Bunkers Debunked

Written by Kenneth Nunn

   The bunker business is booming. Suddenly it seems everyone is wanting a bunker. Yesterday everyone was laughing at the Preppers. Today everyone is a Prepper. We all know this is due to what the media is trying to portray as a new threat from North Korea. Actually, this threat goes back to at least the Clinton years. This and the fact that the media is trying to convince the world that President Trump is crazy and is going to start a nuclear war.

   I regress, this is not going to be a political discussion, that is for another time and another place. This discussion is about the pros and cons of choosing to survive long term in a bunker.

   To begin with we should define what exactly is the difference in a bunker and a bomb shelter. For the purpose of this discussion we will use my definition.

Bomb Shelter: A container located below ground level, preferable structurally sound enough to with stand at least a mild shock wave and flying debris. It is sealed in such a way as to protect the people inside from radiation, chemicals, and bacteria. It should be large enough to be relatively comfortable for the number of people inside. There should be supplies stored to support the people taking shelter for three days.

Bunker: A container located below ground level, preferable structurally sound enough to with stand at least a mild shockwave and flying debris. It is sealed in such a way as to protect the people inside from radiation, chemicals, and bacteria. It should be large enough to be relatively comfortable for the number of people expected to survive inside. The difference is a bunker is designed to house the inhabitant for a long period of time, at least six months without any outside supplies or having the need to leave the bunker. It should also serve as a bomb shelter.

   I know, the bunker salesmen always bring up in their sales pitch the fact that the government has numerous bunkers, bunkers from which the government and the military will be operated in the event the U.S. suffers a national catastrophic event. The salesman's point is it stands to reason if a bunker is good enough for the government then it is good enough for you.

   To this I say, "This is true, however, these bunkers are measured in acres, many acres not mere feet. These bunkers are fully staffed with some having hundreds of people living in them. Most have a fully staffed hospital. They have wells with water treatment plants located inside. They have food for years. They have sewage treatment plants. I have been told some even have green houses. When inside one of these bunkers it is hard to tell you're even underground. Plus, the most important point may well be that they have the United States military on the outside to protect them then in the event that outside forces are overrun, these bunkers are truly self-contained. So, you see a government bunker is not even remotely comparable to a private bunker.

   Ok, I know some of you are convinced, some of you may believe the only way you and your family can survive a catastrophic event as we assume and prepare for is in a bunker. That is great, your decision. However, if you decide a bunker is going to be the way you and your family survive, there are a number of points I think you should be aware of.

   First let's look at the situation you are preparing for. Obviously, you are preparing for a nuclear attack on the United States but let's go a little further. Let's also figure you would survive in this bunker for any catastrophic event, man-made or natural. Now I am not going to go into detail on other events that could occur. Events that could equal or even surpass the damage of a nuclear war. I cover these in other discussions. If you happen to be familiar with our Preparing to Survive Website or our Out of Harm's Way books, then you are aware of these threats. If not, I invite you to become familiar with them.

   The damages the United States or for that matter the World would suffer as the results of a number of nuclear blasts over key major population areas are simply unimaginable.

   The first point to consider when looking at bunkers is how long will you plan on remaining in your bunker. The length of time you plan on remaining will in large part determine the size of the bunker, how it is equipped, as well as the supplies to be warehoused in the bunker. I have seen recommendations anywhere from a week to a year or more. For the purposes of this discussion let's say you plan on surviving in the bunker for six months.

   The next point to consider will be where will this bunker be located? Will it be located in close proximity to your home, or would you locate in a remote area? If remote, then just how remote.

   Of course, another point necessary to determine when choosing a bunker will be how many people will be surviving in this bunker.

   These are questions that will be very hard to answer. To come up with reasonable good answers you have to consider all situations. It is all most a certainty you will have very short notice of an impending nuclear attack or for that matter any catastrophic event. You may not have enough warning to gather your family and travel to a bunker located a distance from your house. Then again you have to consider the fact that chances are an attack will occur while you are at work, your kids are at school, your family could be shopping, the kids may be at a sleep over or you, your kids or your wife may well be out of town. Let’s face it, even if the entire family is in town there is probably less than eight hours a day that everyone is home.

