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Imagine this: You’re lying in bed in the early evening, dusk ushering in the night sky, and out the window you notice a bright flash, as if the sun fell to earth. A mushroom cloud emerges from behind a shadowy canopy of trees, and you have mere seconds to react before radiation and fallout hits you. Less than five feet away, inside the closet, there’s a trap door hatch hidden underneath an old woven rug. As you descend the stairs, you find yourself in a bunker, outfitted with a dining area, an entertainment center, a sleeping room, a 55-gallon water tank, a toilet, canned food, and an air-filtration system. This is your new home, at least for the next 28 days.
Once reserved for the ultra-wealthy and conspiracy theorists, nuclear bunkers are now becoming the coveted “secret” purchase for the middle to upper middle class in the United States. People aren’t buying these bunkers for an off-site location either; they’re buying them as a separate underground space for inside the home.
One of the biggest purveyors of nuclear shelters in the country, Ron Hubbard, owner and creator of Atlas Survival Shelters, has seen a drastic rise in sales over the last few years. “The new hot item on the housing market right now is the bomb shelters,” says Hubbard. “These shelters will be commonplace in probably 30% of homes within four years.”
There are currently four countries in the world that require a bunker to be built inside each home: Switzerland, Israel, Finland, and most recently, Singapore. Hubbard says he’s just bringing what was already in-style in these countries over to America.
Hubbard describes them as a “multi-functional space” for the home, and not just a fortified panic room. “Men, even women and kids, we all like tree houses and forts. So climbing down a staircase into a bunker — it’s just fun to be in there,” says Hubbard.
But surely people aren’t just buying up the shelters because they’re fun. So why the rise in popularity? Hubbard says the steady growth in sales over the past three years is attributed to fear: the threat of ISIS, the overarching instability of President Trump, and the looming threat of a nuclear war with North Korea.
“The world keeps getting more dangerous. We’re actually numb now to watching the news and seeing a van ride through a crowd and killing 30 people. You know how long it lasts now on the news? Just that evening. They don’t even talk about it the next day,” he says.
And it’s not just the threat of ISIS that has fueled the bunker’s appeal, it’s also our current political climate and relationship with North Korea: “There’s a 33-year old dictator as a leader who would kill anybody on one end,” Hubbard says, referring to Kim Jong Un, “and then you have Donald Trump on the other end. Both of them have big egos, so if one of them makes the wrong move, the other one is going to act.”
This climate of fear in a new age of anxiety has effectively changed the way we live inside our homes, while redefining what would normally be reserved as “luxury” amenities or even paranoid frivolities. “No one is talking about boots on the ground, no one is talking about doing an invasion. It’s either a nuclear war or nothing. And we’ve never had that kind of conversation in our history,” says Hubbard. Because our warfare has changed, we now are prompted to change the way we look at our own homes’ construction, viability, and protective factors.
Even without the threat of an all-out apocalyptic war, he says there’s a 100% chance they’ll use the shelter for something recreational, like a wine cellar, movie theater, a hobby room, or even as a storage vessel. It’s not just dead space in the house reserved for “what-if” scenarios. The main difference between the shelters and a “normal” recreational room, is the air filtration system, which can filter out biological agents and radiation, should a nuclear attack occur.
Atlas currently makes 15 different lines of shelters, but before this year there wasn’t a model available to build into the house — it simply didn’t exist. Hubbard had “an epiphany” one day during a 3-hour flight, and designed and engineered what would become the “Bombnado” model. Hubbard says it was “created out of a necessity, based on the request from my customers,” and sells for around $20,000.
“Our number one asset is our family, so why wouldn’t people invest in their protection? That extra $25,000 for a house is a form of insurance for the house for tornados, for hurricanes, for wildfires, for nuclear fallouts.” Surprisingly, the bunkers aren’t buried twenty feet below the earth’s surface: “They have to be 3 ½ feet underground to protect you from the gamma radiation.”
But if bunkers are becoming so popular, why all the secrecy surrounding them? Why are people covertly buying and installing them? Is the secrecy rooted in embarrassment or a fear of being judged by neighbors or friends?
Hubbard’s reasoning for this is quite simple: “If your neighbor had a bomb shelter and there was a bomb coming in right now, where would you go? Until shelters are commonplace and everyone has one — and that will take another ten years — people will want to keep their shelters as secret as possible because if something happens, of course everybody would want to come in.”
So can one of these bunkers really survive a nuclear attack? Hubbard says the round, corrugated pipe Atlas shelters are the only shelters still manufactured today that have actually been tested against a nuclear bomb and passed. With the exception of modern conveniences and interiors, the model is essentially still the same as it was fifty years ago.
Fallnado, the smallest bunker manufactured by Atlas, was released only a few weeks ago and sells for just under $10k. It’s an above ground walk-in shelter with an air tight door, bed, water supply, and toilet. You can survive in the shelter for 30 days, Hubbard says. Although the larger bunkers can hold enough food for six months to a year, “It’s not how long you can stay in the bunker, it’s how long you need to stay in the bunker.”
28 days is the magic number. “If there’s fallout, you have to stay inside the bunker for at least 28 days. After 7 days, 94% of the radiation decays. After 28 days, 99% of the radiation decays back into the earth and it’s gone. Then it’s safe enough to leave your shelter and try to live a normal lifestyle again.”
If you can just survive throughout the period of the fallout, your chances of getting radiation poisoning, or getting sick and dying are basically almost 100% eliminated just by having a shelter,” he says.
This new home trend may seem a little bizarre at first, or even a bit comical (Blast From the Past, anyone?). But adequate shelter has long been at the top of our ‘means for survival’ list as humans beings. Rather than protecting ourselves from natural elements or midnight intruders, a new kind of threat calls for a revision of how we look at the utility of the home. Perhaps it’s paranoid, or perhaps it says something larger about our cultural climate; one thing is certain, just as we evolve and adapt as a species, it’s no surprise that our homes should follow suit.
A version of this article originally appeared on Culture Trip.