Bomb shelter business booms
Industry grows as Trump, North Korea posture
WASHINGTON — The showdown between North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump once again has raised the specter of nuclear annihilation.
That has done wonders for the bomb-shelter industry.
Sales and inquiries have spiked, according to several of the U.S. companies that make money from doomsday fears.
“The increase in demand is everywhere. We are getting hundreds of calls,” said Ron Hubbard, president of Atlas Survival Shelters, based in Montebello, Calif.
Hubbard said he expects to have a banner year, selling 1,000 shelters at an average price of $25,000 each.
Bomb shelters are a cyclical industry, booming during crises and waning during periods of peace and predictability. Trump’s “fire and fury” threat, after news about North Korea’s nuclear weapons advancement, has helped boost sales, and not just in the United States.
Hubbard reports there is intensified demand in Japan, where he has opened a sales office in Osaka. He’s also opening a 400,000-square-foot plant in Dallas, largely to serve the Japanese market.
“We are back in the 1960s again,” said Hubbard, referring to the Cold War demand for bomb shelters. “We’ve got a crazy man on one side and Donald Trump on the other.”
Gary Lynch, general manager of Rising S Shelters in Murchison, Texas, also has seen a rise in demand for his products, both in Japan and here.
“It is all due to the rhetoric on what is going on in North Korea,” said Lynch, who said he has sold 67 bomb shelters internationally this year, mostly to Japan, compared with just nine for all of 2016.
In the United States, bomb-shelter customers run the gamut. Some are homeowners recently alarmed about the threat of a nuclear strike. They also include survivalists and “preppers” — people preparing for man-made or natural disasters. Rising S is owned by a Texas prepper named Clyde Scott.
After Barack Obama was elected president, Lynch said Rising S was contacted by customers worried about the government coming after their guns. After Trump was elected, a different clientele — Democrats — started calling.
“People are worried that Trump would start a war,” he said.
Consumers shopping for a family bomb shelter have a world of options. At Rising S, Lynch’s most popular model is a 500-square-foot, steel-encased bunker that can accommodate a single family, for $120,000. That price does not include underground installation or overseas shipping. But it does include an NBC — nuclear, biological, chemical — filtration system, essential for surviving after an attack.
Atlas markets 15 types of shelters, Hubbard said, but focuses on a corrugated steel pipe model, which can be decked out with luxuries or kept as a simple “man cave.” He said he’s brought his average price down from $100,000 to about $25,000 in the past six years.
“I think of myself as a modern-day Henry Ford, coming out with a shelter that everyone can afford,” Hubbard said.
Vivos, another California-based company, offers a completely different shelter experience. It sells shares in underground bunker complexes, a sort of doomsday condominium. Vivos said its 80-person Indiana complex is completely sold out, with shares going for $35,000 per adult.
Although they vary in their products and customer base, U.S. shelter makers all have learned that paranoia can be a potent marketing pitch, especially when trust in government is on the wane.
Vivos, for example, has a website with images of viral pandemics, asteroid strikes, nuclear mushroom clouds and other calamities.
“People are sensing that a global life-changing event is just ahead. Millions of people believe that we are living in the ‘end times.’ The governments of the world know something and have been bunkering up for decades. Why is nobody telling you to prepare?” the company says.
Owners of shelters generally say they don’t want their neighbors to know they have one, Hubbard said.
“They would all be freaking out and banging on your door,” he said. “It is kind of like when a ship sinks — everyone swims to the floating life raft.”
It’s a roller-coaster business. In 2014, Vivos scrapped plans for a 5,000-person shelter in Atchison, Kan., after saying it was about to build the world’s largest doomsday bunker.
Atlas Survival Shelters began in Sacramento, Calif., in the 1950s. It was then named Atlas Bomb Shelter Distributing and purchased ominous advertising warning about the “danger of a nuclear war.” But the company went out of business as the Cold War cooled and people started joking about “Duck and Cover,” the 1951 civil defense film that featured Bert the Turtle.
Not all preparedness advocates are fans of private bunkers.
“Anyone buying a shelter should first vet it carefully with someone knowledgeable about exposure to nuclear fallout,” said Dr. Robert Levin, public health officer of Ventura County, Calif.
Levin, who recently has urged communities to more seriously prepare for a nuclear emergency, said there are other precautions people can take. One, he said, is for people to identify secure places in their homes or offices — or along their commute routes — where they can take cover during an emergency.
Hubbard, however, said there’s a growing segment of homeowners who want the ultimate protection. That includes people in Japan, where developers are building new communities with bomb shelters installed and marketed to lure customers.
There’s even increased interest in South Korea, he said.
“South Koreans generally don’t buy shelters because they are numb to the rhetoric coming out of North Korea,” he said. “But apparently Kim Jong Un has struck a chord.”