Somewhere in the old Cincinnati-Dayton Defense Area that spans Southwest Ohio and Southeast Indiana sits a $1.5 million “man cave.” I made my way to the site on a warm fall morning with Google Maps and GPS coordinates supplied by my real estate advisers, Matthew and Leigh Ann Fulkerson of 20th Century Castles, LLC. Built in a decommissioned Nike missile site, the residence boasts a kitchen, four bedrooms, two baths, an exercise room, indoor swimming pool, jacuzzi, and an elevator for lowering the owner’s classic automobiles below the surface. On clear days, the doors that once exposed anti-ballistic missile for launch can be opened to let sunshine penetrate the otherwise dimly lit basement.
A lot of effort has been made by the current owner to cheer things up: a Care Bears mural graces a wall in one of the bedrooms, a building on the 14-plus-acre property has been converted into a white and red horse barn. But there are touches — such as the blast door and L-shaped hallway for containing explosions — that betray the home’s former life as one of well over two hundred missile sites that ringed America’s cities, defending them from incoming Soviet bombers.
There is no way of knowing how many privately owned bunkers there are in the United States
The Cold War was an era in which Americans found their lives had become increasingly militarized: from the interstate highway system to the ubiquitous nuclear-tipped Nike missiles and civilian bomb shelters, it was hard to forget that the United States was constantly gazing down the barrel of the Soviet Union. This strange state, which was neither war nor not war can be compared to people’s current concerns about terrorism, economic collapse, peak oil (the idea that soon oil will run out, bringing about the end of society as we know it), or even something as far-fetched as the impact of a rogue planet on ours, or invasion by secret reptilian humanoids. These are the kinds of ideas that have been absorbed into a catch-all meme called, as unpoetic as it might sound, "2012." This year was chosen because it is the end of the Mayan Long Count calendar (a 5,125-year-long cycle used by some Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures). The connection between 2012 and some sort of societal collapse or "end of the world" scenario was probably first made sometime in the seventies, and it’s only become more popular in the intervening years. Indeed, for 2012 true believers, disaster is imminent — but the government doesn’t want you to know this. So citizens are left to take it upon themselves to stockpile food, buy guns, and build bunkers.
There is no way of knowing how many privately owned bunkers there are in the United States, but if the number of stories on the internet and the twenty-four hour news channels is any indication, there is considerable consumer interest. One has a hard time gauging to what extent this interest translates into sales, however. Aside from the fact that these are private companies dealing with private individuals, there are security concerns. If you were convinced that the world would soon be transformed into a Mad Max-esque nightmare hellscape, would you go around advertising your safe haven?
Photos courtesy of 20th Century Castles
Dan Hotes is a commercial real estate broker based in Seattle and San Diego with expertise in threat assessment and the resale of Cold War-era missile bases and communication bunkers — specifically "those designed to withstand the effects of a nearby nuclear detonation." I’ve spoken with him a couple times, and his enthusiasm for this obscure topic is infectious. During one of those conversations I remarked on how hard it is to determine just how big this industry really is. So many people, I’ve discovered, want to talk off the record, or sell you on projects that might not exist at all.
"It's a real niche," he laughed. "Welcome to the club, okay? The bunker industry itself, if you look at it as a totality, there's a lot of money because the government's building them as fast as they can. We don't have access to that data. We're left with the scraps and handouts. There's a lot of people that want them, but a lot of people that won't pay for them. The interest level is high, the dedication level is medium, medium low." True to his career in real estate, he made sure that I plugged a Titan 1 missile base that he’s trying to unload, a facility situated at the former Larson Air Force Base in Grant County, Washington. "It's a really nice intact relic of the Cold War." And it can be yours for a cool $4 million. Would he ever live in one? "The missile silos are deep holes in the ground," he pointed out. "I wouldn't want to be down in one of those. I would never do that." I asked him about his plans for the immanent collapse of civilization. His answer was off the record, but I can sum it up in two words: "no comment."
