Investing in the End of the World: Cash-Flush Preppers Try to Up Their Odds of Disaster Survival

Aviva Drescher (Michael Rosenthal/Bravo)

Aviva Drescher (Michael Rosenthal/Bravo)

Aviva Drescher’s first child was only 1 month old when the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11. The Real Housewives of New York City star—a lifetime New Yorker—watched the events unfold with horror.

“I just wanted to protect my young,” she told The New York Observer, adding that her anxieties soon expanded. What about biological warfare? If terrorists could kill thousands of people with a couple of box cutters, what would happen if the Ebola virus was dropped in Central Park?

She began preparing for the worst.

“I bought body gear, really expensive body gear, like the kind used by the Army. I went online and researched gas masks. I bought a gas tent for my baby. I was so crazy that when I took my baby out, I would keep a gas mask in the stroller. I stocked up on Cipro,” she said. (Cipro is used to treat people exposed to anthrax.) “I bought a bunch of giant rafts to go down the East River. Though I know,” she sighed, “all the big shots will probably have private planes and helicopters.”

Arguably, Ms. Drescher and her husband Reid Drescher, president and CEO of the investment firm Spencer Clarke LLC, are big shots. So much so, in fact, that when Ms. Drescher revealed her “prepping” habits on camera, it created a pop culture paradox, a confluence of zeitgeists.

Thanks to shows like National Geographic’s Doomsday Preppers, a cultural archetype of the new survivalist has emerged: bearded men and their sons living in the backwoods, Deliverance-style. So to discover a “prepper” among the rich, white women of New York’s titular reality show was unsettlingly out of place. It was so … uncouth.

But maybe not unreasonable. With 9/11 seared into the city’s emotional memory, the recent devastation of Superstorm Sandy and the alarming updates about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities, one would have to already be living in a soundproof cave to ignore the warning sirens.

And yet, during last fall’s Sandy madness, a shocking number of New York’s well-to-do insisted on staying put, not wanting to acknowledge even the briefest disruption of their luxurious lifestyles. Tinsley Mortimer embodied this attitude as she weathered the storm on the Upper East Side by going to her friend’s apartment … in the same building. “We just hung out in her [apartment] with our dogs and made pasta and ate Halloween candy,” she said.

It’s hard to believe this is willful ignorance. After all, should society collapse, it’s the upper crust that has the most to lose (we all saw Bane playing Robespierre in the latest Batman film). Perhaps it’s more of a coping mechanism, because when it’s time to “get out of dodge,” money may not equal survival.

Whether money plus prepping equals survival, however, is an entirely different story.

Raised upstate, Milo (not his real name) is a 45-year-old boutique equities trader who believes the onus is on the individual to protect himself and his family. “What became clear to me is that being prepared for the unexpected is the best position you can be in,” said Milo, who received his first firearm when he was 13.

After witnessing the riots in L.A. in the 1990s and the blackout of 2003 in New York, Milo realized that even non-apocalyptic scenarios could turn a city upside down. “You saw it happen with Sandy downtown. The police weren’t able to get to people. People had to leave their doors unlocked so their neighbors could get in, and there would be ransacking of apartments in groups of five, six, seven,” he said. “Hell, I’d be pretty scared if I was down there.”

Of course he would never be down there. Like Ms. Drescher, Milo is ready for the worst—with his go bag, which is fully stocked.

Water, water purification tablets, a pretty extensive First Aid kit, a lighter, lighter fluid, matches and a flint stone, just in case,” he said. “Condoms, a flashlight, a lantern, extra batteries, emergency blankets, a change of clothes, MREs [Meals Ready to Eat], $5,000 cash, mostly kept in 10s or 20s, a combat knife, a Taser and fishing equipment.

“Nothing too crazy,” he added.

He also has a foot locker at his uncle’s place in the Hamptons (which is also where Ms. Drescher intends to go in an emergency), filled with more money, supplies and guns.

As for transportation, Milo says he has a plan to buy his way off the island if the bridges and tunnels are blocked. “There’d be somebody [down by the docks] that I knew to take us away from the city,” he told The Observer.

“We have A and B plans; we have plans if something happens on the East Side or the Upper West Side,” said Milo, who has had the family perform dry runs of his escape plans and pays extra to keep his car on the ground floor of his garage. “The most important thing is to stay together as a family, that we aren’t just running around panicking.”

Investing in the End of the World: Cash-Flush Preppers Try to Up Their Odds of Disaster Survival