A 60-ton (54 t) crane lifts the cylindrical shelter, roughly the length and width of an 18-wheeler, and drops it into place.
Today’s "doomsday preppers" and people of a certain age are familiar with emergency bomb shelters, but Ron Hubbard, founder and owner of Atlas Survival Shelters in Los Angeles, Calif., began catering to a new clientele in 2011 by marketing them as luxury underground homes for recreational use.
"They’re bomb-proof shelters for recreational fun," he said, explaining that he uses one as a hunting lodge.
In fact, he said, there are prepper communities where people pay to put a shelter in and pay association fees. Located on 500-acre tracts, the communities typically feature a central clubhouse with underground command center.
"Some people buy boats, RVs or a second home," Hubbard said. "Others buy bomb shelters."
Installed across the country, the shelters are built at the Los Angeles factory and then transported by semi to their ultimate destination, where Hubbard’s own crew rents equipment to install them.
"Our customers don’t want the locals to know about their shelters, so we don’t use contractors," he explained.
A designer and fabricator who has worked in steel manufacturing since 1981, Hubbard uses the same galvanized, corrugated steel pipe typically found in storm water culverts to construct these NBC (nuclear-biological-chemical) shelters. Available in sizes ranging from 20 to 51 ft. (6 to 15.5 m), they’re rated for a 200-year lifespan.
Before they leave the factory, they are furnished with all the comforts of home, such as queen-size beds, leather sofas and flat screen TVs. They also feature surveillance cameras, air filtration systems and AC/DC wiring for electrical outlets and lights. Numerous options are available, with prices ranging from $35,000 to $85,000 plus shipping and installation.
On site, Hubbard’s crew excavates 20 ft. down, using a Cat 325D excavator. Twelve inches of ¾-in. crushed gravel is laid so the crew can make a pad of concrete or pressure-treated lumber. Then a 60-ton (54 t) crane lifts the cylindrical shelter, roughly the length and width of an 18-wheeler, and drops it into place. Front-end loaders and bulldozers move the dirt into place over the shelter.
For customers who want generator power, a second, smaller hole is dug to accommodate it.
"If we’re working in sandy loam like they have in Texas, we have to move a lot of earth so it doesn’t cave in," Hubbard said.
Clay soil doesn’t require so much earth to be moved. In fact, in some cases, he can do the job with just an excavator.
Smaller shelters don’t always require the big equipment. Hubbard said he sometimes uses Bobcats to move dirt, and mentioned one shelter in Wisconsin that was placed without the crane.
"They just dragged it in with a loader."
Equipped with everything necessary for survival, the shelters are popular with women, who make up 50 percent of his customer base, Hubbard noted. But he emphasized the versatility of his shelters.
"If I sell luxury bomb shelters, that implies emergency use only. But if I market these as bomb-proof shelters for fun and recreation, it opens up a whole new market."