An ad for a hardened condo in an abandoned missile silo where one can survive the collapse of civilization in comfort caught my eye the other day. (See http://www.survivalcondo.com/.)
The desire of some folks for hardened shelters is nothing new. My father was a builder, and several of the custom homes he built in the 1960s had fallout shelters. This was back when schools ran regular bomb drills so students and teachers would be ready should World War III arrive during school hours. It was also a time when school doors were unlocked and unguarded, a .22 rifle was a common gift for a 12-year-old, and many schools (including mine) had rifle clubs that held target practice on campus. We worried about different things in those days.
A few of the shelters built by my dad were elaborate; they sported generators, self-contained plumbing/sanitation, kitchenettes, and filtered air exchangers. Most, though, were just reinforced concrete boxes built into a corner of a basement, and looked more like solitary-confinement prison cells than anything else. Nowadays people tend to use them for wine cellars. I still have a government pamphlet detailing various shelter plans and illustrating happy families enjoying their lives in them. A quick Google search shows this pamphlet is online. It can be viewed here: http://archive.org/stream/familyfalloutshe00unitrich#page/14/mode/2up .
This wasn’t unmitigated silliness. The Cold War was in full swing. While neither side was crazy enough deliberately to initiate a nuclear war there was always a risk of miscalculation. Some smallish proxy war or confrontation could have escalated as each side underestimated the other’s likely response. Such a thing had happened before, after all. No leader of any major power in July 1914 wanted a general European war, yet a month later they all had one. Fortunately, the weapons of the day were limited, so the death toll was a mere 18,000,000. By the 1960s the casualties from an accidental full-scale war would have exceeded that in the first few hours. Bomb shelters and fallout shelters (technically different, depending on how hardened against blast effects they are) were, however, mitigated silliness, because surviving the apocalypse in a concrete box is not as much fun as it sounds.
Today, the world remains a violent place, but the Cold War is behind us and the probability of a truly civilization-destroying war is low. Yet concerns about an apocalypse still worry many people. If fallout shelters are much rarer features of new homes today, it is because they are deemed insufficient for the task. Only fortified rural retreats will do. Doomsday Preppers is a popular TV show. Silo condos like the one in the ad sell out as soon as they are available.
For myself, I live bunker-free. I’m willing to gamble that civilization will survive the remainder of my natural lifespan. Of course, if I’m wrong and the zombies arrive at my door, I’ll be in trouble. Where is Milla Jovovich when you need her?
Peter Scott Peters: Fallout Shelter (1961)