milk and flour can be stored in the pantry for 10 years, with beans and other vegetables lasting as long as 30 years. The dehydrated and canned food can be mixed and matched to provide some variety and flavor.
"Dehydrated food can be pretty tasteless if you don't know recipes to provide variety and seasoning," explained Jeanette. "We can show people how to pack, seal and store their food to have it ready and convenient for preparing tastier meals for months at a time." Besides dehydrated and canned food, the store carries "survival seeds," a pre-sorted variety of heirloom seeds that "drives Monsanto nuts," said Jeanette. For less than $40 you can buy enough seeds for a full garden and continue to use the harvested seeds in the following years.
At the grand opening, demonstrations and lessons continued throughout the day, with the bright sunlight heating the sun oven to high, and Mike showing small crowds how to can meat for up to three or four months. A classroom in the back of the store is reserved for lessons and lectures on survival-related topics like how to find edible plants, outdoor survival, cooking classes, advanced first-aid and even suturing.
"I took classes recently to train in suturing. I learned how to suture, how to use a stapler," said Mike, "because it would be nice to have a doctor nearby if you need one, and know that you could get to him, but we live out in the [Nantahala] gorge. Bryson City is ten minutes away by car. But ten miles on foot is more than half a day's hike."
The Marceaus plan to offer a full curriculum of classes like these in the coming years, which could be a vital resource for their customers.
As an extra bonus at the opening, three-time NFL Player Association (Atlanta Chapter) President Solomon Brannan, a veteran of the very first Super Bowl, and Kelly, author of the book "Gridiron Diplomat," signed autographs and talked about their experiences in the NFL. The two of them have been preparing for their August tour of Africa to select the countries for an African American Football Tournament, a nonprofit effort they organized together. Nantahala Cabins, also owned and operated by Mike and Jeanette and their family, and WNC Supply, Inc. are proud sponsors of the International American Football Foundation, which sets up American college football teams throughout Dubai, which is mainly Arab, and Africa, along with other third world countries with the help of NFL veterans led by Brannan and Kelly. Kelly utilizes American football to ease political and racial tensions that divide the participating nations and peoples. His book "Gridiron Diplomat" is available at Amazon.com with all proceeds going to his diplomacy efforts.
But while Kelly and the Marceaus may have a healthy interest in the proliferation of the American football game, it's obvious with WNC Supply, Inc. that they're playing for keeps. The 40- foot long showcase bunker, still under construction adjacent to the building, is a testament to just how serious these guys and gals take survival, and it stands to be Mike's crowning achievement in his new role as a bunker builder.
The structure has a modern decor to it, featuring a new floor and painted with a clean white finish from floor to ceiling. The ceiling will eventually be a soft blue hue. "The blue ceiling reminds people of the sky, which has a psychological effect that makes them more calm and comfortable," explains Mike. Fold-out bunks line both walls, four on each side of the interior, allowing for a corridor of open living space in the center of the shelter. The other end is where the aquaponics will be installed to provide fresh fish and vegetables for a longer duration. Beyond that lies the kitchen area, with a small wall separating it from the shower, sink and compost toilet.
The shower and bath facilities are crucial, explained Mike. "When you're cramped into a small space for a long period of time, sanitation is extremely important. Being clean reduces the risk of illness, infection and the spread of disease."
As a licensed North Carolina Contractor, Mike has the skills to install a survival shelter or bunker, ranging from 20 feet to 40 feet long and custom built to the owner's specifications on your property. Used container 20 feet long can be purchased for $2,500, while the longer containers cost $4,000. The Marceaus can partially remodel the bunker by installing wiring, flooring and plumbing and then delivering it on-site for the owner to finish, or they can build it from start to finish. A bunker like the one next to the store would maintain a cool 60 degree temperature year-round when buried underground. After completing installation, Mike recommends that owners pour a one or two feet thick concrete slab to cover the top of the bunker, below the ground level, to prevent anyone from being able to dig down directly to the roof. All that's needed then is a secure reinforced entrance, possibly an escape route or two, and the bunker is complete.
Resources of food in a survival situation would be scarce, so the Marceaus urge their customers to think about raising and harvesting rabbits within the bunker or shelter to provide fresh meat. But the aquaponics system featured inside WNC Supply, Inc. is the most effective option. Aquaponics is a sustainable food production system that combines conventional aquaculture, (raising aquatic animals such as snails, fish, crayfish or prawns in tanks), with hydroponics (cultivating plants in water). In a disaster situation, aquaponics could provide sustenance essential for an entire family's survival.
"You can eat the fish for fresh protein," said Mike, "and harvest the vegetables." Starting at a price of $500, the aquaponics system can be used to grow fish such as tilapia, perch, crappy, and white bass. The water from the large tank of fish is pumped up to a tank above that is filled with pea gravel, and the soiled water then fertilizes the plants — anything from tomatoes to squash, kale, and more — which cleans and aerates the water and recycles it down to the fish tank once again in a self-contained, continuous cycle. A portable greenhouse accessory can be installed over the plants and produce for higher yields. A person can actually raise bass and the other "game fish" as long as they are bought at a farm, and were farm-raised, explained Mike. "But if the game warden shows up, you better be able to produce that receipt," he joked. "Trout is not a good choice," said Mike, "because they're very finicky about water temperature and pH levels. Tilapia is one of the best choices. They're a very tough fish," he added with obvious respect. "They provide a mild but firm meat."
It's appropriate, a tough fish for tough people. Like the tilapia, the Marceaus and their customers are survivors. Ready to face whatever challenge comes their way in the future, they're prepared to not only survive, but potentially to thrive.
WNC Supply, Inc., in Whittier, NC, a prepper supply and survivalist store, is located on Hwy. 441 North just off Exit 74 on Hwy. 74. WNC Supply, Inc. is owned and operated by co-owners Mike and Jeanette Marceau, along with Tom Kelly. Visit them online at www.wncsupplyinc.com or contact the store at (828) 497-7755.
Next week: Battle Group Quartermaster offers survival tips and equipment for the “survivalist on the move.”