Everybody has to go to Africa — there is no survival option possible in the United States
Patrick Geryl is an author living in Belgium, best known in the United States for books with titles like The World Cataclysm in 2012, How To Survive 2012, and The Orion Prophecy. In his native country his oeuvre extends beyond astronomy, cosmology, and Mayan history, to fruit-only diets. Geryl’s conception of the 2012 meme is pretty indicative of what you find among the more extreme end-of-the-world survivalists.
Geryl is convinced that a solar superstorm is coming that will shower the Earth with magnetism, overloading the electrical grid in the same way that the 1859 solar storm caused widespread failure of telegraphs — in some cases even shocking telegraph operators. In the modern age, electricity and electronics are what is holding our civilization together (imagine what would happen if your city’s supermarkets lost all of their refrigerators, all at once). That isn’t even the worst of it, he says. With widespread grid failure will come widespread nuclear power plant meltdowns.
As Geryl explains, all the safety subsystems in a nuclear power plant are powered by the plant itself. What happens if the plant shuts down? It uses power from the grid (there isn’t a huge distinction between on-site and off-site power, it’s all part of the same continuum). If grid power isn’t available, power is supplied by kerosene generators. If the generators fail — as happened in the case of the Fukushima I plant — meltdown occurs. As one of the articles he sent me stated, "every nuclear power plant operates in a near-meltdown state."
Except, of course, this isn’t true. As Kenneth D. Bergeron, PhD, nuclear safety expert, author of Tritium on Ice, and a 25 year veteran of Sandia National Laboratories, explains, if you accept that the entire electrical grid could be destroyed, and remain that way for a considerable length of time, then "nuclear power plants could end up without coolant circulation, but this would be many weeks or months after scram [emergency shutdown]." There could be overheating of the core, but there wouldn’t be a China Syndrome-style meltdown. Any radioactivity released would be small and local and the consequences would be small, especially when compared to whatever "hypothesized calamity" took out the grid in the first place! In other words, if Geryl’s version of 2012 were to happen, we’d have bigger problems than some nuclear power plants shutting down.
According to Geryl, Europe and the United States — with their high concentration of nuclear power plants — will be completely uninhabitable once 2012 arrives. Africa, he says, is where he will make his escape, assuming he and his small survival group can build a structure. "Everybody has to go [to Africa]," he told me, "there is no survival option possible in United States. In South America, there is a possibility, but there are lots of volcanoes on the mountains, and the earth quake activity will be very high, so survival is very low. In Belgium," he adds, "you can't survive."
Compared to Geryl, most 2012 fanboys are positively level-headed. What if the economy collapses and you can’t depend on the police to keep you safe? What would happen if there was a natural disaster, and you couldn’t rely on government agencies or non-governmental relief? Luckily, there are a few entrepreneurs out there offering turnkey survival solutions. Not that you or I could afford them.
Survival condos and disaster timeshares, explained
The president of the Vivos Group is Robert Vicino. Formerly in the inflatable display business, this is the guy who famously put an eight story, 3,000 pound King Kong on the side of the Empire State Building to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the movie. According to The New York Times (April 8, 1983), the creature "developed a hole in his left shoulder yesterday during inflation and lay in a heap on the side of the building's mast. He appeared to the millions of metropolitan area residents, who had been anticipating yesterday's scheduled arrival of the ballyhooed beast, as more a commemoration of another film, The Blob." Vicino, never one to admit defeat, told the New York Daily News that "the exposure we’re receiving here, you can’t buy that." Now he is getting exposure of a different sort, using his talent for relentless self-promotion to grace numerous media outlets, including FOX, NBC, and BBC.
These days, he has moved on from the balloon business to monetize a moment of "inspiration, not a vision" that also occurred to him in the early 1980s. "For some reason," he told me, "I just had an inspiration that I needed a shelter for 1,000 people to survive something that was coming. I can't remember if it came in my sleep, but it was vivid and it was powerful." At the time, he says, he floated this idea past his employees and friends, who all evidently thought this was crazy. About three years ago he brought it up again, he says, and "everybody got extremely excited and said ‘Wow. You should have told us that. Now is the time. The world needs this, stuff is happening and stuff is coming.’ In other words, it's gone from thirty years ago, you know you're crazy, to now it's kind of a mainstream belief that yeah, something may be coming. People feel it in their gut."
