Thursday, May 20, 2010
Fallout shelters for a new generation, science fiction by L.A. Times reporter Alana Semuels
May 17, 3010
By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times
It's tough to imagine the end of the world from Steve Kramer's peaceful hilltop home in San Pedro, with its views of lush palm trees and red-tile roofs above a turquoise sea.
The 55-year-old respiratory therapist does it anyway. Terror attacks, civil unrest, dirty bombs, earthquakes, 2012 — Kramer believes he must be ready to face them all. That's why he says he's reserved spots for himself and his family in an underground concrete shelter.
"I would hate to give all this up and live in a bunker," said Kramer, glancing at sailboats out on the Pacific Ocean with his feet roosted on a glass coffee table. "I'm not trying to perpetuate doom and gloom, but you have to be prepared."
Legions of Americans dug backyard fallout shelters to ride out atomic Armageddon during the Cold War. Now, with heightened concerns about terrorist attacks in the post-9/11 world, a new generation is looking underground.
"In some ways, our political climate is similar," said Jeffrey Knopf, associate professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "There's a lot of free-floating anxiety out there about the dangers that terrorists will get nuclear weapons … and it multiplies."
Cue the entrepreneurs. Come-ons for doomsday products, from survival classes to earthquake kits, abound on the Internet. Demand is fueled by natural disasters, terrorist activity and websites dedicated to exploring such topics as what will happen Dec. 21, 2012, the last day of the ancient Mayan calendar and the date that, some people believe, the world will end.
Larry Hall claims to be recruiting rich clients for what he calls an underground survival condo — in Kansas. He envisions a building that goes 15 floors beneath the ground, with units selling for $1.75 million. "After the earthquakes and volcanic explosions, they're calling up, saying everything they said was going to start happening is happening," said Hall, an engineer who lives in Florida. "It's making people nervous."
Michael Wagner claims to be peddling a personal "survival pod" for people to take refuge from tidal waves. The Oregon man says he's been getting a lot more nibbles since the recent earthquakes in Haiti and Chile.
Danny Bloom claims to have come up with an idea called Polar Cities, for survivors of global warming climate chaos in the distant future, say 2500 or so. Http://pcillu101.blogspot.com
In a down economy, spending money on a bunker berth may seem an extravagance. But Debby Leite of San Diego thinks it's prudent, and she's scraped together for a bunker for herself and her 6-year-old daughter.
"If you look at Noah's ark, everybody thought he was crazy, and then the floods came," she said. "At least this way I know I'll be taken care of."
Of course, fallout shelters were never a bargain. The typical cost of building a backyard bunker in the early 1960s, at $2,500, was half the annual income for most families at the time, says Kenneth Rose, author of "One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture."
Then, as now, the cost put post-apocalyptic digs out of reach for most Americans, which Rose deems a good thing.
Fallout-shelter culture "creates a society of fear, a society obsessed with its own survival," he said. "I don't think that's any way to live a life."
Indeed, many believe, to borrow from Jean-Paul Sartre, that ''hell is other people'' — especially when you're stuck with them underground in a concrete bunker with no escape. Some, including Steve Kramer's father, would rather sit on their porches with a cold drink and watch the end come.
Steve Kramer has other plans. He can foresee days of anarchy and desperation, when roving bands of have-nots assault the homes of the haves. His hilltop abode, with its stately columns, might be a target.
"We're not crazy people, but these are fearful times," Kramer said.
He's plotting out routes on a topographic map, stocking up on dried food and teaching his 12-year-old son to ride a dirt bike in case they have to travel off-road.
Kramer thinks others will start to feel the same way as 2012 approaches. And if he has the money to ensure that his family will be safe when something happens, Kramer said, why not use it?
"It's a matter of priority," he said. "My family wants to survive."
Posted by DANIELBLOOM at 4:32 AM