Building underground bomb shelters

If the extent of your preparedness for a nuclear blast or an electromagnetic pulse is total denial (“It’ll never happen”) and reliance on the government by default to take care of you, you had better think again.

If the unthinkable (SHTF) actually happens, the Office of Emergency Services (OES) will not be able to take care of you or your family.

They are the modern day version of the civil defense system. Their plan is to evacuate large cities, ship the city dwellers to smaller “host communities” and lodge them in local homes, presumably by force.

The plans for feeding, housing, and treating all these refugees are a mystery.

  • The government funding for these plans is tenuous if it even exists.
  • If you live in a large city and have no plan of your own, the plan is to ship you as a refugee to god-knows-where and feed you god-knows-how.
  • If you live in a small community, you may expect uninvited guests in your home, possibly at military gun-point.
  • If you don’t believe that, then go to your local courthouse and ask the Office of Emergency Services for the details on what they will actually do for you and your family after a nuclear strike.

When we called our local courthouse and asked for the OES Director, we discovered that he owns a paint store and apparently does OES work in his spare time.

When contacted, the paint store/OES gentleman was very courteous, but was not the depository of information that we had hoped for.

He told us that the OES plan in the aftermath of a nuclear strike is to basically relocate people from large cities to rural counties. When we asked how the government plans to house and feed these refugees, he referred us to the state office.

That conversation was over.

We then called the state Department of Emergency Management, as directed by the paint store/OES gentleman.

At the state level we were stonewalled with hesitant, vague answers and nebulous information.

We now realize that in all likelihood, our government has no organized or realistic evacuation plan for dealing with the survivors of a nuclear strike.

There is no plan.

But one thing is clear: you had better have your own self-sufficiency plan because if a nuclear attack occurs, you will be on your own for a while.

Factors to consider when building a bomb shelter

If you wish to prepare for the effects of a nuclear weapon detonation, you don’t necessarily have to build an elaborate concrete homemade underground shelters.

Under the right circumstances, a much simpler and more easily built structure might be all you need.

When determining what type of underground bomb shelter to build in order to deal with a nuclear explosion and/or its aftermath, you need to think about three things:

  1. Distance
  2. Time
  3. and shielding.

Distance matters

You will obviously want to be as far away from the explosion as possible. A fallout shelter should not be constructed too close to a potential nuclear exchange target, including major cities.

We personally would consider anything less than thirty miles too close, but some experts feel that a distance of ten to twenty miles is acceptable.

A site that would permit the shelter being built into the side of a hill would be strongly preferred. Avoid areas that are downwind (east, generally speaking) of major cities, because these areas will receive much heavier doses of radioactive fallout.

You need time to stay indoors until the danger of radiation has dropped to an acceptable level. That means you need to have enough supplies stocked to enable you to wait it out.

Blast vs fallout bomb shelter

To properly prepare for a nuclear weapon detonation, you will want either a blast shelter or a fallout shelter.

These are very different structures, designed to give different types and different levels of protection.

Blast shelter

A blast shelter is designed to survive the initial blast of a nearby nuclear explosion, along with the associated pressure, radiation, heat and fire hazards.

It requires special construction and a properly built blast shelter will be expensive. If you live close enough to a strategic target to need a blast shelter, perhaps you should consider moving.

One option is the pre-made and pre-molded fiberglass shelter.

homemade underground shelters This is basically a huge egg-shaped shelter which is shipped to you complete.

When it arrives, you bury the entire shelter in the ground and access it through a ground level hatch-type door, somewhat like the conning tower on a submarine.

The top few inches of the command station is the only visible part of the structure above ground.

The blast cell is covered by roughly eight feet of dirt, which provides radiation shielding.

The shelter’s ventilation system utilizes filters for radioactive fallout, biological and chemical agents, and other contaminants.

12-volt deep cycle batteries run the various life support systems, purportedly for one month without recharging.

