War, religious fervor, and technology have all given rise to numerous end-of-days predictions —there were more than a dozen in the last decade alone. Even though humanity presses on, enterprising souls like Brent Bruns of National Geographic Channel’s new series Doomsday Castle (which premieres tomorrow at 10/9c) have taken it upon themselves to prepare for the worst. See, Brent decided to build a castle to protect himself and his five kids from imminent oblivion. You read that correctly: a castle. I sat down with Brent to ask what he thinks will cause the end of the world, and what it’ll take to survive.
Brent Bruns doesn’t quite match the stereotypical profile of a doomsday heralder. He’s neither a religious fundamentalist nor a conspiracy theorist. While his beliefs are, he admits, unorthodox, he does his level best to ground his vision of the future in reality. As a former Army Infantry Training officer with a background in engineering, he believes that an EMP (an electromagnetic pulse caused by either a nuclear detonation in the atmosphere or a solar flare) is the most likely cause of a countrywide disaster.
“I have to look at the worst-case scenario,” Brent said, “and it falls into just one category: an EMP. You lose all communication through cell phones; you lose everything that operates on electricity. Whatever takes the grid down is the real doomsday scenario that a person has to prepare for.”
According to Brent, the end of the world as we know it doesn’t have to entail widespread destruction like that caused by a major earthquake or tsunami. There's infrastructure in place to deploy relief efforts. But if you knock out the infrastructure that everyone, including the relief efforts, relies on, you get chaos.
“The key is not to try to wipe out the United States,” he said. “The key is to try to cause mass chaos in the United States, and we destroy ourselves from the inside out. All we need to cause chaos and take down the system is to take down half...a third...a fourth of the United States’ trucking systems. We live on the trucking systems. Imagine if [that] went down.”
Yes, imagine living without food, oil for heat, and Amazon deliveries.
In Brent's worldview, time is running out before the unthinkable happens. “I believe there are 48 known Russian warheads that are missing,” he said, “but even if it’s not that, it’s just a matter of time before Korea and Iran put something together.”
So, when considering how chaotic it could get out there, it’s important to change how you think about resources and what your family needs, and create a plan for how to get by. Brent calls this philosophy of life “Timeline Survival,” a kind of doomsday mindfulness that entails starting with enough resources to stay alive for a week or more. Then, you improve your skills so you can scale up and sustain yourself indefinitely.
“You start after ten days,” he explained. “Everybody can live for ten days with whatever they have in the house. You’ll find enough water, you’ll end up ok. So [then] forget ten days — [do] two weeks. One month. Two months. Three months. Six months. Aim for one year. And you can only work with what you have. If you only make $30,000 a year, that's all you can work with.”
Brent started doing this in the fall of 1999 — in the middle of Y2K fever — by building a bunker that would keep himself and his children safe should the grid go down, complete with provisions to last two years. Even though Y2K came and went, Brent kept the bunker. Four years later, he saw fit to expand on it by building a castle strong enough to protect against the elements and withstand firepower short of a bazooka or grenade blast.
According to Brent, should an EMP knock out power across the country, major metropolitan areas will be hit the hardest. The problems in urban centers are two-fold; they are most reliant on infrastructure and food chains and they have the least amount of space. Long story short: get the hell out of Dodge.
“If you put a scud missile…on a tanker or a large fishing boat, and put one around Sacramento out in international waters…one around Long Beach, one around L.A., one around Mexico, one around New York, and one around Savannah, [those blasts] would cause not only physical damage, they would destroy the whole magnetic field, and every [micro]chip with it.”
Big cities would feel the brunt of those blasts, and would be crippled for years thereafter.
As he explains, “[When] you have to control a large community of people that don’t have any food – the bottom line is that if the food chain stops. How do you organize something? There will be a lot of people who live on their own, people who live out in the country, like me, who grow their own food — but the fear is really in the larger city areas. I’m not sure what’s going to happen there. They’re probably going to have to work with the suburbs because there will be mass chaos in a place like New York, or any of your major cities.”
Clearing out and heading to the country (where you can start your own castle) is advisable. You’re gonna be out there for awhile.
Brent settled on a castle because it has inherent value as a fortified home to keep out the apocalypse. But it also helps bring his family together.
As he got started, “I thought that the parapets of a castle serve many purposes. Someone could hide behind them, and be as protected as you can be in any structure. I used split block, which is actually a concrete block. The parapets are actually twelve inches thick. If the end of the world as we know it happened, it would be the best defensive structure I could have.”
The castle is incomplete, and still needs protective fortifications – like a working catapult. That’s why he brought his children up to help. It’s their job to not only finish what their father started, but to also maintain his legacy. That means making mistakes and butting heads, but he believes it’s worth it.
“The key to this is redundant systems,” he said. “I always tell my kids: if this fails, you’ve gotta have a backup system; if that fails, you’ve gotta have a backup system. Sometimes I think something’s going to work...and the kids come up with a better way. I have to learn. And I'm ex-military, [so] that's hard!”
“I’ve never had five kids living 24/7 in a bunker. So, somebody doesn’t like this, or somebody doesn’t like that, or somebody takes somebody else’s clothes…it’s awful. I have to rethink everything I ever thought about raising a family because it’s totally different. My kids started out thinking it was crazy as hell, but being up here, they’ve gotten so wrapped up in it. This is one of the best life experiences they’ve ever had. We all have something to go back to.”
Brent went on to explain that it’s relatively easy to start a secret garden of your own. “You should look up Secret Garden of Survival written by Rick Austin. It tells you how you can build…what they call a ‘permaculture garden.’”
Permaculture is a form of environmental design that involves making use of the natural ecosystem to model a functional agricultural system around it. In short, a corner of forest can be used to grow basic annual crops.
“Permaculture means that you plant it once, you don’t fertilize it, and you don’t use any insecticides. Basically, you’re using the nitrogen produced by a fruit or nut tree and planting around it. And the plants you use are specific to what you’re trying to achieve. These are your perennials…your tomatoes and carrots and all that.”
Keeping extra seeds helps. “I carry about 40,000 heirloom seeds,” Brent said. “I’ve just started gardening and I’m not a farmer, but I’ve got enough that I think I can make it.”
Thanks to Brent Bruns for taking the time to sit down and bear my questions. Be sure to watch Doomsday Castle tomorrow at 10/9c only on National Geographic Channel.
Kwame Opam is a tech writer and content producer for Studio@Gawker.