05/31/2011 01:49 pm ET | Updated Jul 31, 2011

Seeing the World Through "Apocalypse Eyes"

So you survived the second coming.

As we embark on this post-Rapture era, don't you dare breathe a sigh of relief before hearing what Neil Strauss has to say. He has been worrying about the survival of the human race, well, actually his own survival, in particular, for the last decade.

Strauss struggled to understand how a general national complacency could prevail even after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina underscored how shockingly vulnerable we are to both natural and manmade acts of devastation. Softened as we are by the lull of technology and modern conveniences, we are dangerously unaware of the role we must each play in our own survival. Strauss' response: he learned to live in the wild with nothing but a knife, raised a goat to make his own cheese and yogurt, and trained as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). It took him eight years, but he got himself a second citizenship in a small island republic where he can legally escape and safely reside should life as we know it here become unsustainable. When it comes to doomsday scenarios he has a lot more useful information than Harold Camping ever will. As he explains in Emergency: This Book Will Save Your Life, it's time we take matters into our own hands.

"Our society, which seems so sturdily built out of concrete and custom is just a temporary resting place... that's how the world looks through apocalypse eyes. You start filling in the blanks between a thriving city and a devastated one... and whether you and the people you love could escape... I want to be the one who gets away. The winner of the survival lottery."


CS: What snapped you out of your complacency and made you question your personal security?

NS: I came up in a world in the 80s where everything was booming. We were creating a global village where all the fundamentals of life are taken care of for you. The first wake up call was a post 9-11 disillusionment with what we are taught in school about what it means to be American [realizing] we are not invulnerable. Then there was also starting to see that the constitution and the civil liberties we have are flexible -- they are not givens.

The final straw was Katrina and here's where the last vestige of American illusion dissolved. Here was something we knew happening ahead of time and [yet] we still see bodies floating down the street in an American city.

This was never supposed to be book, by the way. It was personal. It wasn't until the economy started collapsing that people started to feel worried and see a need [for this information].

CS: In fact you do focus on the idea of economic security as disaster preparedness. Explain.

NS: Ultimately the lesson is that it really is about peace of mind and feeling like you have a backup plan. My dad always said to expect the best but prepare for the worst. Once all these things happened every side of what I took for granted, I realized it was a privilege, not a right. What surprised me the most was when I researched this book, I went to the fringes -- the hardcore survivalists, the off-the-grid guys, but when I went to the center I found the government saying the same things. That's when I knew I had something. Now the government is telling us if you call 911 we might not be able to answer your call. We assume bank machines will always work, but if lose electricity, you have no cash. The book comes from not wanting to have dependencies.

CS: We have to expect we will be on our own with scarce resources and reduced staffing for emergency responders.

NS: Whether the danger is your own government, a terrorist from another country or a natural disaster or even an economic disaster, the preparation is pretty much the same. A strange thing I found is there is no specific culture teaching me what I was looking for because each has a focus. For example what I call the PT world [permanent travel] -- people who try to get second passports, have their money in different currencies and precious metals, tax avoidance schemers -- and that's one piece, but you could get caught at the border anyways; and the survivalists with all those lists to stockpile, but what if you can't get everything; and the naturalists are not realistic either because we are in cities and you are limiting yourself. It's that each is a subset of skills you need, so it's not practical. Just like martial arts are not made for the street.

CS: So where do you fall in all this?

NS: My guiding principle is to do all this stuff without having to compromise your lifestyle due to fear. If anything adds to your life rather than taking away from it, it is good. I'm still living in LA, not Utah. I have these skills I learned but I use them to help the community. I'm not just hoarding a stockpile. I still stay active in search and rescue. Skills are the most important [defense]. How are you going to get water? How will you stay calm in emergency situations? You have to expose yourself.

CS: Did you go too far?

NS: I didn't go far enough. I really would have loved another year to keep doing this.

CS: What more did you want to do?

NS: (checking the list he keeps on his iPhone) Pain endurance training, motor repairs, I want to get a gyrocopter license, shooting rifles and shotguns, a performance driving course, hazmat classes. I still need to get better at baking bread, making beef jerky, and gardening. There's tactical tracking and ham radio -- there's still a lot to learn.

CS: Of all the training you did get, what makes you feel the safest?

NS: As an EMT [you know] If something happens you can do something about it you become a part of the solution.

CS: Why do you think that Americans, even after Katrina and 9/11, are not more prepared? According to a recent FEMA study less than 23% of Americans have taken what they deem the necessary measures of preparedness and the number one reason why is that most Americans think emergency responders will be available to help them.

NS: There are also people I talked to that fear that by preparing they will make bad things manifest, like in The Secret.

CS: Meanwhile the most likely disaster scenarios here in LA besides earthquakes actually involve chemical and biological warfare, but I've barely met anyone prepared for that.

NS: That's my biggest worry. That's why I got that passport.

Robert Downey, Jr. is someone who takes Strauss' words to heart. In fact he is slated to play Strauss in the movie adaptation of Emergency, which he will also produce.