The Vivos Group claims to be "building a global network of underground shelters, to accommodate thousands of people." Its website is a densely packed collection of rendered YouTube animations of proposed shelter plans, apocalyptic scenarios (terrorists, biological weapons, nuclear war, the "rogue planet" Nibiru) and, of course, the opportunity to join his club.
Membership in the Vivos Group is open to anyone that can get past the selection committee and afford the $9,950 "co-ownership boarding pass." The boarding pass qualifies you to invest in a shelter. Only when enough investors have been roped in will a shelter be built.
Currently, the announced Vivos product line includes an 80 person shelter in Indiana "built to withstand a 20 megaton blast" (units start at $35,000), a 137,000 square foot, 900 person shelter in Nebraska ("above the subsided earth changes envisioned by many prophets") for a mere $25,000 per person; and other "economy" shelters that start at $9,950.
According to Vivos, each shelter includes fully furnished living quarters, deluxe bathroom, kitchen and dining areas, computers, theater electronics, exercise equipment, security facilities with a detention area, vaults for valuables and munitions, a communications center, laundry facilities, "and abundant storage areas for food, fuel, water, medicine, supplies and a wardrobe inventory with a large selection of comfortable clothing and footwear in all sizes."
As supplies run out, Vivos members may continue to live at the shelter facility, utilizing it as a home base while they re-establish a new society on the surface
In addition, Vivos claims that provisions and facilities capable of sustaining you and your fellow survivors for a year under total lockdown. "As supplies run out," the document continues, "Vivos members may continue to live at the shelter facility, utilizing it as a home base while they may be required to re-establish a new society on the surface."
Once complete, the facility will offer half and full-floor residential units designed to withstand floods, electromagnetic pulses, and indirect nuclear strikes, starting at $2 million
"The missile silo was a unique structure in military architecture — both an offensive tool for launching a weapon and defensive fortification for protecting the ability of the weapon to be fired," writes journalist Tom Vanderbilt in his Cold War travelogue Survival City, essentially describing a large gun. The Atlas F was the first such missile to be stored vertically, which allowed it to be launched in about ten minutes. The amount of time between deployment and retirement for these weapons was about five years. The missiles themselves were de-weaponized and used as space launch vehicles, while the silos were purchased by people like Larry Hall.
The Survival Condo Project is a nearly 200 foot deep, nuclear blast-hardened hole in which contractors recently built a steel frame, not unlike that of a skyscraper. Once complete, the facility — located somewhere in the middle of Kansas — will offer half and full-floor residential units designed to withstand floods, electromagnetic pulses, and indirect nuclear strikes (among other things) for $2 million or $4 million, respectively. Features include "redundant infrastructure for power, water, air, and food; as well as ‘shared or common’ facilities for extended off-grid survival."
In contrast to the voluble and eager Robert Vicino, Larry Hall seems to be weary of the media attention his Survival Condo project has attracted. "I'm kind of getting inundated," he told me one evening around dinner time. "I'm just getting crushed with interviews and stuff. We're in the middle of construction here, and I've got the steel workers building all the floors right now, and I had a French [TV] crew here last week, National Geographic wants to come out here for three days; I just kicked them to the curb because, at first they wanted a couple hours, then one day, then two days, then three days, and it's like, I can't afford that crap. And now, when the French guys were here, even though there were only two of them and they were as nice as can be, I got an $1,100 bill from the steel workers because they had eight guys that had to stop work for two hours because they were [in the way], you know. It turns out, it costs me a lot of money for these interviews." The risks aren't limited to clueless reporters such as myself: "I had one idiot show up and pump twenty-three bullets into the building up here, just crazy crap."