   As you can start to see, there are a lot of variables to consider. Then again you have to realize you will not come up with the perfect solution, simply because there is not one. That is unless you want to move into a bunker today and live there 24/7. Your decision is not going to be a simple one. After all what we are discussing could well mean life or death for you and your family. Your decision should be based on your location, your family, your lifestyle and your budget.

   Before going any further lets state the obvious. If you live, work, or for whatever reason spend most of your time in a major population center then you have a problem. If you are close to ground zero, the only way you are going to survive the initial blast will be to have immediate access to a bomb shelter or bunker.

   At this point I was going to make a list of the reasons people want to survive in a bunker. As it turns out this is a pretty short list. Try as I may, I am able to come up with only two reasons; security and comfort. You may be able to come up with others but that was it for me.

Now let's look at each in turn -


  • Actually, the lack of security would be the number one reason I would refuse to survive in a bunker. A bunker as a means of survival is just the opposite. A bunker is simply a trap. Anyway, you look at it a bunker is a death trap.
  • You are in a hole in the ground with absolutely no idea what is happening around you. There is absolutely no way to defend a bunker. You are at any adversary's mercy. You are not in control. Your only defense is the same as a turtle or an armadillo. Put your head between your legs and hope the danger goes away.


  • The first thing I hear is, "My family will have a nice comfortable place to eat, sleep and relax." Sure, that'll work, can you imagine what it would be like to be a fly on the wall after just two or three days of a family being confined in a 10 by 30-foot underground box. Now think about what it will be like two or three weeks in a bunker. You know your family; how do you think they would react?
  • The fact is most of the bunkers I have researched are ten feet wide by whatever length. I can assure you that twenty-four to forty-eight hours is about as long as most people can take in a confined space. This will especially be true with young people. In most circumstances being in a confined space for any length of time is used as punishment.

Achilles Heel

   There are a number of Achilles heels common to all underground bunkers. Let's take them one at a time.

Privacy secrecy no one will know:

   One of the selling points most bunker manufactures advertise is the claim that no one will know you are there. No one will know there is a bunker in the area. This statement is far from true. In most any state, if you can believe this, it will require a permit to construct or place any type living space, even in a remote location. Permits mean there will be documented direction to your location on file at the nearest court house. These records are and will be available to anyone wishing to see them.

   Contrary to what most bunker manufactures advertise a bunker will require a sizeable footprint. There will have to be land clearing performed plus a lot of excavation. Again, contrary to what most manufactures advertise they will not install the bunker. That is unless it happens to be close to their manufacturing location. It may be true that they will supervise the installation but, in all probability, the actual installation will be performed by a local contractor. Clearing the location, excavation, concrete work, backfill, plumbing, electrical work, this will in all likelihood all be performed by a local contractor.

   Delivery will require roads in order to truck the unit and/or materials to the location. If the bunker is of any size, there will have to be trucking permits. Then there most likely will have to be at least one crane to off load and set the bunker.

   Installing and setting the bunker will require trucking in a lot of equipment as well as supplies. As you can see just bringing in the bunker and installing it will require a lot of labor meaning a lot of people will know exactly where you are located. Plus, the fact that all the activity in a sparsely populated area will generate a lot of curiosity.

   So, the truth is there will be a lot of local people that know exactly where you are.

   Then there will be considerable sign of construction long after installation is completed. Depending on the weather and location I would guess it will take anywhere from three months to a year for all signs of the construction to disappear. Then as discussed, some signs will always be apparent.


   Simply put a bunker is a life support system. The weakest point or the heart of any bunker is going to be the generator. If you own or have owned a generator in the past, either for emergency home use or in an RV then you are well aware of the problems they may present. There are any number of problems that can cause a generator to fail.

