- Associated Press - Sunday, April 12, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - With a zombie apocalypse costume contest as one of the main events, a new “preppers” expo is hoping to gain nationwide traction by holding its inaugural show in one of the meccas for survivalists: Utah.

The PrepperCon expo is scheduled for April 24-25 in the Salt Lake City suburb of Sandy. Inspired by the success of Comic Con shows, the organizers are dialing up the entertainment element in hopes of enticing a younger crowd that may not yet be rooted in food storage and other tactics used by survivalists.

“It’s kind of a geek-out event for prepping,” said Scott Stallings, one of the show’s founders.

Stallings, who lives in Utah and is Mormon, said the state was an easy choice for the first expo because of the connection of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ culture to food storage and emphasis on self-reliance.

“The entire culture started with the idea of prepping,” Stallings.

Storing away enough food and water in case of disaster, job loss or something worse is part of the fundamental teachings of the LDS, based in Salt Lake City. An estimated two-thirds of the state’s 2.9 million residents belong to the faith.

The Mormon emphasis on self-reliance dates back to the mid-1800s when food storage began as a pragmatic way to ensure survival as church members trekked across the country.

More recently, the focus on food storage has shifted back to practical realities such as job loss.

The business of food storage and survivalist gear is big in Utah, too, with a large majority of food storage companies that do Internet sales based in the state. Terms once used only by Mormons, such as 72-hour kit, are mainstream.

The new expo’s promotional materials feature a bold motto: “Prepare. Protect. Survive. Thrive” and promises to have something for the novice prepper as well as doomsday prepper.

But rather than feature only serious workshops and presentations, Stallings said organizers want to make it fun by tapping into the fascination with zombies and the apocalypse, featured in movies and shows, including the AMC hit show, “The Walking Dead.” Two of the show’s actors from season one are scheduled to be at the expo: Theo Crane and Addy Miller.

“In the prepping industry, we look at zombies as a metaphor,” Stallings said. “Anyone that’s coming to take away your stuff, your safety, inflict harm on your family.”

They are hoping to get as many as 7,000 attendees, and are aiming to put on shows in 20 different locations around the country in the first three years.

Stallings said he first got the survivalist bug as a child when he read the book, “My Side of the Mountain.” After his mother rejected his plan to live alone in the wilderness, he became active in Boy Scouts and learned all about survival techniques and first aid.

Stallings, who now makes a living in real estate in Murray, Utah, said he and his fellow founders have poured their savings into creating a show they hope will help others learn how to avoid being caught unprepared if a family member loses a job or natural disaster strikes.

“PrepperCon started because everyone kept asking me, ‘When something happens can I come to your house?’” Stallings said. “My answer is no. I don’t have enough stuff to take care of everybody. But I can help you.”

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