March 13, 2020 4:33 PM EDT

As the number of global coronavirus cases continues to rise, people across the country and the world are beginning to stock up on food, medicine and other supplies. While fears of the virus spread faster than the illness itself, products like cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer are disappearing from store shelves in some areas, especially those with known outbreaks. Some, sensing an economic opportunity, are even selling masks and other gear in the streets or online, often for inflated prices.

But there’s one group of people who need not rush to Target or Walmart to stock up: So-called “preppers,” or people who go to what many consider to be extreme lengths to prepare for emergencies. Whether they’re concerned about terrorist attacks, natural disasters or any number of other threats, preppers take comfort in having enough supplies on hand to weather a storm — or an outbreak.

“Prepping at its core is about self-reliance,” says Jane, the founder of a 5,000-member Reddit group called “PandemicPreps” who did not want to reveal their full name or location out of privacy concerns. “A prepper is a person who takes measures in advance to ensure the economic, physical and emotional well-being of their family during times of struggle.”

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Many of those outside the prepper community have long viewed preppers as overly paranoid, a sentiment perhaps amplified by shows like Doomsday Preppers, which turns their efforts into fodder for the rest of our entertainments. But in times of crisis, having plenty of supplies and food on hand starts to look far more rational. And, in fact, many of us could learn something from preppers — a 2017 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that nearly half of Americans don’t have even a basic emergency kit in their home.

Of course, some preppers go far beyond a simple emergency kit. Jason Charles, a firefighter who runs the YouTube channel The Angry Prepper, has a closet in his apartment dedicated to storing emergency rations and other equipment. Each of his family members even has a designated bug-out bag in case an immediate evacuation is required. “My supplies can get my family and I through a year and a half,” he says.

James Hobel, founder of the Mountain Survival School, says that situations like the coronavirus make it clear that it’s wise for people to keep some amount of emergency supplies on hand, and, vitally, have a plan in case things go awry. He’s particularly worried about urbanites, who he argues tend to be overly dependent on services that may be shut down in an emergency, or unsure of what to do if they’re forced to stay at home for long periods of time — during a mass quarantine, for instance.

“It’s nobody’s fault, but at the same time it’s everybody’s fault,” says Hobel, arguing that most people don’t have enough survival skills education. But that’s starting to change, he says. While his clientele usually includes people like outdoorsmen and women and hunters, an increasing number of families have been attending his survival training sessions.

“Not only are women calling me more than any other demographic, but families are showing up in droves,” says Hobel. “Families are calling me into the city in private meetings in their brownstones … to talk about ‘what do we do in the event of X.”

Kalaya’an Mendoza, a preparedness expert who conducts trainings through his organization Across Frontlines, says prepping isn’t about “hoarding resources.” Instead, he says, “it’s about assessing the probable risks and threats to yourself, your family and community, finding the vulnerabilities to your collective well being and identifying the capacities and resources you need to strengthen those areas of weakness.” To help amid the coronavirus crisis, Mendoza suggests getting in touch with family and community members who could be either more susceptible to the illness, or lack the ability or resources to stock up on essential items.

What should average people keep on hand in the case of emergencies like the coronavirus outbreak? The CDC recommends having at least one gallon of water per person per day, and a three-day supply of food that requires little or no cooking or refrigeration. It also recommends avoiding salty or spicy foods, as they may increase your need for drinking water. You’ll also have to keep that kit up to date — the CDC recommends replacing using or replacing your supplies every six months.

Please send any tips, leads, and stories to virus@time.com.

Write to Patrick Lucas Austin at patrick.austin@time.com.

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