© Tom Spader / APP
Survivalist Tom Brown Jr. (right) and Waretown Tracker School instructor Carmen Carradino display some of the tools used in survival in the wilderness
Imagine the world you know ends tomorrow. Imagine electrical grids failing, supermarkets closing and the safety nets of modern civilization crumbling, leaving millions of Americans without food and drinkable water.
Though the idea seems extreme to most people, some are preparing for such a scenario. So called "preppers" or "survivalists" are amassing food, shelters and knowledge to withstand a world different from the one that exists today.
Even small-scale disasters can prove stressful if not disastrous, as tens of thousands of Monmouth County residents learned in July when a water pipe line collapsed, disrupting drinking water from the tap.
That's a scenario Jason Borrelli, a 2005 Point Pleasant Beach High School graduate, is prepared to face.
Borrelli and his fiancée have amassed a collection of water bottles so vast, the storage space under his queen-size bed is stuffed with the containers.
"I've stockpiled water like it's nobody's business," said Borrelli, 26.
The space under another queen-size bed in the couple's Florida home is completely filled with toiletries that they plan to barter for food and supplies, if needed. In addition, several closets in the couple's home store nonperishable food.
Though he fears a disease pandemic, economic collapse is most likely to cause the kind of catastrophic disaster he is preparing for, he said.
Such a collapse "is going to happen sooner or later," Borrelli believes.
A prepper is an "all-encompassing term that defines someone whether they prepare for a disaster or whether they're interested in sustainable living," said Tom Martin, founder of the American Preppers Network.
The network started as a social media website in 2009 with about 100 hits a day and has since grown about a million individual visitors a month, Martin said. Visitors there discuss concerns about recent events in the news, such as fires in the western United States, rising food prices, access to oil and economic instability, he said.
"Your typical prepper out there isn't prepping for the 2012 Mayan doomsday. I think that's kind of silly," Martin said.
In 2009, the movement involved three websites and only about 2,000 Google searches related to prepping, Martin said. Now, there are thousands of websites on the subject and millions of Google searches, he said.
Though American Preppers Network has about 20,000 registered users, Martin does not know how many self-described preppers exist in the world.
Claire Furber of Wayne is one of the many. The 53-year-old runs the Northern New Jersey Preparedness group, also known as "NJ Preppers."
Furber had her own awakening to the need for her family's preparedness when Tropical Storm Irene cut her home's electricity and flooded her basement.
The storm "is what changed my outlook on everything," she said. "We're not one of those crazy people who think the world is going to end tomorrow. ... We're more into just taking care of ourselves."
The group started in 2010, and Furber took the leadership position earlier this year. For the 183-member group, she helps organize lectures about canning and dehydrating food, gardening in small spaces and "bug outs," or short-term survival situations where backpacks carry supplies.
"It's almost like we're taking a step backwards to doing what our ancestors always did," said Furber. "They always prepared, and we've just gotten away from that too much."
Carmen Carradino, 25, has taken an even greater step back toward the existence of her ancestors, living a lifestyle in Waretown that would impress the most adamant survivalist.
Carradino lives with her husband in a mound of forest material supported on a skeleton of branches. The primitive enclosure serves as the couple's bedroom. A nearby wooden lean-to filled with jars holds their food and eating utensils: shells for spoons, wooden bowls, a brick over a small fireplace where they cook.
Another nearby wooden shed holds their supplies: boxes made of preserved animal hide, jars of homemade liquid medicines, hats and baskets woven from dried plants.
In her home in the Pine Barrens, Carradino said she would not be affected by a mass power outage, would be insulated from riots and be nearly impervious to the types of societal destruction that so many doomsday preppers fear.
"I love the freedom of it, and I love being in nature all of the time," she said. "You're just constantly interacting with the natural world."
School teaches skills
Carradino teaches at and helps care for Waretown's Tracker School, a school that teaches students from around the world a distinct set of ancient survival skills.
Led by master tracker and author Tom Brown Jr., 62, of Waretown, about 100 students gathered miles into the woods for lessons on curing animal hide, primitive cooking, shelter-building and hunting prey without the use of modern devices. It is here that the most serious of survivalists come to train for a world without frozen foods, factories and electricity.
Modern humans are "alien to their own environment. They don't belong. If something happens ... they're dead," Brown said.
The school "gives them insurance policy that no matter what happens, whether it's deep in the wilderness or in a city/suburban environment, they will survive," Brown said.
With the right knowledge, Brown said "no matter how bad it gets in the world, you pull that car off the side of the road, step off that bus or train, walk into the wilderness and never need another damn thing for the rest of your life. ... That's freedom."