Braxton and Kara Southwick live in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, with their six kids. Braxton, a mechanic who prides himself on family values, once rode motorbikes professionally. He's also training his family to prepare for an attack of weaponized smallpox that he fears will bring the country to its knees.
LiveScience sat down with the Southwicks to hear more about why they are prepping for a doomsday event, and what possessed them to stockpile more than 2,000 pounds (907 kilograms) of flour, sugar and wheat, not to mention 14 guns and eight chickens, enough to support their family of eight for more than one year.
The Southwicks star in the second season of "Doomsday Preppers," a show on the National Geographic Channel that profiles extreme survivalists who believe the world as we know it may soon end. The show's first season was the highest-rated on the network at the time. The second season debuts Tuesday (Nov. 13) at 9 p.m.
LiveScience: How did you get started prepping?
Kara Southwick: It started as food storage and evolved from there. In case something happened, we [knew we] could take care of our family. Our goal was to have a one-year supply of food. From there, you start thinking about water.
Braxton Southwick: And a generator. And a reserve of fuel. And it went on and on.
KS: And a sun oven.
LiveScience: What made you get more extreme about it?
BS: I saw concerning world events happening, and I've always been a kind of doomsday guy. I don't think the world will end in 2012, but that wholeMayan thing got me into it more. [End of the World? Top Doomsday Fears]
LiveScience: Do you think the world is fundamentally different than before?
BS: Definitely. Just seeing the unrest in the entire Middle East. And seeing the financial collapse with Europe, and the U.S. following the same path. Our national debt was 17 trillion [dollars] at the beginning of the year. Everybody senses we're in uncharted territory. We didn't pay for these two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We put them on a credit card.
LiveScience: What are you most worried about happening?
BS: We prepare for every scenario, but I'm most worried about a biological terrorist attack — smallpox. For terrorists to get their hands on a nuclear weapon is almost impossible. But to get a biological agent is relatively easy, since Libya, Iraq and Iran were into biological warfare.
A biological weapon could kill as many people as a nuclear weapon. It also inflicts fear and panic, which is what they want in a terrorist attack.
KS: So America can't mobilize and fight back.
LiveScience: What would you do in the event of an attack like that?
BS: Retreat to our cabin in the woods, with all of our gear. We have protective gear for the whole family in the case of a smallpox attack.
LiveScience: How do people react when you tell them you're a "prepper?"
BS: They do this: [stares blankly]. They don't know whether I'm crazy or brilliant.
LiveScience: Which are you?
BS: A little bit of both. My wife thinks I'm crazy. I look at it like this: You have a savings account and hope to God you don't have to use it for a medical emergency. We're doing the same thing, but with food, and fuel, and the coal I buried in the backyard. And generators. That to us is money in the bank.
LiveScience: What if your fears are overblown and nothing apocalyptic happens? Would you view your prepping as a waste of time?
BS: Not at all. It's our little pet project. Some people collect China and trinkets. We collect food and other things. We'll use all our food and fuel eventually.
LiveScience: Do you feel the need or desire to get other people into prepping?
B: Definitely. We got our whole neighborhood into it, seven families. Almost all of them have a garden. They do food storage and some of the other activities we do.
KS: But not quite to the same level.
BS: Right. But if sh** does hit the fan, I'm kind of the leader. If you throw a scenario at me, I already have it planned out. I think about it almost every single day of my life. [The Gear You Need to Survive Doomsday]
K: You sound like a crazy person.
LiveScience: If something bad happened and the Earth was inhospitable to life, would you even want to survive?
KS: It's human nature to fight to survive.
LiveScience: When you come across other people in the prepping community who have wacky views — like a complete reversal of the magnetic poles — how do you relate to them?
BS: I think it's funny when they pick things that are corny and not really possible. The pole shift has happened before, but it's really [implausible]. It's all about preparing for everything. If you prepare for pole-shift, you're just as prepared for a hurricane, or an economic collapse or a nuclear weapon. [Believers In Mysterious Planet Nibiru Await Earth's End]
What they're prepared for might be kooky, but they're really prepared for a lot of "doomsday" scenarios.
KS: Friends think the smallpox thing is kooky.
LiveScience: Why did you do the show?
BS: Because I want people to learn something. Because I want everybody to be prepared.
KS: Everybody can start small, and build upon it.
LiveScience: What do you think about Hurricane Sandy?
BS: I hope everybody had at least a 72-hour survival kit in it, and a three-day supply of water. That would've really helped. Also, in my bug-out bag [a bag you take so you can survive for a few days "off the grid"], I have a foldout solar panel that can be used to charge a phone.
LiveScience: How do your kids feel about the prepping?
KS: The boys love it, because they love being outdoors.
BS: [My daughter] Jayden says she wants to find a husband who wants to prep. But I said, "Not for a few years, right? You're only 19."
LiveScience: Braxton, you seem to be more into this than Kara. Did it take some convincing to get her to agree to the show?
BS: Absolutely. It took a couple months. One time she saw me taking photographs of our food storage to send to National Geographic and screamed at me. I pretended I was just documenting it for fun and not because of the show.
KS: I didn't talk to him for about a month.
LiveScience: What made you relent?
KS: I relented because I thought we could teach people something. You only live once.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to correct a metric conversion.