   First of all, every bunker manufacturer I have looked at has a stand by generator as a electrical power supply. As the name implies, these generators are designed for standby use. These generators are not rated for continuous operation. This is stated by the manufacturer.

   If you are in a situation where you will have to run your standby generator for longer than the recommended number of hours then you can expect failures. They are simply not designed for long duration runs.

   Other than the lights a bunker contains a number of essential pieces of equipment that are powered by electricity. Actually, nothing works without the generator operating. The generator goes down everything, all life support goes down.

   Sure, there are a few manual backup systems. One would be storage batteries. However, storage batteries will last a very short period of time depending on their capacity and the load. Of course, you should have flashlights and such but there again how long will these last and how much light will they produce.

   Most bunkers can be furnished with a hand crank used to turn a blower or pump of some kind for circulating and bringing in fresh air. How long would you want to have to turn a crank? Then most have some type hand pump available to pump water from the storage tanks. As you can see the bunker operates on electricity, which presents a number of problems. By far the most immediate problem will be lights.

   Now, suppose, for whatever reason you lose your generator. Could be due to a mechanical failure, a broken fuel line, an ignition problem, or even the bad Guys cutting the fuel line or plugging the air intake or exhaust. Ok, now you are set to operate on backup battery power. The batteries may keep you running for twenty-four hours at the most. Then what.

   If for whatever reason you can't get the generator back up and running you are without electricity with in twenty-four hours. In other words, without electricity everything in the bunker is down. No lights, no water, no ventilation. Sure, as I said there may be manual backups for water and ventilation but no back up for lights.

   There is no place darker than an underground bunker. There will be the complete absence of light. Battery operated light sources will last a very short period of time. The problem is amplified by the fact that you will be unable to use any type flame lighting inside the bunker. Remember this is a closed self-contained environment making Carbon Monoxide poisoning a very real and dangerous problem. Especially given the fact that there will be no air circulation. Without electricity you have a severe problem, a life threating problem.


   We can't forget the necessity for fuel. Some of the bunker manufactures actually recommend liquified natural gas (LNG) or liquified petroleum gas (LPG) as a fuel. This is about the most asinine thing I have heard yet. I would think the last thing you would want to do would be to introduce a source of flammable and noxious gas into a closed environment. The only sensible source of fuel would be diesel.

   As for the size tank required for generator fuel, this will depend on the size of generator and the type fuel powering the generator. Let's figure 16 Kw diesel generator. According to all recommendation it looks like about three quarters of a gallon diesel fuel per hour at 50% load. This will figure to be a little over 3,000 gallons for six months run time. If you are supplying your bunker with your adequate supplies to remain in the bunker for six months, then you are talking about a sizeable tank or more than one. Of course, this figure could vary greatly, this is just a gauging point.

   Another drawback to the fuel tanks is the fact that this much fuel will require a large storage tank or tanks. Diesel as well as L.P.G. or L.N.G. is going to give off a strong distinctive odor. This odor will be noticeable from quite a distance. This could well lead a bad guy directly to your bunker.

   Then there is the question what if you are able to elude detection for a period of time. What are you going to do once your fuel is depleted? Obviously at some point, you will run out of fuel, then what. There is little doubt no matter the type of catastrophic event, in the aftermath diesel fuel will be in short supply. As stated before a bunker will be uninhabitable without a generator.

   Now the question is, what to do. In a box underground with no lights it is dark, extremely dark. The only option will be to exit the bunker. Now the question will be is it safe to exit the bunker? If so, how are you going to survive, where are you going to go?


   After oxygen I would think water would be the next most important think necessary for life. In that we are stocking the bunker with supplies for six months we will of course require a large water supply, which will obviously require large storage tanks. It is widely agreed that on average an adult will use a minimum of one gallon of water a day. This does not take into account bathing or washing clothes. This is strictly water consumption for drinking, cooking and a little for other things. Now for a family of four that would calculate out to about 750 gallons of water. Of course, that is assuming you don't bathe or wash clothes and take it easy on coffee and tea.