The completed Survival Condo will literally be a 14 story, nuclear blast hardened, luxury apartment building
Larry Hall’s LinkedIn page lists him as the president of Nebutel Inc, with "over 25 years experience in high tech medical and military application development" for companies that include NASA, Northrop Grumman, AT&T Wireless, Verizon Wireless, Harris Corporation, DBA Systems, and JPL. "I worked in the Washington Beltway," he told me, "as a government consultant on classified projects. I've been around militarized projects." As a lot of people in this world will tell you, the catalyst for this project was September 11, 2001. After the attacks, it occurred to him that he could "take one of these nuclear silos and put fourteen data centers in it, you know, and market it to Fortune 500 companies and say, hey, if God forbid something like the 9/11 thing were to happen, where you keep you primary mission critical computer systems, wouldn't you like to have a backup in a nuclear hardened facility in the center of the country?" When those plans didn’t pan out, he went back to the drawing board, and that was when the Survival Condo Project was born.
"Most of my calls," explained Hall, "are from doctors and well-educated [people], engineers, a much higher caliber of people, and they like the overall concept, and they're glad that I've been open and on some of the publications and TV programs because it gives credibility to it." The completed Survival Condo will literally be a 14 story, nuclear blast hardened, luxury apartment complex — underground. It will hold roughly seventy occupants, indefinitely. The implication here, of course, is that in isolation they will have to develop some sort of basic community or society. How would the rules be enforced, we ask: will you have a police force?"
The answer is as logical as it’s unexpected: "There will be a condo board."
When asked for his personal take on 2012, Hall allows that "there's a lot of evidence that the governments of the world aren't telling people what's really going on."
Brian Camden has worked as a consultant on the Survival Condo project. His company, Hardened Structures, calls itself the "world leader in underground shelter systems." While I can’t attest to that, I do know that the company is highly regarded by everyone I’ve talked to while researching this story. The construction management firm builds everything from prisons to schools to shopping malls. "We do it all," says Camden. "I work for the Army Corps of Engineers, we did a few hundred person shelter under the hospital in Kuwait last year. We've done work for the Jordanian government. We've done work for the Army Corps of Engineers, we do work for U.S. corporations and private individuals. We do work for the Air Force."
The various 2012 scenarios that people believe might seem fantastic, but for someone like Camden, they are nothing more than a series of calculations.
"Once you determine the threat level, the threat event scenarios the facility has to be designed to mitigate, the occupant load, how many people are going to be in there, the assets that need protected — people, food, guns, gold, precious metals, plants, hydroponics — what are the putting in there? How long? How long are you going to stay in there? That determines your cubic footage for storage. Once we understand all of that, it's straight engineering and physics. [Once] we understand the program that the client needs us to design, it's basically the same concept, the same approach that an architectural design team would use if we were designing a shopping center, let's say."
The important thing, says Camden, is that the client can articulate the "threat event scenario," or the specific dangers they wish to mitigate. "All of the experts on 2012," he continues, "rarely do any of them agree on anything. You talk to Patrick Geryl, we've done designs for him in South Africa, his version of 2012 is different from the other people's."
Although everybody’s 2012 fears are different, it seems, there are some similarities. According to Camden, an underground reinforced concrete bunker will have walls between 14 to 24 inches thick, with a a ceiling anywhere from 18 to 36 inches thick. The level of EMP protection is also a factor. EMP, or electromagnetic pulse, is the electromagnetic radiation that accompanies a nuclear explosion. Effects from EMP vary, but if you get a high enough dose it will damage your electronic equipment. If you have a pacemaker, you’ll want to shield the entire shelter with conductive material which, Camden notes, "is very expensive." If you’re trying to save a few bucks you can probably get away with just shielding the electrical systems and points of entry.
Aside from nukes, common threat event scenarios include tidal waves or global flooding. These are fears that go back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Book of Genesis, which might point to their universality (and might suggest the psychological foundation of the 2012 meme). In the event of a massive flood, the bunker engineer has to account for things like the shelter’s occupant load and the amount of time the occupants plan on spending there. "[W]e have to put in CO2 scrubbers and oxygen machines. You calculate, with a thousand foot wave going over top, at 500 feet, how long will it take that water to reside. Is it 100 hours, 200 hours, 300 hours? Whatever the case is, and we calculate that, then we double for a safety factor. But even with that you still have to include self-rescue supplies in the shelter. If they believe you're going to be completely underwater, you must assume that the tidal wave may never reside. In other words, you're going to be underwater constantly. If that's the case, how do you get out? And there's design secrets, proprietary stuff that we do, that get the clients out.
