6 Safe, Strong and Chic Bomb Shelters You Can Buy Now
The bomb shelter business is booming. At least that's the consensus of the men and women who design, construct and install underground sanctuaries. They attribute the growth in business to Kim Jong Il's erratic missile lobbing, the intransigent Iranian clerics hell-bent on getting nuclear weaponry, the impending total collapse of the global financial system, and the end of the world in 2012, as predicted by the Mayan Calendar.
"For whatever reason — and we're not totally sure ourselves — but business is incredible," Brian V. Camden, an engineer at high-end shelter builder Hardened Stuctures, says. "Twenty-twelve, the financial collapse: I just had to hire a new architect Tuesday. Right now we're doing a lot in Tennessee, Kentucky, Pennsylvania. All through Appalachia, it's people who share a similar mind-set."
"We get to do a lot in Texas, and a lot in New York too," says Sharon Packer, of Utah Shelter Systems, "because they've already had an event. We're having considerably more activity in the last six months. As one of those businesses that thrive on bad news — and the newspapers are full of real threats right now. People are becoming more savvy to those."
American preparedness and paranoia in the form of the bomb shelter dates back to the earliest days of the Cold War. A 1951 article from Popular Mechanics titled, "If the A-bombs Burst," detailed crucial steps for surviving the opening salvo of World War III, complete with a list of how to stock a shelter. The subsequent decade saw more of the same in PM's pages, with stories such as "Backyard Bomb Shelter," "Atomic Hideouts," and "You Can Build a Low-Cost Shelter Quickly."
According to industry experts, bomb-shelter tech has changed little in the five decades since World War II. Today's fallout-shelter offerings show that the industry standard is a far cry from the cheap-and-quick backyard bunker. Today, they're bigger, stronger and setting one off is guaranteed to leave a crater in your checking account. Here are six we'd like to hole up in until the fallout settles.
Fortified Home from Hardened Structures
It's just past midnight when a crazed agent of doom steps onto your lawn, pulls out his assault rifle and opens fire in the direction of your master bedroom. Fortunately, you spent $200 per square foot to have Brian Camden and the folks at Hardened Structures install a ballistic "Level 8" hardened exterior, capable of resisting a barrage of automatic weapon fire. "If someone stood in front of my house with an AK-47," Camden says, "you don't have any bullets coming in."
But the assault isn't over. The attacker starts hurling grenades at your house. To the bunker! As you descend into your fortified underground complex, explosions rip through the home. But you went all out, spending $600 per square foot to have your concrete cocoon built immediately. (Camden: "They have to have it now. They feel the threat event is imminent.") Also, you sprang for the concrete blast doors, so you're safe. Even if things get much worse, Hardened Structures bases the strength of all its bunker designs on a 10-kiloton improvised nuclear device.
Since 1991, Hardened Structures has catered to the extreme protection needs of the unbelievably wealthy. A recent bunker installation in the Adirondacks, built to house 100 occupants, cost its owner $90 million. But Camden remains low-key, even when his company is constructing multimillion-dollar, 10,000-square-foot survival compounds, which real estate investment groups are selling as doomsday condos.
"We're just architects and engineers," he says. "For us, it's just another construction project."
Ark Two Survival Community
If the end is nigh and you find yourself without a fallout shelter of your own, you might want to get yourself to Ontario. There, look up Bruce Beach, computer scientist, trained radiological scientific officer, and expert bomb-shelter builder.
Beach claims to have built "over two dozen shelters" in his lifetime, but Ark Two is undoubtedly his masterpiece. Forty-two stripped-out school buses provide the permanent form of the compound, over which Beach poured thousands of pounds of concrete. He then topped it off with 14 feet of Canadian soil, rendering Ark Two virtually impenetrable to anything short of a direct nuclear strike — an unlikely event in Horning Mill, Ontario.
Beach currently lives near the Ark Two, not in it. At least not yet. "It's a lifeboat," he says — a lifeboat with a library, a conference room, a laundry room, a kitchen, and separate day rooms and sleeping quarters for girls, boys, teens and adults. Beach plans to occupy his fortress, along with around 170 family, friends and others who helped build Ark Two, which has enough bed space and supplies for around 350 would-be repopulators. So how does one secure a berth on Beach's life raft? "Well, number one, you need to be here when it happens."