   Another point to consider when calculating water usage is the toilet. There are a number of different types toilet that can be used. Most have to use water in differing amounts to flush. All have to be dumped regularly.

   Since water is going to be essential for your family's survival I would double the amounted calculated. This is going to require a large holding tank. Now you have to consider what are you going to do with the waste water? Of course, you will use the gray water for flushing the toilet, but then where will it go? You would be surprised at the amount of waste water a family of four will produce. Sure, you will have a holding tank but at some point, this tank will have to be dumped. It is for sure you're not going to call a septic company to pump it out.

   Just looking at water, you have a number of problems. There has to be holding tanks for potable water, holding tank for gray water, holding tank for sewage. Then you have to have some means of disposing the gray water and sewage.


   One problem most people over look when considering a bunker is garbage disposal...This will be a big problem. Two people will produce a lot of garbage very quickly. A family of four will really have the garbage. This garbage will have to be dumped periodicity. This produces a hold new set of problems.

   In order to dump the garbage, you will have to leave the bunker. Not only that you will have to have dig a hole in which to dump the garbage. This will have the effect of exposing yourself and the location of the bunker. It will also leave signs for an adversary to find locate you.

Vents and Entrance, Exits

   Obviously, your bunker will require an entrance and hopefully an exit. Some come with an escape hatch. Along with these a bunker will out of necessity have a number of vents as well as inlets.

   There will have to, of course be a rather large inlet pipe to bring air into the bunker. This will then require an equal sized vent pipe to the outside in order to circulate the interior air. There will be an inlet pipe for the generator as well as an exhaust pipe. There will have to be an exhaust over the cook stove. A chemical toilet will require a vent pipe. The clothes dryer will require a vent. Most bunkers will have battery backup for the generator which will require a vent pipe. The fuel tanks and potable water tanks will have to have vents as will your gray water holding tanks. Some of these can use a common vent but that will require a larger pipe making detection easier. So, you see there will be a great deal of exposure to the outside world.

   This is where some of the manufactures really start to get a little ridiculous. The inlets and vents to the bunker will be easy to fine. They will be a dead giveaway to your location. There is no argument there, just the fact you have to have a number of vents. Some of the advertisement pictures I have seen of camouflaged entrances and vents are comical. Some use plastic trees, or plastic rocks to try and hide the pipes and entrances.

   Out of these vents will be coming noise from your generator and even your ventilation fans. There will also be odors coming from these vents. Keep in mind especially if you are in a remote location any strange noise or odor will be very noticeable.

   Locating you will be even simpler in the winter when steam vapors will stand out like a blue light special. The heat coming from the vents will also melt the snow and produce icicles.

   Then there are the entrances and exits. These will have to be of a pretty good size. Not only will they have to be large enough to allow people to enter but also your supplies. They should be at ground level. These will be impossible to camouflage. Sure, you could put some type plastic rock, bush or whatever but these will stand out like a sore thumb. The other problem will be trying to hide any sign of human activity. This will be especially difficult in winter and rainy weather.

   Once the entrances and/or vents are located then the adversary will know they have found a treasure trove. There will be no problem with taking a bunker once it is located. There are any number of methods the bad Guys can use to force you out or kill you. First plug the vents. This will have the effect of shutting down the generator there by shutting down everything including lights and air. Another method of forcing you out or killing you will be to simply pour a flammable liquid down these vents and drop a match, game over. Another method will be to locate the fuel or water lines and cut them. Another method would be to simply plug the vents on your water or fuel supplies. Without a vent to allow air pressure in, neither water or fuel will flow or can be pumped.


   The obvious point here is you and your family will be in a trap. You will be in a box underground with one or two entrances with no windows. Here I could say Period...end of discussion...but let's look into it.

