Growing up in the Washington, D.C., area, I remember taking trips to West Virginia for long weekends with my family. The Greenbrier is a popular, well-known resort in West Virginia, located a few hours from D.C.
My family never stayed there, but this luxury resort in the Allegheny Mountains is a National Historic Landmark. U.S. presidents and dignitaries from other nations regularly visit this world-class destination.
Even if you’ve heard of “America’s Resort,” you might not know that beneath the property lies a U.S. government bunker built in the 1950s in response to President Eisenhower’s concerns about how our nation would be governed in the event of nuclear war. The bunker was classified until 1992, when it was decommissioned after The Washington Post ran an article revealing its existence.
At approximately 112,000 square feet, the bunker was code named “Project Greek Island.” The walls are made of reinforced concrete 3–5 inches thick, and the bunker is outfitted with steel blast doors — each one weighing over 18 tons.
The bunker was designed to hold roughly 1,100 people, including all members of Congress and about 500 staff. It contains its own power plant with backup generators and three 25,000-gallon water tanks. The facility also includes a dormitory, hospital, cafeteria and communications center. For over 30 years, the bunker was kept stocked with six months’ worth of supplies in case of an attack.
Luckily, our leaders have never had to retreat to the bunker. In fact, it’s never been used as an emergency shelter — even during the Cuban missile crisis. These days, “the Bunker,” as it’s now known, has been renovated and is currently being used as a data storage facility.
Obviously, none of us has the resources or money to build anything remotely comparable to the bunker at the Greenbrier. But I bet many of you have considered building some type of shelter to keep your family safe in an emergency. And while this may seem crazy, it’s actually not as difficult to build a bunker as most people think.
Some Assembly Required
If this is a project you’ve considered, the first thing you’ll need to decide is what materials you want to use. There are a variety of options. For example, you could buy a shipping container and build it into a mountainside, or you could build a cement bunker under your home.
Of course, each option has its pros and cons, so take the time to evaluate what would work best for you. Do you own a remote piece of land where you could bury a shipping container? Or do you want to build a shelter close to your home so you can use the same power and water sources?
Once you’ve made your decision, here are a few critical things to take into account before placing your trust in your new shelter:
- Power — One of the most important issues is how you plan to provide power to your shelter. Some options include batteries, solar panels and generators. When it comes to batteries, I recommend choosing a quality gel-cell battery, which requires no maintenance and lasts longer. Solar panels are another great option, but they can be affected by natural disasters. If you go the solar route, remember to have a battery backup. If you decide a generator is the best choice, I suggest getting a propane generator, because propane, unlike gasoline, can be stored indefinitely
- Water — Almost equally important to an emergency shelter is a water supply and sewage system. The simplest approach is to have a large storage tank, but you’ll need to be able to filter the water or replace the tank regularly to keep it fresh. When it comes to sewage, the best option is a septic tank of some sort. You can find small, affordable tanks that all your water can drain into, but once the tank is full, you’ll be — pardon my French — sh*t out of luck
- Air — Most importantly, we need air to survive, which makes a quality ventilation system essential. Underground bunkers don’t have much air flow, so you’ll need a system that both removes stale air and filters incoming air. Again, this is one of the most vital components of a survival bunker. Failing to set up a good ventilation system can have deadly consequences
- Food — Let’s say you have to get to your bunker in a hurry. You aren’t going to have time to grab all the food items you’ve stored in your home. So regardless of whether your bunker is near your home or in a remote location, you need to keep it stocked with high-calorie foods with long shelf lives (such as canned goods). And remember to rotate the food regularly
- Protection — If things are bad enough that you’ve retreated to your shelter, you will probably need a way to protect yourself, so be sure to stock guns and plenty of extra ammo. Consider adding cameras to the exterior of your shelter to monitor for threats. Your bunker should also have a second entrance or a way to escape if someone forces their way in. Otherwise, you’ll be a sitting duck.
Keeping in mind the general points above, you can make adjustments based on your family’s needs.
The biggest advantage of a survival shelter is that it can protect you from a variety of threats. However, you will basically be stuck in that bunker until the danger has passed, so be sure to make the necessary preparations to survive there for an extended time.