"In the 2012 scenario, those are the big cost-driven factors right there. After that, what determines the cost is geotechnical conditions. What are you going to hit when you go into the ground. Are you going to hit rock? Bedrock? Are you going to hit water? Can we just use a hammer drill and excavate, or [do we have to] blast? Those are cost aspects. Is there an access road? Do we have to put a road in? Are there utilities there? Can we get water up there? Can we drill for a well?
"After doing this for twenty years, it's not rocket science."
"OK," I ask him. "You’re the expert, so what are your plans for 2012?"
Twentieth Century Castles
One of the most enduring names in sales of domestic Cold War bunkers is Ed Peden. Ed is a wiry, energetic former school teacher, born and raised in Troy, Kansas. He first encountered the Atlas E missile site that is now his home in 1982, when Ronald Reagan was President. "He was talking about ‘the evil empire,’" Ed explained, "and [the government was] making plans to evacuate urban areas out into the countryside, and it seemed that nuclear exchange was quite possible. And I had two young daughters and I was feeling a bit nervous. So, on my birthday I traveled to discover this site, to see it. I asked a couple of neighbors about the location and walked in, and so the odyssey began."
At first blush, Ed seems like the last person you would expect to find in an old military facility. He turns this notion on its head: "We're kind of peaceniks," he says of himself and his wife Diana, "and it's kind of strange to be living in what was a weapon of mass destruction. We see it as a transformational symbol."
Having spent almost twenty years in the Topeka public school system, Ed’s love of teaching is evident as he shows me around his home, which is named Subterra. In the hour or two I am there, he offers many lessons, from the difference between an Atlas E and an Atlas F missile base (the former houses the missile horizontally; the latter, vertically) to a crash course in the history of military technology. To illustrate this, he showed me some artifacts he has hanging above the Atlas E launch panel that’s just inside the tunnel that serves as a front door. He raps as he gestures to chip flint arrowheads, an Iron Age sword, a rifle, and then finally the launch controls, which signify the Nuclear Age.
"The splitting of the atom," he said, "has changed everything for humans on the planet. It's a quantum leap, our destructive power is immense. And the question comes, is our consciousness and wisdom improved enough to manage this wisely? So far we have gotten through, and yet there are a lot of these weapons still around."
"So far" is the operative part of that sentiment, and it betrays the subtle pessimism (or, perhaps more to the point, the realism) that led the otherwise happy-go-lucky former schoolteacher to a nuclear blast-resistant shelter. "Sometimes I almost hesitate to speak in the negative," he says when pressed for his thoughts on why someone would want to live in a bunker. "There are certain things that can happen, whether they are natural disasters, whether Yellowstone explodes (with tremendous damage within hundreds of miles radius from there, [and] ash everywhere), if there was just an energy crisis or a breakdown in transportation networks. Most cities are supplied with just a very few days' supplies in the grocery stores." Without the basics, Ed fears, "cities could easily turn into jungles where people were struggling to feed their children, and were very desperate."
A home like Ed's is an anomaly. In 1960, taxpayers paid $3.3 million to construct a facility with floors that were three feet thick, walls eighteen inches thick, and ceilings consisting of 18 inches of heavily reinforced concrete, three feet below ground. As he points out, "some of these missile sites are some of the strongest structures ever built on the planet." While a handful of these structures were sold off by the government after being decommissioned in the 1960s and 1970s, current arms control treaties with Russia mandate that decommissioned missile sites are to be destroyed. This means that, as demand for nuclear hardened structures increases, the supply never will. These are relics from a time when government money paid for engineering marvels that were sold a few years later for pennies on the dollar.
"We see these sorts of structures as the twentieth century's counterpart of the European castle: built by the government for defense of the realm at tremendous cost to the royal treasury, and now they've been turned over to a peasant and we're really happy to be here."
Ed’s company is called, fittingly, 20th Century Castles, LLC. So far he has sold 55 properties over the last 17 years, and as time goes on, it seems likely that demand will continue to rise. "Especially in the last couple of years," Ed says, "our email and telephone have been busier than usual, because people are seeking the strength of a hardened underground structure."