Converted Missile Silo from Hardened Structures
After the Cold War ended, the United States disarmed its vast arsenal of Atlas and Titan missile silos and shut down its secure radio bunkers. Canny survivalists with an eye for a good real estate deal saw an opportunity.
"Back in the '90s, you could just snap one of those up," Camden says. "For $250,000, you got the silo plus 10 acres of land."
Made to withstand the worst attack the Kremlin could hurl in this direction, the typical decommissioned silos and communication stations make for a relatively easily retrofitted underground refuge. The hole is already dug, and the superstructure is already built. All one needs to do is drop "a couple hundred thousand, depending on your needs," according to Camden, for upgrades to electrical systems, ventilation and filtration equipment.
Mini Blast Shelter from KI4U
There's little room for the penny-pinchers in the underground sheltering market, with construction estimates of up to $400 per square foot, and prefab shelters with $50,000 price tags. "That's why we came out with the Mini Blast Shelter," KI4U's Shane Connor says. "We came out with it so more people could actually see themselves in a shelter."
Essentially, the Mini Blast Shelter is nothing more than a 12-foot length of galvanized, corrugated road culvert — the same kind a utility uses to build drainage — with a pair of blast-proof entry and exit hatches welded to the top. It's easily the most affordable prefabricated shelter available. Ready to bury when you buy it, the Mini Blast Shelter requires just an afternoon's worth of backhoeing before it's underground and good to go.
The savings come at a cost, though, primarily in comfort. "It's cramped and it's uncomfortable," Connor says. "But when something nuclear happens, and it's inevitable, it's better than the alternative," he adds. "Sheltering is only essential for the first couple of days, and most people can hunker down for two or three days until the worst is past."
CAT25 and Earthcom Condo Dome Shelter Radius Engineering
Thirty-one years in the business has taught Walton McCarthy just about everything there is to know about preparing for the worst. McCarthy is the author of Principles of Protection: U.S. Handbook of Weapon Fundamentals and Shelter Engineering Design Standards, and his company, Radius Engineering, maintains the lion's share of the prefabricated shelter market. (He claims 99 percent, adding, "When it comes to manufacturing these, we are it.") Radius offers a diverse line of products. Customers can pick and choose from an assortment of shelter units, which can then be connected via tubing, like a giant, underground hamster playpen. All of Radius's units are impervious to radar observation. Built from fiberglass, the structures have no thermal or metallic signature. They're all "bright, light and dry," and are airtight, watertight, and bugtight, too, McCarthy says.
The CAT25, Radius's most popular model, can house up to 25 shelterists for as long as five months. The $320,000 CAT25 comes equipped with filtration systems built to handle nuclear, biological and chemical events, and has about 8 feet of head room. McCarthy says the CAT25 is selling like hot cakes in California, and adds that unnameable government entities are snapping them up as well. "The government is buying up all the shelters," McCarthy says. "We can't make enough."
And if you're in the market for something a little more extravagant, you can spring for the $420,000 Earthcom Dome. The 60 x 20-foot shelter can serve as a central atrium, linked to other Radius models, or it can be used as a sort of single-family underground shelter condo, complete with a shower, kitchen and living room. As bomb shelters go, this is the Four Seasons.
Utah Shelter Systems
If you're seriously shopping around for an underground shelter, you will eventually run into Sharon Packer.
Packer, current director of the American Civil Defense Association, has been building shelters since the mid-1980s. In 1998, she and partner Paul Seyfried started Utah Shelter Systems, a firm that builds blast-hardened steel shelters in nine standard sizes ranging from 8 x 32 feet to 10 x 50 feet. Packer says the advantage of the steel shelter, which is buried 8 to 10 feet below the ground, is that it has "all hazard" resilience. This means the shelters are built to withstand cataclysmic weather events, chemical or biological attacks, solar flares, electromagnetic pulses, nuclear explosions and fallout.
With a sticker price starting at $40,000, the shelter comes equipped with furniture-grade flooring, bunk beds, and all the essential wiring and filtration systems. Additional bunks cost $350, 4-foot storage shelves are the same, and a kitchen sink with an 8-foot counter is $1140. Packer says she even installs couches on occasion. "Some of them, they deck them out really nicely."
This should come as no surprise when you consider who's buying most of Packer's units. "I would say about 80 percent of our customers are either lawyers or physicians," Packer says. "These aren't survivalists running around in the woods. They're conservative bunches of people with their eyes open to threats. They understand deductive reasoning, and they're in the business of solving problems."