The built-in water tank is said to contain enough water for over one month. Capacity is said to be up to ten people. Living space is advertised to be around 1337 cubic feet with 72-100 inches of head room.

Toilets, sink, shower, water filters, water pumps, storage compartments, lighting, etc. are all included.

One of the key advantages is the convenience, ease and speed of installation.

Excavate a hole before the shelter arrives. The blast cell is then lifted off the trailer and set in the hole. After leveling, the hole is backfilled, leaving only a few inches of the entrance hatch above ground.

Another advantage of the blast cell is having all the systems pre-built into the unit: water, sewer, electric, storage, ventilation, radiation protection, blast protection, chemical warfare protection, etc.

The cell has a connector port incorporated into the design which allows you to have an underground connecting tunnel to your house or to another blast cell.

Unfortunately, the disadvantages of a blast cell are difficult to overcome.

  1. Blast cells are very expensive.
  2. Reputable dealers and information are difficult to find.
  3. The shelter is not very roomy, and privacy is lacking.
  4. Backfilling and crushed rock placement must be done very carefully.
  5. Having only one entrance hatch could very well mean that the shelter will become your tomb if the door is blocked from above by a fallen tree or a parked vehicle.
  6. The hatch can be padlocked when the shelter is not in use, but that means it can also be padlocked while you are inside it.

Newer models of blast cells now come with an emergency escape hatch built into the side of the entranceway tube.

This escape hatch is basically a cover that can be removed from inside the shelter so that you can dig your way through several feet of dirt to the surface.

Newer models also come with a hydraulic jack under the hatch to prevent the access door from being blocked from above.

Another problem with this type of shelter is the vulnerability posed by the air intake vent. If someone were determined to flush you from the shelter, it would be relatively easy to pump noxious chemicals such as anhydrous ammonia or gasoline down the vent. The installed NBC filters can only handle so much.

Proper installation will hopefully prevent the shelter from floating to the surface after heavy rains raise the water table. This has actually happened to ready-made shelters countless times, most notably to those in Texas after the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Other options

Converting old fuel tanks into underground shelters is one option, and in the author’s opinion, a bad one.

Cutting into a used fuel tank with a cutting torch can get you blown up due to the ignition of residual fumes inside the tank.

That would solve your survival problems in a fraction of a second 🙂

A floor must be installed, and space is very limited. If backfilling is not done just right, the tank will settle and its shape will become distorted and dented.

Additionally, cleaning out a used fuel tank can be dreadful, and the residual smell of fuel can be difficult to remove entirely.

But opinions on this subject vary greatly.

One expert I consulted on this subject told me that he has cut doors into several old 1,000 gallon storage tanks without incident.

He favors old fuel tanks for underground shelters because they are “cheap and easy.” In his experience, these fuel tanks had no smell or dangerous fumes.

Steel culverts

steel culverts bomb sheltersAnother idea is to convert a steel culvert into an underground shelter, but this can be extremely expensive.

A steel culvert is not as prone to get dented because it is stronger, due to the corrugated ribs.

Backfilling still has to be done very carefully, but there is more room for error. A floor still has to be installed, and space is still limited.

A popular option is the concrete underground shelter. You can build it as large and as elaborate as your budget will allow. It can be roomy, sturdy, long-lasting, and gives top-notch protection.

If you can defeat the moisture problems associated with underground concrete structures, this is a great option. If not, you are going to have a dank, musty, depressing hole in the ground where most of your stuff gets ruined by moisture and/or humidity.

A concrete shelter requires steel reinforcement to support the concrete ceiling and the earth above it.

Size matters

The shelter must be big enough to accommodate the specific number of people who will be in it, along with all your supplies.

What will you do with family members and close friends who are knocking on the door once you are sealed inside?

You may ultimately have more people in your shelter than you think, so plan accordingly for extra space and extra provisions.

Your plan should generally allow about 20 square feet of floor space for each person, which includes enough space for food, water, supplies, and furnishings for that individual.