With the all the incendiary talk, you might be wondering how to build a fallout shelter. You know, just in case. And with domestic tensions running high, it seems like a foreign attack isn’t the only thing to worry about. If you’re the better-safe-than-sorry type, creating a fallout shelter can provide peace of mind at the very least. Who knows? It could turn out to be an actual lifesaver.
As it turns out, you really can build a fallout shelter in your own home—even if you don’t have a basement!
A brief history of building bomb shelters
Designed to reduce exposure to radioactive debris—aka fallout—during a nuclear attack, fallout shelters were popularized in the late 1950s, during the Cold War. While American kids practiced duck-and-cover drills in school, President John F. Kennedy advised that “in the event of attack, the lives of those families which are not hit in the nuclear blast and fire can still be saved if they can be warned to take shelter, if that shelter is available.”
The answer? Shelters at home. The Office of Civil Defense began distributing pamphlets that outlined how to build your own fallout bunker, and quite a few people dug out bomb shelters in their backyards, creating plywood structures within the earth and stocking them with everything a family might need for weeks on end.
It’s still not uncommon to find bomb shelters in houses built prior to the 1970s. They reportedly came back in fashion after the election of President Donald Trump, when manufacturers of these hideouts say their sales shot up 700%. And that figure doesn’t even account for the folks who are trying to build their own fallout shelters.
Sooooo, how exactly do you build your own fallout shelter, anyway?
Where to go in the event of a nuclear blast
The key to staying safe during a nuclear attack is to place material capable of blocking gamma rays between you and the blast. If you live in a home with an underground basement, you’re in luck—at least 3 feet of solid packed earth offers sufficient protection.
If you’re living in a home with no basement, all is not lost. Lead and concrete are also listed among the best options to block the gamma rays of a nuclear blast, says Robert Richardson, author of The Ultimate Situational Survival Guide.
“While an underground shelter is going to provide more protection, even a concrete office building can act as an emergency fallout shelter,” Richardson says. So if your house is made of wood and your neighbor’s is sturdy concrete, you may be best off heading next door.
In addition to the type of building you shelter in, where you hunker down inside can make a huge difference. Richardson says that in case of a nuclear blast, you’re better off choosing an interior room in your home, as low down as possible.
“The bottom center portion of a building will provide the most protection from gamma rays, since the upper floors of the building and the exterior rooms will act as a shield,” Richardson says. Basically, “the more material you can place between yourself and the rays, the better protected you will be.”
How to build a fallout shelter
Once you’ve found the best place in your vicinity to go in the event of a bomb scare, there’s more you can do to fortify this area.
“Sandbags, bricks, containers filled with water, or any heavy materials that you can find can be used to protect against a nuclear blast,” Richardson notes. Just place these items against your walls—particularly the windows where radiation can still sneak through, or on the floors above wherever you are. Mattresses can be leaned up against windows, as well as stacked books, furniture, bags of clothes, and anything else with some heft.
From there, it’s time to stock up! The greatest risk of fallout occurs during the first two to three weeks following a nuclear blast, Richardson says, so if you’re intent on hiding out in a shelter for that time, get enough food and water to last. It might not be comfy, but we’re talking about survival here.
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