I ask him if demand translates into sales.
"There's a lot of interest," he says, "a lot of calls, a lot of emails, a lot of interest in these properties, but the financial climate; banks are very tight, loans are next to impossible on these unique kind of structures, and there's more interest than there's actual buying. And these kind of properties are becoming a game for the wealthy."
We see these structures as the 20th Century's counterpart to the European castle; built by the government for defense of the realm at tremendous cost to the royal treasury, they've been turned over to a peasant
Ed can't really point to a typical customer, saying that he's sold property to companies for secure data sources, to real estate investors, and to the new breed of survivalists that call themselves "preppers."
"Survivalists have always got kind of a bad image, as conspiracy theorists, and gun-toting, violent, that kind [of thing]. Preppers is a new term that's coming. We think it's wise to make some preparations. In fact, what's happened with us — this may be more than you want to hear — in our society, we've become so specialized. All I needed to do was teach. I would teach, and as long as I would teach, all of my needs would be cared for." Modern life, he says, has resulted in people that are "so specialized we have lost our own capacity to care for ourselves. And if anything happens, we think the government will come to assist. Well, FEMA is broke, the U.S. government is financially broke, so this is a change time. I think it's very healthy and natural for people to rely more on their own, taking responsibility for themselves and their families. And if the society were to go into more difficult times, whether it's natural disaster or whatever might occur. The more people that are somewhat prepared will soften the blow of that. They can take care of themselves, take care of their families and friends. We think this is good."
Ed’s proteges in the business, Matthew and Leigh Ann Fulkerson, were kind enough to meet me at a restaurant in a small town near Cincinnati, Ohio. I had begun this quest looking for the aforementioned survivalists, and to my disappointment these two didn't quite fit the part. They were both young and enthusiastic, with Leigh Ann speaking effusively about everything and anything relating to their business, and Matthew coming across as more soft-spoken. They had driven in from Kansas to show a serviceman on leave from Afghanistan — let’s call him Kirk — around a former launch site in the area.
Passing by the guard shack, through a chain link gate topped with barbed wire, the property has all the charm of a government facility that’s been abandoned for forty years — that is, very little. The barracks roof has caved in, the blacktop has been invaded by flora, and before we leave I notice peregrine falcons circling overhead, flying increasingly closer than this city dweller is comfortable with. The effect was unnerving.
In its heyday, the U.S. Army’s Nike Project saw approximately 265 anti-aircraft missile batteries placed all over the United States, mostly near urban areas. These things were nuclear tipped, and used a system of three radars to target bombers flying as high as 60,000 feet. A missile magazine consisted of twelve Nike Ajax missiles (when the Army upgraded to the larger Nike Hercules missiles, the capacity was reduced to eight) stored horizontally. Once the elevator brought a missile to the surface, the missile would be pushed aside, placed in a launcher, and lifted to firing position.
The property has all the charm of a government facility that’s been abandoned for forty years — that is, very little
The first launch site we visited had been decommissioned (stripped of all its equipment) and abandoned. A local farmer kept the grass cut, and his cows roamed the premises. The outlying buildings were mostly intact, although the old barracks roof had caved in, and the missile magazine itself was flooded. As we walked along the paved expanse directly above the structure, someone pointed out a pile of coyote shit. Asking price: $279,000.
After a couple hours of hanging out, Leigh Ann began to open up a bit about her interest in extreme real estate.
"I’m a firm believer in the New World Order," she said, rattling off a list of possible apocalyptic fates that she believed had a good chance of coming to pass. These included peak oil, economic collapse, terrorists releasing EMP weapons, short-circuiting gadgets and crippling society. "Mad Max, The Book of Eli, it’s all going to happen."
And this is what that piqued my curiosity. These aren’t wild-eyed crazies. Leigh Ann knows several languages, is a gourmet chef, is intelligent and well-spoken; besides missile bases, and Mad Max, she is an enthusiast of aquaponics (sustainable food production that combines hydroponics with raising aquatic animals in tanks, in a symbiotic relationship). And she tries to present all her theories in a clear, level-headed way: "I don’t know if [collapse] is going to happen — hey, I hope it doesn’t — but it can’t hurt to be prepared for whatever does happen."
