With the hotly contested midterm elections upon us, I thought it might be time to take a step back from the frenzy and examine something that may or may not be a colossal waste of money.

Some time ago, I came across an article entitled “Former Military Bunkers Are Home for Hundreds of Survival-Minded People.”

It seems a development group called Vivos (which develops survival properties in various places around the world) has purchased a huge property containing 575 former military bunkers near the Black Hills of South Dakota. “The 7,000-acre development sits on the former Black Hills Army Base, built in 1942 by the Army Corps of Engineers to store bombs and other munitions during World War II,” says the article. “The Army retired the base in 1967 and sold the property and all 575 bunkers to the city of Edgemont, which, in turn, sold it to local cattle ranchers.”

The massive concrete structures are being turned into bunkers for survivalists.

There’s certainly something to be said for these structures. The location is geographically isolated and seismically stable. The bunkers themselves are spacious (2,200 square feet) and the thick concrete walls are constructed to withstand both internal and external blasts, such as that of a nuclear bomb. Each unit can be custom outfitted in luxury, with the primary disadvantage being the lack of natural light.

According to the website, “Each bunker provides enough floor area, with attic potential, to comfortably accommodate 10 to 24 people and their needed supplies, for a year or more, of autonomous shelterization without needing to emerge outside.”

These bunkers are made to last. “Each bunker includes a massive existing concrete and steel blast door, that seals to stop any water, air or gas permeation; air and exhaust ventilation shafts, and a secondary emergency exit. … This elliptical shape mitigates a surface blast wave, as well as radioactive fallout due to the thickness of the overburden of soil and concrete.”

I got curious about this development and did a little research. I’ve come to the conclusion the whole project is, well, stupid. Well, maybe not stupid so much as misguided.

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Why? Because as I see it, literally the only advantages of these bunkers is their ability to withstand the types of explosions and blasts for which they were constructed. But as prepper shelters, they have less appeal – unless, literally, your only concern about the future is nuclear warfare (which, to be fair, is a legitimate concern considering the situation in Europe).

There are, in my opinion, a number of strikes against these bunkers:

  • Customers pay a lot, but not for ownership. According to the article, “It costs $45,000 to purchase a 99-year lease for each bunker and about $150,000 to $200,000 to convert it to living quarters.” The website clarifies, “There is a one-time upfront payment of $45,000, plus an ongoing annual ground rent of $1,091 per bunker. Bunkers are provided in their as-is condition, without interior improvements, equipment or furnishings, ready for your outfitting.” That’s a lot of money for an unfinished rental.

  • Alternately, customers can pay $15,000 to secure a space in a shared bunker. These are “completely furnished, outfitted, stocked with 1 year of food and supplies, dishware, linens, fuel, water, and bedding, with a deluxe private bunk with keyed access. Perfect for singles, couples and small families to share with others.”
  • The facilities are still dependent on outside power sources (fuels for generators, etc.). According to the FAQs, “The entire bunker network is off grid, without power supply from the local utilities. Each bunker needs to install a diesel generator with 55-gallon drum fuel storage tanks for the primary ongoing power requirements.” With the unfolding energy crisis on both the national and international stage, this strikes me as an enormous vulnerability.
  • There is no private water source. The FAQs specify, “Vivos distributes water from our 4,200-foot-deep aquifer well up to a 250,000+/- gallon underground cistern located on a hill within the complex. Water is then gravity fed to each bunker. The initial water line hookup to each bunker is just $3,000. Thereafter, you may freely use as much water as you like, for inside shelterization purposes, at no extra charge, provided you are not wasting the water.” However presumably it requires fuel to lift the water from a depth of 4,200 feet. What happens when the fuel runs out?
  • Property “per bunker” is limited to 30 feet from the structure. This limits the amount of space to build any structures such as barns or other livestock facilities – much less have grazing room for animals. Some customers have planted gardens on top of their bunkers, which is probably the very best location for a garden; but additional self-sufficiency options (such as room to house and graze cattle) are limited.
  • The USDA Hardiness Zone for the area is 4B, same as most of Alaska. This means gardening is challenging. The hardy people who already live in this region have years of experience in dealing with the climate and have a thorough understanding of what plants will grow and what won’t. How long will it take newcomers to the area to acquire that same knowledge? More than one growing season, I suspect.
  • Essentially, these bunkers are like self-imposed prison cells. Someone could literally trap you inside by bulldozing a huge load of dirt or rocks in front of the bunker doors. Alternately, you could be forced out by Bad Guys cutting your water and/or power lines.

In short, it strikes me that these bunkers appeal mostly to the “Gee this is cool!” school of thinking, rather than the hard reality of what it takes to survive a bleep-hit-the-fan scenario … unless, of course, the “bleep” is a nuclear holocaust.

And even then, these bunkers have a limited attraction (to me, at least) in the event of a nuclear war. Sure, they’ll do a splendid job of protecting you for as long as you stay within their thick concrete walls. But what then?

Let’s put it this way: If outside conditions are so dire that you must literally hole up for an entire year, then things will be positively apocalyptic when you finally emerge from your concrete cocoon. Let’s say nuclear Armageddon happens and you’ve survived, thanks to your remarkable bunker. A year has passed, and you emerge, blinking in the bleary sunshine, and realize you have no fuel for generators or water pumps. Presumably by then your food will be eaten up as well. What’s your next step? Ordering something from Amazon?

If people who can afford these bunkers simply want the novelty of living inside a concrete shell, then what the heck, go for it. But they must recognize they are, in many ways, just as susceptible to societal disruptions of goods and services (notably fuel to power generators and well pumps) as anyone else.

Or am I the misguided one here? Am I missing something? Are these bunkers the best thing since sliced bread? What are your thoughts?

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