Doomsday Castle star Brent Sr. recently sat down with Off The Grid News to discuss the new NatGeo series and his prepping background.
After spending some time chatting with Brent, any concerns I had about how seriously he took survival preparedness were completely alleviated. While the former Army officer would like for more of the educational portions of the show to have made it onto the screen, he hopes and believes that the new series will still help other preppers initiate the steps necessary to better protect themselves and their families. The Doomsday Castle dad clearly feels strongly about the importance of knowing how one will react when faced with either common hazards, such as a home break-in, or the civil unrest which would ultimately follow either a man-made or natural disaster on a nationwide scale. Before starring in NatGeo’s first spin-off, Brent Sr. and his clan were featured on the Doomsday Preppers series.
During the Doomsday Castle interview, Brent Sr.’s tone and demeanor reflected both the firmness and knowledge one would expect from a military man, but the tenderness of just a regular dad concerned about the lives of his children as well. Yes, the NatGeo reality show star did break one of the cardinal rules of prepping, OPSEC (operational security), but appears to feel the opportunity to educate others by sharing both his castle prepping successes and stumbles was worthy of a breech in protocol.
OTG: What prompted you to begin building the castle?
Brent Sr.: In the beginning, I had no intention to build a castle, I had only bunker in mind. In 1999, the Y2K scenario made me become concerned that if the threat was real, it [Y2K] would affect the power grid. I built a 37-foot by 52-foot by 12-foot bunker. I had a storage tank sandblasted into a mountain, and blast doors installed. Since no event occurred, I sat back for a while. A couple of years later, I decided I needed to do something, I considered building a chalet. After thinking the idea through, I decided that I absolutely did not want a wood structure, I wanted something which could not burn. I opted for stone or rock, which couldn’t catch fire, and a roof built out of a non-flammable like concrete – so a castle just came about as the most defendable structure possible. We expanded the existing bunker, which encompasses about two-thirds of the floor beneath the castle. From 2002 to around 2012, as long as I had money, I added more stone to castle. About four or five times block masons came, there was so much work involved with completing all the necessary block works, including filling it with concrete and steel.
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OTG: During a recent OTG Radio segment, Brian Brawdy and I discussed fire dangers in off the grid and disaster scenarios. It seems like you have taken such matters into consideration when planning the castle. What other fire-prepping related insight can you share with Off The Grid News readers?
Brent Sr.: Most preppers do not think of fire, when planning. They follow the all-important redundancy philosophy in every area except fire, it seems. In the Bible it says that fire will reign down from heaven. Whether or not fire will ever literally reign down, blazes sparked by a meteor or lightning storms will set trees on fire. A fire truck would never be able to reach our location in time to save a home built out of wood. The only wood at the castle is some furniture on the inside. We cut down a lot of pines; they catch fire easily and quickly. We also removed hardwoods near the home. Three years ago I went to both fire school and EMP school. We have tanks used to create positive air pressure inside the castle. There is enough air inside the bunker that the family can survive inside for about three days, giving us the time we need for a fire near the castle to subside. I have two EMP-proof trucks; one is fully equipped for firefighting. I have enough gas to get the trucks the 600 miles from Florida to the Carolinas – and back. I figure between my Army, fire and EMP training, and the equipment, I can get us to the castle if a disaster strikes.
OTG: Why did you choose the Carolinas as the site of your castle and not your home state of Florida?
Brent Sr.: I actually lived in a city in the Carolinas for about 25 years. We have a lake house near the castle. I have a month or two of supplies stocked in a bunker-style area at the lake house. The family can retreat to the lake house and survive with typical creature comforts and relocate to the castle if a full-blown civil unrest scenario warrants. A complete breakdown of society will not happen immediately. It will hit the cities first, and then spread into the suburbs, and then ultimately into the country. The family will spend time at the castle once it is done, doing training, and other things. We still have about three years of work to do until it is completely finished.
OTG: How did your children initially respond to the project?
Brent Sr.: I knew what their reaction was going to be. What we did as part of preppers, laid the groundwork for the Doomsday Castle experience. I deeded everything into family trust, and set up a life insurance policy to finish and sustain the property for 100 years. I gave each of the kids five weeks a year, they can trade, swap and use their private time here however they like. So, if I die I have two trustees, one in each set of kids, and my brother, who will follow the laid out plans and finish the castle. I have some more real estate they can sell if they need the extra money for the project. I have a will for personal things and cash I want to give to each child. I get a kick out of people when they make comments about the castle building they see on TV, like “he is so dumb” or “he doesn’t have this” when they watch, they will see all and hear about everything involved and related to the building of the castle.
OTG: The family behaves as any normal family would when crowded together for an extended period of time and forced to work in unison on a project. The early episodes of the Doomsday Castle depicts the trials and tribulations for both the kids and you as a father. Do love and a shared desire to complete the off grid home prevail by the end of the season?
Brent Sr.: Yes and no. You see the kids change and the overall, I guess, closeness and wanting to do things for me — to be proud, and that really shows in the series. Even until the very end, the last show, we had a terrible break out there. The next episode will really show the breakup of the family real life. They actually almost made me have a nervous breakdown. I tried to stop them from filming, but the deal is, they [NatGeo] can film whatever they want. We are not the Kardashians, we are totally unscripted, but man we would have topped them easily a few times, when things got heated a few times. Two more family members will join in episodes six and seven. Two haven’t talked for two years, and one still refused to talk. We did get things to open up a little, but they’re still not close — some bad blood I guess, that seems to happen.
