After North Korea threatened to launch an "enveloping strike" at Guam, the territory's office of civil defence posted emergency guidelines on Friday, explaining what citizens should do in the event of a missile attack. ("Do not look at the flash or fireball — It can blind you. Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.") The advisory followed a week of alarming statements by US President Trump and North Korea, fuelling talk of nuclear apocalypse that's been good for one specific industry: Bomb shelter manufacturers.
All photos: Atlas Survival
A flurry of reports claim that bomb shelter sales have skyrocketed recently. Ron Hubbard, president of Atlas Survival Shelters, told a California Fox affiliate that he'd sold over 30 units to customers throughout the US in the past few days. One of the orders came from Japan. "It's crazy, I've never seen anything like it," Hubbard said. "It's all over the country. I sold shelters today in North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, California."
Despite your Cold War-era assumptions, Atlas Survival shelters look more like shipping containers than the concrete boxes you're used to seeing in old newsreels. Using sections of huge corrugated pipes, the company builds airtight living spaces designed to be buried 6m underground. They're relatively cheap too, with the most basic model starting at $US10,000 ($12,668). You can opt for a larger shelter with more amenities, such as a hospital, workout room or an armoury, but that costs $US100,000 ($126,679) or more. It's so far unclear which configurations are most popular for the seemingly impending "fire and fury" party.
Would you live in this for a year?
This isn't an isolated trend, either. Robert Vicino, the founder and CEO of a bomb shelter company called Vivos, claims that he's received "thousands and thousands of applications" for spots in a communal bomb shelter compound in South Dakota. This subterranean community is advertised as eventually including 575 luxury "off-grid dugouts" with badarse amenities such as a movie theatre, a shooting range (?), a hydroponic garden, and a members-only restaurant and bar. Because even after the apocalypse, rich people need their exclusivity. A spot in the community, codenamed xPoint, costs $US25,000 ($31,670) per person, and Vicino says they have already reserved 50 spots.
While the threat of total nuclear annihilation is still uncertain in the United States, folks in Japan have more reason to be concerned. Japan very close to North Korea — close enough for a missile strike — so shelter companies are getting calls from them as well. Gary Lynch, the general manager of bomb shelter manufacturer Rising S Co., recently told Bloomberg that inquiries about his products have doubled in the past three weeks, with 80 per cent of the interest coming from Japan.
Predictably, Japanese bomb shelter companies are getting in on the action as well. Seiichiro Nishimoto is president of Shelter Co., which imports air-conditioned bomb shelters from Israel, and he also spoke to Bloomberg. "People are genuinely afraid," Nishimoto said. "That's why we're getting so many calls."
It's the uncertainty that's really anxiety-inducing. A lot of these shelters are equipped to keep people alive underground for a year. But who knows what the world will look like after that. And what happens if you lock yourself in the shelter, go off the grid, and then the apocalypse is averted? We actually know the answer to this question thanks to the popular 1999 Brenden Frasier film Blast From the Past, but still, it's a concern.
None of this is to say that everyone should go out and drop tens of thousands of dollars on a bomb shelter, though the bomb shelter companies would surely appreciate your business. The standoff with North Korea is still just a standoff with bunch of saber rattling — for now. It isn't encouraging that Donald Trump, the president of the United States of America, tweeted on Friday morning that the military is "locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely." (That missing space is Trump's typo.)
The smartest diplomatic minds in the world have been working on maintaining peace and nuclear deterrence for years. And then Trump just… tweeted that out. So maybe a bomb shelter wouldn't be such a bad idea after all.