In the fall of 2013, Scott Stallings sat at a booth during Salt Lake’s inaugural FanX Comic Con. As people dressed like Wolverine, the Avengers and Trekkies anxiously awaited the arrival of Stan Lee, Lou Ferrigno and William Shatner, Stallings thought about preparedness.
“The idea popped into my head, why not make a fun, engaging, interactive event for preppers,” Stallings said in an interview with the Deseret News. “Why not do something like Comic Con, but with preparedness?”
Stallings, president and founder of PrepperCon, wanted an event that would engage a lot of different markets and encompass a wide range of information for people who were just beginning their food storage to those who were interested in wilderness survival.
“Preppers are not a term people really associate themselves with,” Stallings said. “TV kind of sensationalized it and made it that only crazy people are preppers, but the reality is that is not true. Traditional preppers are concerned about their family and community, first and foremost. I wanted to make that word mean something more than it did, and I wanted more people to resonate with that word.”
That was the beginning of PrepperCon. Stallings said he and his team worked hard to secure vendors and be ready for the launch in 2015. With the mission to “create prepared families, because prepared families create prepared communities,” according to the PrepperCon Facebook page, Stallings set out to make an event that taught “preparedness, sustainability, survival and self-reliance through awareness, education and entertainment.”
In April 2015, the first PrepperCon opened in Salt Lake City to a crowd of 11,800, nothing short of a miracle, according to Stalling. By 2016, the show had more than 180 vendors and sponsors who participated in the two-day event that included celebrity guests and a food cook-off.
Guest celebrities this year include Alan Kay and Nicole Apelian of the History Channel’s “Alone,” and Salvador Alvarenga, who survived 438 days at sea.
This year continues on the success of the past two years. There will be survival instructors and authors, vendors and more than 80 classes that cover the basics of response and readiness and classes that address concerns related to sanitation and food preparation and disease. A search and rescue dog team will be in attendance as well as a hurricane simulator and tsunami simulator. A new product that will launch at PrepperCon this year is a foam construction that is bulletproof and bomb resistant.
“We wanted to bring in things that would make people want to come and meet them and try to understand why this is important,” Stallings said.
He noted that some of the most highly overlooked items in emergency preparedness are first aid, water and a water filtration system. Stallings tries to push those at PrepperCon. Backup shelter, first aid and first aid training are also overlooked. Some first aid training will be included in the cost of the event.
Another returning event is the prepper fashion show, which Stallings said pokes fun of the apocalypse.
Annette "A.R." Shaw is an Idaho author who writes about post apocalyptic events and is a guest speaker at this year’s PrepperCon.
For Shaw, learning to can food is a skill she has passed down to her own children.
“It is just a tradition and way of life,” Shaw said. “These are survival skills. Just like you would teach them to drive, why not teach them how to dry food and put things away and make that a part of your life? You are giving them tools to survive as an adult, and they will draw on those things.”
In her writing, she emphasizes ways to enable people to survive. Although Shaw writes about mutating viruses and post apocalyptic events, she said those things are not impossible. A more common threat is weather.
“I think Mother Nature is our biggest concern,” Shaw said. “I think she wallops everything.”
Wendy Hooker of Bountiful knows well the powerful force of nature. As a mother of six, she has kept food storage but wondered if there was something more she should do. A couple of years ago, a huge windstorm downed power in her neighborhood and even though she was well prepared, Hooker said she wasn’t where she wanted to be.
Hooker has attended every year of PrepperCon. She said the first year she was like a kid in a candy store.
“PrepperCon was a great resource,” Hooker said. “It has everything in one spot.”
She likes that food storage items such as freeze-dried food, dehydrated food and MREs are available. Hooker said the demonstrations on cooking food are essential so people can know how to use their food storage with alternative heat sources. At PrepperCon, she learned about different ways to store water.
“If there is any type of disaster, you’ve got to be prepared,” Hooker said. “You can’t just sit there and hope that someone else can come through and save you and rescue you. You’ve go to be the one to provide for your own family and watch out for your own and if possible even your neighbors.”
Since attending PrepperCon, Hooker said her family has moved beyond food. She now focuses on heat sources and fire sources. To make preparedness fun for the children, the Hooker family has applied what they learned by going camping and learning how to use those heat and fire sources.
“Our job as parents is to not only raise our children and to teach them but to raise them to be independent, fully functioning, capable adults,” Hooker said. “This way I know that at least they can take care of themselves no matter what."
That is the take-away that Stallings hopes PrepperCon will provide.
“We don’t want anyone to be worried, that is why we created our event the way we did so we can get people empowered and excited about it so it is not scary,” Stallings said. “We want to focus on the bright side. It is not that hard to get through a tough situation if you have tools and knowledge and resources.
“We do PrepperCon because we feel there is a huge need for it and it needs be coming from a place of hope instead of fear. That’s why we created PrepperCon," he said. "We wanted to create a way to get prepared, to feel confidence about it and feel capable and not to have any fear associated with it.”
The 2017 PrepperCon will be Friday, April 21, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. and Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m.-8 p.m. at the South Towne Expo Center, 9575 South State in Sandy. Admission to PrepperCon ranges from $13 for a single day to $20 for both Friday and Saturday. The event is free for children ages 12 years and younger.
If you go ...
What: 2017 PrepperCon
When: Friday, April 21, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Saturday, April 22, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.
Where: South Towne Expo Center, 9575 South State, Sandy
How much: $13 (single day) $20 (both days)