OTG: Have you experienced any problems utilizing solar power in a hilly region?
Brent Sr.: It is very, very, sensitive to the position of the sun. I do not have a natural tracking system, which would be nice. You set something like this up and think you are getting all this sun, but without shifting it manually minus a tracking system, it becomes useless. Our solar pump is direct, so it has to have voltage for pump to run. If I had a battery bank there we wouldn’t have that type of stoppage problem. We are in the Blue Ridge Mountains, so yeah, I didn’t realize how sensitive positioning would be and the need for a battery bank. Since I have been unable to sustain full power over long periods of time, I am going to bolster the off grid power system with a windmill. We have a windmill but I am going to set up a much larger one and upgrade the system. We seem to have continuous strong winds here in the mountains, so utilizing wind along with solar is a good idea. If I was in Florida, it would be a different story.
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OTG: I read a rather scathing review of Doomsday Castle by an individual who had been featured on Doomsday Preppers. Can you clarify the security protections offered by the walls of the castle and how the tactical training progresses throughout the season?
Brent Sr.: Every one of the blocks at the castle is filled with concrete, no hollow courses at all. A .50 caliber will shatter a standard block, no doubt — but cannot go through filled block. There is also rebar all the way down and tied inside the sections of concrete filled bloc. I question anyone who says a castle is not the most fortified type of structure. I need a full scale military style attack to illustrate the functionality and changes from the ambushed already shown on the series. Viewers will be surprised at what happens in the third attack and how things change with the roof. The dynamics of the battle changed unbelievably. You can hold back a tremendously large number of attackers from a rooftop.
OTG: Doomsday Castle is truly a family show. You may be surprised to learn that children as young as 6 are already big fans. Brian Campbell, a little Southern Ohio boy is fascinated by the show, especially the battering ram Brent II and Dawn Marie built. As perhaps the most famous prepping dad in America, what advice would you give to parents about including their young children in their survival training and emergency preparedness plans?
Brent Sr.: [Chuckles] I will pass on the battery ram compliment, tell him to keep on prepping. The biggest thing to consider is most people have no real plan to sit down and hit upon the obvious things you can do to be prepared for daily issues, like a house break-in. Has your family really ever handled a fire, known what to do if approached when walking down the road, jumping in your car? All of which have a high percentage of actually happening. Unless Revelation comes true literally, most people don’t have to worry about storming a castle, there probably is something that’s going to happen, I’m just not sure from where. The point of the series is to show how easy it is to be overrun and have people take what you have. A little practice and taking some family time to plan will make a huge difference. Make it kind of fun, go out and get paint ball guns and things like that and do some activities with the family. My kids evolved from no military training, folks will see and take the castle story to their own home, their castle, and see how important spend time with kids. Go out in the woods, go camping, and do scenarios so no one freezes during an emergency. Coming up we will do some Israel training and it is really cool. The training shows you how to instantly react to something, you absolutely cannot freeze and expect to survive. If someone breaks into your house and people freeze, that’s how you die. The instant you are tied up – you’re dead, you can’t afford to let them get a hold of you. Tell every family to learn sign language, the basics, so you can talk without talking. When it comes to firearms training, an educated child is so much better off than one who isn’t. A child trained to respect a weapon and to know how to be around one safely will not pick one up and think it is a toy while at a friend’s house, that is when tragedy happens.
OTG: The series is designed to both entertain and educate. With the time constraints often associated with doing a TV show, a lot of the training and project building tasks footage is likely lost on the cutting room floor. What advice could you offer to other preppers who want to embark on a similar project, especially those with younger children?
Brent Sr.: If you take nothing home from the show but the entertainment part, you will watch my family as they progress naturally, because I put them through the scenarios to teach them what they need to know to survive. I see the need for everyone to devise a similar plan which is tailored to suit the own lives. Everyone thinks they know what they will do in an emergency situation, but they don’t. Some minor hand-to-hand combat, planning escape routes, learning how to read maps, and questions and answer sessions with the family will help prepare everyone in case of disaster. I tried to do things in a fun way, that is what made my kids want to do it – once I changed the plans from a bunker to castle. Families could perhaps build a treehouse as a part of get together, or an outpost, or listening post of some type, make that a family project.
OTG: You have already touched upon some of your advanced preparedness training outside of military experience. What else in your professional background have you relied upon in your prepping endeavors, and does a lack of OPSEC concern you?
Brent Sr.: I also have worked in both the engineering and construction industries. All of my experiences and training came to a pinnacle when television appearances were offered. What I have learned over all these years in application situations stem largely from the five companies started from scratch. I do not say that to brag, it is just where my life came and went, I have just been blessed to be able to do this now. I realize people watching the show or commenting wonder, “Why did he go on TV? True preppers don’t do that.” The guy next door you don’t know he is a prepper because he doesn’t want you to know. A lot of education was taken out of the show, but I think the message is still there all the same. The preparedness lessons from the show, the true message, are more valuable than the entertaining. The whole idea was to get the message that my family can learn things they didn’t think they could, and so can your family. In one upcoming episode I was trying to teach welding to one of my daughters. The lesson went on for four hours, I frustrated, wanted to quit — and she kept on. She did not give up, accomplished the task and now feels so proud. Each of the kids feels proud about what they learn in the end. As a family, when the chips are down, then that’s where it all ends up coming together – at the end. I created a real threat just to show them where they were skill wise. Viewers will see how they truly take all knowledge they have gained and put it to work. It was just like basic training, the kids did a lot of the same things. They went in untrained and came out like little machines ready to withstand the battle. I am really proud of them all.