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Shelter: Bunkers and Safe Rooms

Steel shipping containers can be re-purposed as sturdy resilient shelters.

Steel shipping containers can be re-purposed as sturdy resilient shelters. (View larger version)

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James Wesley Rawles, author of How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It, says that you need a shelter that is “in effect, a modern-day castle able to provide for its inhabitants and protect them from any outside danger.” To some preppers, that means building super-secure condos in the shaft of an abandoned missile silo, or spending up to $10 million to build a hardened underground redoubt such as the ones sold by the Dallas-based shelter developer Deep Earth Bunker.

Practical Preppers consultant Scott Hunt, however, worries that preppers are getting too deep into the fortress mentality. “I see people putting millions into bunkers, and not having enough money left over for food,” he explains.  Indeed, prepper commentator Cork Graham of Globalcounterterror.com argues that Cold War era bomb-shelter style bunkers easily could become deathtraps in the event of an armed attack. “If they have a smoke grenade, or better yet, a CS teargas grenade, they’re going to drop it down one of your many pipes that your engineer rightly told you you’d need to survive down in that large, concrete and steel rat trap,” he writes.

That doesn’t mean that a prepper dwelling shouldn’t be hardened to resist intruders, or to protect against extreme weather or other hazards. But Hunt cautions that security is a broad concept, and that the desire for sturdy walls and secure doors has to be balanced against other qualities that a prepper will need to survive and thrive in the long term. Here are some tips on building such a shelter.

  • Choose a Design and Materials That Suit Your Local Environment—And its Potential Dangers.  Hunt says there are a wide variety of blueprints to choose from. One consideration in picking a structure is what sort of potential threats you envision in your region. If you live in a place where powerful storms are a continual threat, for example, you may want to invest in a hurricane-resistant circular structure. Here’s a Popular Mechanics guide to the features that your shelter should have to protect against extreme weather. If you live in an area with soil that is between 50 and 75 percent sand, you may want to consider erecting an old-fashioned rammed-earth house, whose super-thick walls can keep your shelter cool in summer and warm in winter, and also will be highly fire-resistant. (Hunt says he’s interested in building one of those.) Here’s an article from Mother Earth News on how to build a rammed-earth structure. Whatever sort of structure you end up building, you may also want to invest in a metal roof, which Hunt says is best for capturing rainwater for purification and storage.
  • Consider a Repurposed Structure.  While some preppers are remodeling abandoned missile silos, Hunt says that steel shipping containers also can be modified to make sturdy, resilient shelters. If you’re after style points in addition to function, they look really cool in 1950s modernist kind of way, too. Here’s a Web Urbanist article on 30 steel shipping container home designs.
  • Make Sure Your Shelter is Hardened.  If you’re remodeling an old farmhouse to use as a shelter, for example, Rawles advises replacing all of the exterior doors with sturdy steel ones with steel door frames. If you’ve got a built-in garage, replace the door between the garage and the interior of the house with one that’s as tough as the exterior ones. Additionally, Rawles advises planting thorn bushes beneath windows, to make it more treacherous for invaders to get to them, and equipping the windows themselves with tough steel shutters that can be closed in the event of an emergency.
  • Put at Least Part of Your Structure Underground. The underground portion of your structure is a great place to put a root cellar and storage for your food. But it should also include a panic or safe room (which term you use depends upon your level of anxiety). Rawles says a safe room with reinforced walls, emergency supplies, communications gear, and a safe for weapons and valuables is a must. You also should have a door that opens inward, so that it occupants won’t be trapped by debris in the event of a tornado, hurricane or bomb blast.
  • Think of Your Shelter as a Castle Keep.  Remember those medieval castles consisted of both a keep—a central redoubt—and external fortifications that ideally would keep attackers from ever getting to the residents. Similarly, Hunt says that your shelter should be the last line of defense, not the first one. His colleague Scott Kobler advises setting up multiple layers of defense around your dwelling, including sentry posts on the perimeter, foxholes or smaller fortifications that community members can fight from behind, and barriers and obstacles that prevent attackers from getting quickly to your house. “If they get to your front door, you’ve already lost,” Hunt advises.

If You Only Do Three Things:

  • Make sure you’ve got sturdy steel doors and frames on your house.  Don’t forget the door from the garage to the interior, as well.
  • Have a basement safe room. Make sure that the door opens inward, so that in the event of a hurricane or explosion, you won’t be trapped by debris.
  • Remember that your shelter is the last refuge, not the first line of defense. You’re safest if intruders aren’t able to get close enough to hurt you. Barbed wire perimeters, sentry posts, fortifications inside your property, and obstacles planted on entry roads are essential.


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7 comments
Dianna Martin
Dianna Martin

does anyone know if you can put a bunker in the ground in Florida?

Dianna Martin
Dianna Martin

can you put a bunker in the ground in Florida ?

Gregory Faith
Gregory Faith

If you live in a large city, you may be doomed just because you live in a large city. When the roads are blocked by all the vehicles that got stranded there, your escape is now blocked. No one has a crystal ball to know right before it happens to bail. Best way to survive is to prepare for a "remain in place" strategy and stock up on all of the recommended essentials that you can afford to store up on. Be invisible to the our side world. Make little notice to others that you are in hiding. Do not cook out doors as this will bring on unwanted attention.

Janne Thiebaud
Janne Thiebaud

If you want to live, you will live ANYWHERE that is safe, even a hole in the ground.  It is time people woke up.  Preppers have been abused and ridiculed for decades as being doomsday weirdo's, but now they are the only one who ARE prepared.  They WILL NOT share their stuff with those who are not ready, who have refused to accept the realities that are America today under Obama.  I believe we are down to months before TEOTWAWKI will change horribly and permanently.  STUDY this if you are unaware of what is happening, and get the hell OUT of the big cities.

G.M. Malvale
G.M. Malvale

Females don't live in shipping containers.  If you plan to have one with you, best to build a strong custom home or even a small guest house before the apocalypse. 

Michelle Isasi
Michelle Isasi

@G.M. Malvale Hey!  Some of us females are extremely practical and can do whatever we need to do to survive.  In our case, my husband would be the one who couldn't stand to rough it.  I would be fine!

John Myers
John Myers

@G.M. Malvale I bet the accommodations will be just fine when the "SHTF" and they are looking for security!