   There is no arguing the fact that you are in a box with only one or two exits. There is absolutely no defending yourself or your family. You will have no idea what is taking place just above and around you. One unarmed person can easily take you and your family hostage or kill you and your family. All it will require is to block the entrances, plug your vents and inlets. Let you and your family die. Or they can force you to come out one at the time to be killed or worse.

   The truth of the matter is in a scenario like we are looking at there will be a lot of desperate people roaming the country side. While it is true that few will venture far from a city or town, at some point their city supplies will run out. They will be forced to venture further and further in search of food. Prime targets will be country homes and farms. These will be prime targets for food. If you are anywhere near a populated area, even sparsely populated then chances are you will be found. This will be inevitable, you have supplies, they are hungry, scared and desperate. There will be people who will remember where those stupid Preppers set a bunker. After all that was big news for a while. Now they will look at this bunker as a buried treasure, virtual cornucopia, they have hit the jackpot.

   How long do you think it would take anyone to locate your bunker? Especially if they have a dog with them.

   Let us suppose you have overcome all the obstacles and have located your bunker in a remote location. It is true that there will be few if any gangs venturing into remote areas. Why would they, what little they may find would not be worth the effort. By the same reasoning why would you want to have a bunker located in a remote area? You will be a long way from a potential ground zero. Littler chance of anyone coming around and threating you and your family. Why not have a cabin or camp above ground where you will have freedom, fresh air and fresh food with plenty water? What possible advantage would a bunker provide, especially once you run out of fuel. Of course, it would make a hell of a root cellar.


   Exactly what will be the aftermath. Of course, this will depend on your location, and the type of event. The aftermath of any national catastrophic event will all be similar to he aftermath of a number of nuclear blast. Most any nuclear blast, natural disaster, or terrorist attack with WMD will have the effect of shutting down our power grid. Without the power grid the infrastructure is destroyed. Without our infrastructure we are set back a hundred two hundred years in the past.

   A big question is, what will the Government do... what can they do?

   This is where it gets confusing if you look at the FEMA website. This subject is far too complicated to try and make any sense out of it here. I suggest you read the information on FEMA website. A word of caution if you start researching multilabel sources, unless you are far smarter than me, you will become confused. There is a lot of contradictory information out there.

   The following is straight from FEMA. As with everything else where the government is concerned there are no straight forward answers from the government. My assumption is they don't know a lot more than we do.

After a Nuclear Blast

   People in most of the areas that would be affected could be allowed to come out of shelter within a few days and, if necessary, evacuate to unaffected areas. The heaviest fallout would be limited to the area at or downwind from the explosion. It might be necessary for those in the areas with highest radiation levels to shelter for up to a month.

  On the same site it says,"most people will be allowed to leave the shelters within 24 hours". I am taking that as a guideline. You would have to use your own judgement with this.

   Although there are any number of charts and maps showing the different zones of damage from a nuclear blast, the fact it is all mostly speculative, scientific theory. Actually, an educated guess. There has never been a nuclear blast in a populated area anywhere near the power that the modern generation of bombs produce. That is just simple fact. All of these maps and charts are computer models. We all know how accurate these can be from weather tracking.

   Having said that we have to have some type of guy line as to the different zones. After a lot of research, it seems the general consensus to be that within a .6-mile radius of ground zero no one survives the initial blast. This will be as a result of heat and shock wave. Within a one-mile radius there will be what they refer to as moderate damage but survivable. By survivable I assume if you are in a bomb shelter. It seems most agree after 24 hours fall out should be ending. A point to remember is that fall out will extend as far out as one hundred miles and possibly further. As I have stated these estimates of damage are much too complicated (purposely) to go over here. There are several pamphlets to review and I would suggest you do so. The FEMA is probably the best, actually I would advise getting a copy here.

Just to get you to thinking:

  On October 30, 1961, the USSR detonated the largest nuclear weapon ever tested and created the biggest man-made explosion in history. The blast, 3,000 times as strong as the bomb used on Hiroshima, broke windows 560 miles away.

