Survival kit searches surged. It was November 2012. Superstorm Sandy ravaged the Northeastern U.S. Then, U.S. President Barack Obama won reelection. 

A group of items often included in a survival kit.

Some celebrated Obama’s victory. Others started planning. A New York Times headline covering the election read, “Divided U.S. Gives Obama More Time.” 

Six days later, USA Today published an article titled, “For ‘preppers,’ every day could be doomsday.” The USA Today piece focused on how some “doomsday preppers” reacted to Obama’s reelection. “Preppers” are people planning for end-of-the-world scenarios.

The article included a quote from a “prepper” who posted on his website, “Several readers have written to ask me if I plan to stock up on more ammunition and magazines, now that the gun grabbers have further cemented their hold on Washington, D.C. My answer: No. I already have lots of ammunition and magazines.”

That “prepper” wasn’t alone. According to Google Trends, search interest in the U.S. for the phrase “survival kit” jumped. Interest in “survival kit” in Nov. and Dec. 2012 reached historic levels. See the line chart below.

Search interest for “survival kit” in the last two months of 2012 remains the highest ever. That’s according to Google’s data, which goes back to 2004. But now we have the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Will concern about the virus push searches for “survival kit” to new records? 

Looking at interest, not volume

It’s important to note that this article focuses on search interest for “survival kit,” not the total number of searches. Google Trends shows interest in people’s search activity. To do this, Google groups peoples’ searches into categories.

So, looking at the phrase “survival kit” on Google Trends may cover related keywords. One example may be “survival kits.” Google includes misspellings, such as “survivl kit,” as well.

One way Google Trends illustrates searches is through its “Interest over time” line chart. That’s what you see above. The graph uses a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the highest level of search interest.

Last month, “survival kit” earned a 37 on Google Trends for search interest. Going back to 2004, the average interest for “survival kit” in February is 41. So, interest in searching for survival kits in Feb. 2020 was below average. But that soon changed.

The last week of February saw a search interest spike. “Survival kit” averaged a search interest score of 30 for the first three weeks of February. But between Feb. 23-29, interest jumped to 60. 

Feb. 23 is when Italy announced an escalation in new coronavirus cases. On Feb. 24, President Donald Trump asked Congress for funds to help deal with the expected crisis. And the number of COVID-19 infections skyrocketed in Iran on Feb. 25. 

In other words, the last week of February is when COVID-19 became a global pandemic. And that’s when search interest for “survival kit” in the U.S. started climbing. After a one-week pause, it’s a trend that’s continuing.

The Day Survival Kit searches surged

There weren’t many news announcements about coronavirus in the first week of March. The only big U.S. news came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC lifted federal restrictions on testing for the virus on March 3. 

Based on Google Trends data, for March 1-10, 2020, Americans weren’t concerned. Search interest for “survival kit” averaged 47 in those ten days. That’s a little higher than the 37 daily average in February, but still, nothing too outlandish.

Even looking at terms such as “coronavirus” and “COVID-19,” you don’t see increased search activity. Combined, search interest for “coronavirus,” “COVID-19,” and “COVID19” averaged 18 between March 1-10. (Most searches are for “coronavirus,” not the name of the specific virus currently plaguing the planet, COVID-19.)

That changed when Trump addressed the country. In a nighttime speech from the Oval Office, the president spoke about the pandemic. He announced measures his administration was taking to keep Americans safe. (Trump misstated the details of many of the actions the government was taking.)

On March 11, 2020, coronavirus earned a Google Trends search interest score of 57. The next day, that number jumped to 98. The most recent data covers March 12-15. Over those four days, search interest for coronavirus averaged 92.

How about search interest in “survival kit?” Again, interest in that phrase averaged 47 the first ten days of March. It shot-up to 67 the day Trump spoke to the country, March 11. And then it leaped to 88 on March 12. Between March 12-15, search interest in “survival kit” averaged 85.

Looking at Google’s data, it’s clear that Americans awoke to the danger of coronavirus on March 11. And it doesn’t appear the president’s address calmed anyone’s nerves. Search interest in “survival kit” in the 48 hours after Trump spoke to the nation catapulted.

During those two days, search interest in “survival kit” reached levels we haven’t seen since Nov.-Dec. 2012. That’s when some prepared for “doomsday” after Barack Obama’s reelection. 

But it seems every day with this pandemic brings something new. And that may be the case with peoples’ interest in searching for survival kits. 

A milestone Survival Kit moment

As of this writing, Google Trends data is available through March 15. Search interest for “survival kit” spiked on March 12-13, averaging 94 out of 100. That changed, though, between March 14-15. 

On those days, the average search interest for the phrase “survival kit” dropped to 77. That’s still far higher than the monthly average of 47, going back to 2004. But it’s 17 points lower than the previous two-day average.

Looking at recent Google data, it’s clear we’re living in a milestone moment. Not since 2012 have people been as interested in survival kits. And interest is approaching Hurricane Katrina-like levels.

The search interest for “survival kit” during Hurricane Katrina was 83. Google currently projects interest in searching for that phrase in March at 72. If that holds, March 2020 will be a top ten-month for interest in searching for survival kits. And if this month’s search interest in “survival kit” gets above 73, it’ll crack the top five.

We don’t know what the future holds for the COVID-19 outbreak. Measures the U.S., state, and local governments took over the past few days may stem the pandemic. People may have less concern. So, interest in searching for keywords such as “survival kit” may drop.

Whatever happens going forward, though, March 12-15 represents a historic moment. Interest in survival kits surged. We’ll see in the coming days and weeks if that trend continues.

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