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Economy & Business

Thanks To Coronavirus, Disaster 'Prepper' Business Is Booming

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Coronavirus has had alarm bells ringing in the public health community. And phones have been ringing, too, for businesses that specialize in disaster preparedness. Heath Druzin of Boise State Public Radio reports.

HEATH DRUZIN, BYLINE: Emergency Essentials specializes in helping others squirrel away survival necessities. But for the past week, they've been finding their own cupboards bare.

JOE RIECK: A majority of our items are kind of flying off the shelves right now due to the amount of people wanting to get emergency supplies because of the coronavirus.

DRUZIN: Joe Rieck is the Salt Lake City company's vice president of sales. Americans have been inundating so-called prepper companies with inquiries about dehydrated food, 72-hour survival packs and masks. Reliable numbers on the prepping industry are scarce. But in talking to five prepping specialists around the country, all but one reported a coronavirus-related bump.

It's no coincidence that many such businesses are in strongholds of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While many Americans may think of prepping as a fringe activity, the church encourages Mormons to be prepared to take care of themselves and help their neighbors.

WENDY MCKINNEY: So the basic needs that you have are water, salt, beans, wheat and milk. Those are the five.

DRUZIN: Wendy McKinney (ph) lives in Meridian, Idaho, and teaches disaster preparation. She's showing me around her purpose-built food storage room in her suburban home.

MCKINNEY: These are 44- to 45-pound buckets. We have a lot of wheat.

DRUZIN: Like many Latter-day Saints, McKinney grows her own vegetables and keeps 72-hour survival bags for each family member ready to go.

MCKINNEY: We've got the potato soup, which is actually enough for three different dinners.

DRUZIN: And something like the coronavirus, which has left millions of Chinese quarantined in their cities, is exactly the kind of emergency McKinney thinks about when planning for the worst.

MCKINNEY: I actually thought (laughter) of this scenario a while ago. I'm like - well, what if we are in a lockdown, you know, situation?

DRUZIN: John Ramey, founder of the prepper website theprepared.com says coronavirus has pushed record traffic to his site and piqued interest in prepping for many who hadn't previously considered it. He hopes that helps efforts like Wendy McKinney's become more mainstream.

JOHN RAMEY: We think it's just a responsible part of adulting.

DRUZIN: Whether that momentum continues until the next crisis is yet to be seen.

For NPR News, I'm Heath Druzin.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.