   The flash of light from the blast was visible up to 620 miles away.

   The Tsar Bomb as the test was ultimately known, had a yield between 50 and 58 megatons, twice the size of the second-largest nuclear blast.

   A bomb of this size would create a fireball 6.4 square miles large and would be able to give humans third-degree burns within 4,080 square miles of the bomb's epicenter.

   If you have noticed this information seems to throw FEMA's estimates of damage out the window. However, we have to us something as a guideline.

   Taking all of this information into consideration I would have to assume it should be safe to come out of you shelter after twenty-four hours or so. If you are in close proximity to ground zero it may be safe from radiation fall out but not from radiation. You will be well advised to wear some type mask for at least a few days while in close proximity to ground zero. Everything you touch will be covered with radioactive particles. You should assume there are radioactive particles in the air. You will not want to hang around these areas any longer than absolutely necessary. Your job one should be to get your family out of the danger zone.

   Now, with that in mind let us look at the aftermath...say twenty-four hours after the event occurs. Let's assume the worst-case scenario. The entire infrastructure of the United States has been destroyed due to the destruction of the power grid. There is no possibility of government help, there is no authority... you and your family are on your own. You are on your own in all likelihood forever, a long time.

   Like I said earlier if you live in close proximity to a potential ground zero you will have obviously survived the blast in bomb shelter or a bunker. The question is will you choose a bunker that also serves as a bomb shelter or just a bomb shelter.

   I understand that one of the selling points that the bunker sales people pitch is the fact that you and your family will have a safe comfortable place to live.

Fact: When there is a nuclear detonation or any national catastrophic event there is going to be, depending on location hundreds of thousands if not millions killed. Not only humans but animals. That means without anyone to bury the dead there will be deteriorating corpses everywhere. There will be garbage, millions of rats running unchecked. Most importantly there will be few if any safe water sources, and there will be no toilets. That will mean disease. Deadly disease. In addition, there will be people that somehow survived. Most of these people will be dangerous, more dangerous than any disease. They will be desperate and in most cases suffering from radiation sickness or disease.

   If I lived near a potential ground zero, the reason I would want a bomb shelter instead of a bunker is simple. Depending on the size of the bomb, and for a number of other reasons, an area of at least fifty miles and up to a hundred miles from ground zero will in, a very short time after a denotation, be uninhabitable.

   Now let's assume you have chosen to have a bunker in close proximity to your house. This brings to question why, why anyone would want a bunker within fifty or even a hundred miles of a potential ground zero. This could only mean that you expect to survive in the bunker. Can you imagine what it would be like coming out of a bunker a week or two or even months after a nuclear detonation. Of course, this is considering that you were able to survive in the bunker for any length of time. If your plans were to survive long term in this bunker the environment in the vicinity of the bunker would only deteriorate as time goes by. In other words, the longer you remain in your bunker the more dangers you and your family will be faced with.

   With all this in consideration the only sensible plan would be to leave the bomb shelter somewhere between forty-eight and seventy-two hours after detonation. Of course, this would depend on the conditions and situations. I would leave sooner if conditions were right. I would assume after that period of time people will begin to panic and become desperate. The longer you remain in a populated area the more danger your family will face. Hopefully, once you can leave the shelter you have prepared a well-supplied evacuation point in a remote area you can reach.

   A point here, one of the smartest things you could have stored in your bomb shelter would be a bicycle for each person taking shelter. This will get you out of the danger zone quicker.

   Now the truth of the matter is, as I have written about in "The Fallacy of Home Storage and Surviving in Place" and "The Fallacy of Home Storage and Surviving in Place Revisited" you can not defend your house. However, if you are above ground, as I said you can monitor your surroundings, you are mobile and most importantly you can go on the defensive.

   So, what is the answer, how are we to survive a catastrophic event of the scope we are assuming. There is only one way. After all, there will be a lot more bad Guys than there are good guys. The only answer will be to get Out of Harm's Way.

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