Bomb Shelters Then and Now

By Suzanne Wiley published on in Camping & Survival

On October 6, 1961, President John F. Kennedy encouraged all Americans to prepare for nuclear war with the Soviet Union by building bomb shelters. He said, “A fallout shelter for everybody as rapidly as possible.” In the same year, the magazine, Popular Mechanics publishes plans made by the Office of Civil Defense on how to build your own bomb shelter. The government even encouraged Americans to buy radiation detectors. President Kennedy, also in 1961 asked Congress for $100 million to build public fallout shelters. To this day, during renovations and excavations of older buildings, construction crews are finding long-forgotten fallout shelters, still stocked with food and water.

Signs like these would let you know where public fallout shelters were located.

Signs like this would let you know the location of public fallout shelters.

Bomb shelters were not a new concept in 1961. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had a massive bunker built under the Greenbriar hotel in 1956. The bunker, big enough to house all of the Senate and House of Representatives, is still there. That year, the government paid for an extra wing built onto the Greenbriar to mask the giant undertaking of building such a large underground shelter. The History Channel has an excellent 10-minute spot on the bunker.

The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 made Americans even more afraid of nuclear war. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) helped educate the American public about nuclear attack. They recommended shelters made of concrete, in either the basement or right outside the home. The government recommended stockpiling the shelter for two weeks. However, two weeks is a long time to spend in a fallout shelter, where ventilation and waste disposal would be a necessity. Building a shelter with the proper ventilation and protection against fallout was very expense. Researchers now say that Americans were probably not building as many fallout shelters as we may have once believed.

Popular Mechanics build your own shelter plans.

Popular Mechanics build your own shelter plans.

Many people probably didn’t buy into the fear or just couldn’t afford to build one. When my father looks back at the bomb drills held at his school in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he gets a chuckle. They knew the Russians weren’t going to bomb Fort Smith, if they were going to bomb anywhere. Obviously, we know now that “duck and cover” isn’t going to help you out in the event of a nuclear bomb.

Modern bomb shelters are not generally made of concrete. The popular fear of what will happen during a disaster is no longer nuclear. Most people buying pre-made shelters and making them for themselves are preparing for economic collapse, EMP, CME, super volcano, or other natural disasters. reports that sales of pre-made and custom-made bunkers have increased 1,000 percent. There are even full underground communities in which you can purchase living quarters. Bunker makers are using steel, concrete-reinforced steel, or fiberglass to make modern-day disaster shelters.

One Dallas, Texas-based company, Deep Earth Bunker goes above and beyond FEMA regulations, conducting wind tests above MACH1 (600 miles per hour.) Deep Earth Bunkers is the focus of Discovery Channel’s television show, Doomsday Bunkers. I chatted with Dixon Troyer, Supervising Producer of the show about modern-day bunkers.

Dixon told me that the best protection against EMP is dirt. Deep Earth Bunkers can build a Faraday cage to protect electronics. Their bunkers offer 99 percent protection from whatever may befall in a disaster situation. The modern-day bunkers from Deep Earth Bunkers are so tough they can last over 100 years. Concrete fallout shelters from the past can decay and crack, making them useless against nuclear bomb, EMP, CME, and other weapons and disasters. However long you decide to stay down in your bunker depends on you. Store enough gas, food, and water and you can stay down there indefinitely.

To protect the identity of their clients, Scott Bales, the owner of Deep Earth Bunker does most of the digging himself. Identities and locations of the bunkers are completely secure, as Deep Earth Bunkers never contract out installation.

A Deep Earth Bunker with stairs.

A Deep Earth Bunker with stairs.

Deep Earth Bunker also has a radio show that discusses survival and preparedness issues. Tune in here.

Not only do we know more about how what happens after a nuclear attack, but also we have more sophisticated weapons. Cold War nuclear shelters, or even a modern tornado cellars cannot protect you from every possible scenario. Dixon told me that he likes to tell others to be prepared so that “You don’t have to shoot me and I don’t have to shoot you.” I think it is an excellent philosophy.

To read more about what to prepare for, read What Will Happen December 21, 2012.

To read more about how to survive a nuclear bomb, read How to Survive a Nuclear Bomb.


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Comments (1)

  • AvtomatiK


    No project is cooler than building a underground bunker. Loads of fun!


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