Bunkers are one of those subjects that stir up controversy in the prepping community. Some people like them and some don’t. That’s not even counting those who would like to have a bunker, but just can’t afford it. Personally, I’ve gone back and forth through the years, depending on the threats at hand.
Originally the concept of bunkers came out of a need to protect both people and material from artillery back in World War I. That need was quickly overshadowed by a greater threat… the airplane.
As the airplane came into prominence in the early days of World War II, bunkers became more prolific. The house I grew up in, just across the river from New York City, had such a bomb shelter that was added to the home during that time, as a protection against the potential of German bombers.
As World War II came to a close, the Cold War began, with the nuclear race continuing. The threat of thermonuclear war that hung over the world for over four decades led to the construction of numerous bunkers, mostly intended to be used as fallout shelters.
But with the end of the Cold War, did the need for those bunkers go away?
Why You Should Have a Bunker
When most preppers talk about bunkers today, it seems that they’re intending to use their bunkers to escape from social unrest. While there may be some validity to that viewpoint, my big concern is that attackers can just attach a hose from the tailpipe to smoke out or kill anyone who is hiding in there.
But social unrest isn’t the only danger we’re facing today, there are plenty of other dangers in the world. The risk of nuclear war hasn’t disappeared, especially with China building up their nuclear arsenal, Russia threatening to use nukes against anyone who gets in the way of their plans and countries like North Korea and Iran who are trying to become nuclear powers. Bunkers are also useful protection against tornadoes and some other natural disasters.
Of course, for any bunker to work at all, it has to be built right. As a community, preppers have moved away from using shipping containers for bunkers, having come to the realization that they aren’t strong enough to support the weight of the backfill.
One idea that has been floated to replace those shipping containers is precast concrete culverts; but finding culverts that allow enough space to stand up in is almost impossible, making that a difficult choice at best. There has to be a better answer.
There are companies who build prefab underground bunkers for those with the money to buy them. But those units run roughly $50,000 and up.
There’s a luxury underground bunker which has been for sale in Las Vegas, which is made to look like an entire house, with patio, when you’re in it. That one runs over a million dollars.
Then there are the luxury bunkers made in missile silos; but those are options for the wealthy, not for you and I.
Build an Underground House
One way to get around the whole bunker issue is to just build an underground house. Underground houses are typically built into a hillside and are made out of concrete or a combination of concrete and cinder block.
The front side of the house is exposed, but the roof and sides are covered by the hill, providing excellent insulation, as well as protection from attack.
With a little bit of work on the front side, making some concrete fighting positions, such a home could become a veritable fortress.
Cinder Block Bunker
Of course, that doesn’t mean that everyone who wants a bunker wants to live in an underground house. Still, we can learn from the construction techniques used to build them.
Concrete blocks or “cinder blocks” will support the weight of the backfill, making them a good building material to use.
The problem then becomes the roof, which can’t be made of cinder blocks.
I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in Mexico, where homes are made of cinder block and concrete. To pour the ceiling or second story floor, they build a temporary support system out of used 2”x 4”s.
This supports either plywood or corrugated tin, allowing the floor to be poured out of concrete, with standard remesh to strengthen it. Once the concrete is set, the 2”x 4”s supports and plywood are removed.
The German Defense of Normandy
Once the Germans overran France, they started preparing the northern beaches for an invasion, expecting the British to attack.
This preparation consisted of creating obstacles, along with a series of bunkers that overlooked the beach from the bluffs above.
Those bunkers were strongpoints for weapons systems, including both cannon and machine guns. The big battle problem for invading the Normandy beaches was dealing with those bunkers.
While I don’t expect anyone to build a series of bunkers, we can learn something from the German’s efforts. That is, a fighting bunker is much more effective for defending ourselves than just a bunker to hide in. Adding a concrete pillbox to the top of our bunkers can make them more or less invincible, without the use of explosives.
Use Underground Storage Tanks
Some of the best prefabricated underground bunkers are made in the shape of underground storage tanks.
There’s a reason for that; round structures are some of the strongest structures you can buy.
Compared to the boxy shape of a shipping container, a round tank may not make as efficient use of space, but it can withstand much more weight being piled on top of it.
It is possible to find used underground storage tanks at times; usually leftovers from some industrial operation. Careful cleaning would be required to remove any chemical residue in the tanks.
But once the tank is cleaned out, it is ready to be finished and turned into a living space. It is also possible to buy new tanks, even new plastic tanks that are designed to be buried underground.
Bury a Bus
Another construction option to consider is burying a bus or even burying a number of busses.
A man outside Toronto has build a bunker complex by burying 42 school busses, connecting them together and turning them into rooms for various different purposes.
The complex is buried 4 meters underground and intended for use as a fallout shelter.
People make fun of school busses but they are much stronger than we realize. The curved roof may take some of the room away inside, but at the same time it provides a lot of strength.
That curve, like the Roman arch, spreads the weight over the entire surface, reducing the load over any one portion of the roof, so that it can support the weight.
Use Terrain to Your Advantage
If you live in an area which is hilly, be sure to use the terrain to your advantage.
As I mentioned earlier, a bunker can be built into the side of a hill, like an underground home.
Related: How Much Does a Nuclear Bunker Cost?
Hilly terrain also allows you to do other things, like hiding your entrance and building a World War II Normandy style bunker for maximum protection.
But the best thing you can do with that terrain is make it difficult to approach your bunker; that can end up being the best protection of all.
One of the more foolish things I see done with underground bunkers is having an escape tunnel that’s only 50 feet from the main entrance.
All that does is make it so that attackers can reach you from either entrance, at the same time.
For an escape tunnel to be effective, it needs to be 100 or 200 feet long, better yet, make it even longer. That might sound like overkill, but the idea is to make it so that they can’t get to you.
Russia used to have a series of bunkers along their border with China. They may even still be there. The bunkers are topped with tank turrets, taking off of decommissioned tanks. That was the only part of the bunker exposed, with the rest of the position well hidden underground.
A tunnel led out from the main part of the bunker, under the hill the bunker was built into and coming out the other side to an underground parking garage large enough for an armored personnel carrier to sit in. Now that’s an escape tunnel!
How About a Surveillance System?
If you can’t build an above-ground pillbox to defend your bunker, than at least provide yourself with some sort of outside surveillance system that’s hidden away where attackers can’t find it. If you pop the hatch open to go outside, without knowing that it’s clear to come out, you could just be putting yourself in someone’s crosshairs.
It wouldn’t take much for a sniper to have their scope trained on that hatch, just waiting for a head to pop through it.
Granted, a surveillance system may not work well against a sniper that’s hidden 300 yards away; but it would catch anyone close by who is checking out your bunker. That’s enough to put the effort into the system and check the cameras on a regular basis.
Regardless of how you build your bunker, keep in mind that you’ve got to have some sort of emergency air supply. That must include air or at least oxygen, some means of scrubbing the air, a snorkel for getting outside air, with a blower and a filter on that snorkel system.
There are two main concerns I want to mention here. First, the aforementioned problem with someone attaching a hose from a vehicle’s exhaust and killing everyone inside.
The second is the problem with contaminated air from a nuclear explosion, fire or chemical spill. In any of those cases, you won’t be able to count on outside air to keep you going.
That’s when you’re going to need some sort of emergency system, providing you with oxygen and some means of removing excess carbon dioxide and smoke from the air.
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