“Hard-core survivalists say I’m a complete poseur,” says Mike, who estimates he’s spent about $10,000 on his stockpile. “They give me flak for living in the city. True, I’m eight miles from one of the biggest targets in the country—but I’m not going to live in some podunk town. I like to go out to dinner and bars. I like my nice, soft, cushy life.”

According to Jim Rawles of SurvivalBlog.com, survivalism is growing at a rate not seen since the seventies, fueled by such obvious crises as the housing crash, the tanking economy, looming environmental disasters, and the spike in oil prices. All of these things have conspired to validate the preppers’ paranoid worldview, but, more than the supposed Y2K computer bugs or the post-September 11 terrorism panic, the catalyst was Hurricane Katrina. It was an unholy confluence of natural calamity, government failure, and ensuing human suffering, disorder, and anarchy.

“For me, the horrid government response to Katrina really struck home,” says Jason, a 34-year-old who runs SHTFblog.com, a survivalist website. “I don’t think the government is out to get me, but I do think it’ll be inept at delivering help should I and much of the nation need it during a time of disaster. Then there’s SARS, global warming, increased food and fuel costs ... Watch the evening news—why wouldn’t you prepare?”

Preppers don’t preach about the Rapture or hold up the end is near signs. They keep their identities under wraps, partly because they don’t want their neighbors and coworkers to think of them as better-dressed versions of Ted Kaczynski. “I don’t talk about it to a lot of people,” Mike says. “They make fun of you.” But preppers are also secretive because they don’t want a crowd at the door—waiting for handouts—when things do fall apart.

Jack Spirko, a 35-year-old media-company owner, lives in a subdivision outside Dallas, in a sprawling house with a home movie theater and two living rooms. He’s taken pains to make sure that none of his neighbors know he’s been vacuum-packing quail meat and stocking up on zucchini from his backyard garden for the past three years. “If you walked up to one of them and said, ‘Do you know Jack? Do you think he has six months of food in the house?’” he says, “they’d say no. We don’t wear camo. We don’t look like survivalists. We look normal.”

And if The Day After Tomorrow comes, preppers are going to maintain their ordinary, comfortable lives for as long as they can. Spirko, for one, always has around 20 pounds of Starbucks coffee on hand (“If I couldn’t have a cup of coffee in the morning, that would be my apocalypse,” he says, chuckling); grows jalapeños and tomatoes in his garden to make salsa, which he jars and stores in the fridge; and keeps his wine rack full with about 80 bottles of Argentine Malbecs and Chilean Cabernet-Merlot blends. This past summer, when grocery stores stopped selling tomatoes because of the salmonella scare, Spirko gave his away by the bagful. “Then when they thought jalapeños were the culprit,” he says, “I was making jalapeño slices with cheese and bacon.”