SAN DIEGO — Six months ago, Jim Wiseman didn't even have a spare nutrition bar in his kitchen cabinet.
Now, the 54-year-old businessman and father of five has a backup generator, a water filter, a grain mill and a 4-foot-tall pile of emergency food tucked in his home in the expensive San Diego suburb of La Jolla.
Wiseman isn't alone. Emergency-supply retailers and military-surplus stores nationwide have seen business boom in the past few months as an increasing number of Americans spooked by the economy rush to stock up on gear that was once the domain of hard-core survivalists.
These people snapping up everything from water-purification tablets to thermal blankets shatter the survivalist stereotype: They are mostly urban professionals with mortgages, SUVs, solid jobs and a twinge of embarrassment about their newfound hobby.
From teachers to real-estate agents, these budding emergency gurus say the dismal economy has made them prepare for financial collapse as if it were an oncoming Category 5 hurricane. They worry about rampant inflation, runs on banks, bare grocery shelves and widespread power failures that could make taps run dry.
For Wiseman, a fire-protection contractor, that's meant spending roughly $20,000 since September on survival gear — and trying to persuade others to do the same.
"The UPS guy drops things off and he sees my 4-by-8-by-6-foot pile of food and I say 'What are you doing to prepare, buddy?' " he said. "Because there won't be a thing left on any shelf of any supermarket in the country if people's confidence wavers."
The surge in interest in emergency stockpiling has been a bonanza for camping-supply companies and military-surplus vendors, some of whom report sales spikes of up to 50 percent. These companies usually cater to people preparing for earthquakes or hurricanes, but informal customer surveys now indicate the bump is from first-time shoppers who cite financial, not natural, disaster as their primary concern, they say.
Top sellers include 55-gallon water jugs, waterproof containers, freeze-dried foods, water filters, water-purification tablets, glow sticks, lamp oil, thermal blankets, dust masks, first-aid kits and inexpensive tents.