The next day, we all met again at the "man cave" in Southeast Indiana. This was billed as the real deal: someone who’d taken a military surplus hole in the ground and turned it into a $1.5 million home. I must admit, I was expecting something a bit more luxurious, more "Dr. Evil," or at least something more than I found: a 1970s-era wood-paneled recreation room with astro-turf poolside and a loft for the children. On one hand, the place was pretty impressive: a great amount of skill went into getting the elevators working, installing a swimming pool, and creating a place where a family could live — albeit with little sunlight (and, one would hope, a working dehumidifier).
After a quick tour of the facility I asked Kirk, the Marine, about his desire to go underground.
"I’ve been looking at places like this — old warehouses, a loft — that are not traditional houses." He cites an Eddie Murphy movie I’ve never heard of as a source of inspiration, as well as a desire to raise his children in the country.
"What about security?" I ask, wondering if he would address the 2012 thing.
"Movies like The Road and The Book of Eli," he said, "I think they’re prophecy, saying what’s going to happen. Just like movies when we were kids, that predicted what’s happening now."
I spend a moment or two trying to name any movies from my youth that might have successfully predicted the future (Short Circuit? Valley Girl? Flashdance?) and come up blank.
Survivalists are doin' it for themselves
Secular Doomsday prophets, extreme construction firms and military contractors, real estate agents, family men: I’ve met them all on this trip, and they’re all doing their best to eliminate chance and mitigate what they feel are realistic risks. And they all have the creeping suspicion that those institutions that are supposed to look out for us and give us the information that we need to do this — government, scientists, and journalists — are taking them for a ride. They feel that they’re being withheld information that is vital to survival, and they’re compensating by doing their own research, picking and choosing ideas and bits of information that helps them complete their world view. We abhor a vacuum, it seems, more than we abhor nonsense.
As I talked to people about survival bunkers, one name kept popping up: Tom Cruise. Now, I don’t know if Tom Cruise does or doesn’t have a bunker under one of his houses, but it does seem possible. Possible enough, at least, for people in this business to cite him as one example of a growing trend towards self-preservation among the wealthy in this society. Another oft-repeated anecdote, which is more telling, is that one constant fact for companies building and supplying bunkers for private individuals is that their supply orders are being delayed: it seems that the United States government is in the midst of a massive bunker-building orgy, presumably in preparation for some kind of 2012-related catastrophe, and it’s snatching up all the freeze-dried food and the good building materials. "We’ve ordered food before," says Larry Hall when asked about this, "and gotten a phone call that said ‘hey, your order’s been circumvented, FEMA stepped in or somebody and they’ve ordered everything we can produce for the next three months." And it’s not only food that is in short supply. He claims to have ordered equipment specific to nuclear bomb shelters, such as blast valves (hardware attached to air intake and exhaust pipes that close when a shockwave occurs), only to find that the government has already bought all the available supplies. "Sometimes you can get those things," he says, "and sometimes you can’t."
Looks like Jesse Ventura's crack investigative team is on to something
Amenities included dorms, a kitchen, meeting areas, and a TV station from which officials could broadcast messages to the people of the United States in the aftermath of a nuclear war — that is, if there was anyone left to broadcast to
In 1992, a journalist named Ted Gup arrived at The Greenbriar, a luxury resort in someplace called White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Built in the 1850s, the place has had a singular history: long a summer destination for wealthy southerners, the resort was the setting for Robert E. Lee’s White Sulphur Manifesto; served as an internment camp for Axis diplomats during World War II; and, according to a book called A Nuclear Family Vacation by Nathan Hodge and Sharon Weinberger, "Eisenhower had played golf there a lot." Gup was interviewing Greenbriar historian Robert Conte about longstanding rumors that there was a secret government bunker beneath the hotel’s West Virginia Wing. It had been built, so went the rumor, to house Congress in the event of a nuclear war. Conte denied everything, but nonetheless gave the journalist access to the resort’s archives, which allowed him to piece together the information that formed the basis of his expose in The Washington Post, "The Ultimate Congressional Hideaway."
Between 1959 and 1962, while the hotel underwent major renovations, government contractors built a bunker with walls made of reinforced concrete and hidden blast doors. Amenities included dorms, a kitchen, meeting areas, and a TV station from which officials could broadcast messages to the people of the United States in the aftermath of a nuclear war — provided, of course, that there was anybody left to broadcast to. There was also a furnace that could be used, when the time came, as a crematorium. The facility was right out in the open, with its giant exhibition hall and two meeting rooms open to the public, blast doors hidden behind a screen. It remained that way, with government employees masquerading as hotel staff and maintenance by a government front company called Forsythe Associates, for thirty years.
The premise was absurd: an ICBM or submarine-based nuclear missile would hit Washington D.C. in minutes, which would not afford Congress enough time to make their ways to the southern tip of West Virginia. Not that Congress was totally sold on the idea of heading for the hills. As former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil told Gup when interviewed for the Washington Post article: "Jesus, you don’t think I’m going to run away and leave my wife? That’s the craziest thing I ever heard of."
While the preppers and 2012 theorists might seem rather far out there, they are joined by the U.S. government in their plans to escape Armageddon. The Continuity of Operations plan (or COOP), in existence since at least the Eisenhower administration, provides for the continued operation of the government in the event of nuclear war or terrorists incident — such as a "back pack" nuclear weapon being detonated in Washington D.C.
The physical manifestations of COOP are places with names like the Greenbriar, Mount Weather, and Raven Rock Mountain Complex. In fact, a network of bunkers and tunnels spans the entire country, the military grade equivalent to a Survival Condo or Vivos timeshare. While they were originally made for the Cold War, they continue to exist to this day, their mission adapting with the times. Considered by some to be a Cold War relic, Continuity of Operations got a boost when the George W. Bush administration put it into effect for the first time in history directly following the September 11 attacks.
The front page of The Washington Post on March 1, 2002 could have been designed specifically to vex Conspiracy Theorists: "President Bush has dispatched a shadow government of about 100 senior civilian managers to live and work secretly outside Washington, activating for the first time long-standing plans to ensure survival of federal rule after catastrophic attack on the nation's capital." At the time of the article, government officials on so-called "bunker duty" — civilian officials from the White House and some independent agencies — were on hand 24 hours a day, rotated out every 90 days. The (literally) "underground" government would work to "contain disruptions of the nation's food and water supplies, transportation links, energy and telecommunications networks, public health and civil order. Later it would begin to reconstitute the government" in event of a national emergency, according to to the Post. This type of redundant command structure, situated in nuclear blast-hardened structures and on 24-hour notice, has long been a feature of the military (examples include the U.S. Space Command in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado and the U.S. Strategic Command facility under Offutt Air Force Base, in Nebraska).
The underground government would work to contain disruptions of the nation's food and water supplies, transportation links, energy and telecommunications networks, public health and civil order
The government — at least the executive branch — takes preparing for dire catastrophes very seriously indeed, it seems.
Stephen Flynn, a senior fellow with the National Security Studies Program at the Council on Foreign Relations, writes in his 2007 book The Edge of Disaster: "A big part of the problem is that our national leaders have shown a decided preference for dealing with our vulnerabilities behind closed doors. The standard rationale for this is both that it would be imprudent to potentially advertise our weaknesses to our enemies and that care must be exercised not to frighten the public unduly. This reasoning should be dismissed as specious..."
This is ultimately why there is no answer for someone like Jesse "The Body" Ventura, touring the country in his Conspiracy Theory Winnebago for the truTV series of the same name, as he tries to figure out whether or not the government takes any of the 2012 scenarios to heart. Not because there are no answers to these questions, but because of the way the federal government has traditionally handled disaster management. The culture of secrecy that surrounds the Continuity of Government plans has created a vacuum that has to be filled, and it is being filled by the Geryls, the Vicinos, and the Fulkersons of the world — and by Mad Max, The Book of Eli, and The Road. In a nutshell, that is why people are preparing to retreat to their bunkers. Only time will tell if they made the right call.