Where will you sleep during the end of the world?
Your bed? In your unprotected, above-ground house? Nonsense. Let me tell you of a much better—and vastly more stylish—way to keep on keepin’ on when the bottom drops out of human civilization.
Here’s a fun fact about me: I’m obsessed with the doomsday luxury shelter.
Everything about the concept fascinates me. The engineering, the operating logistics, the market, the advertising, the class and culture issues, the psychology of those who buy them, and—most of all—what happens inside if you ever actually have to use one.
The luxury shelter isn’t a new concept, but these fancy terrestrial escape pods have been in the news recently because the super rich have been investing in them in big numbers. Democracy is on the way out; societal cohesion may follow. Nukes, pandemics, radically disruptive technologies, even stray asteroids…optimism about the future is in short supply.
The doomsday luxury shelter recently made it into the show Billions (I’m a big fan). On a recent episode, one of the top traders a giant hedge fund gives the billionaire CEO, Bobby Axelrod, a birthday gift in the form of a $500,000 down payment for a spot in an apocalypse-proof luxury shelter. The characters tour the facility via virtual reality goggles, checking out the living suites, pool, exercise facilities, tennis courts, even the Roman-style marble columns. Ultimately, Axelrod declines the gift, saying “If the day comes when you actually need to get inside, the doors will be closed.”
I loved this scene, and not just because of my fascination with luxury shelters themselves.
You see, I’ve recently come to a deeply depressing conclusion: I’ll probably never be a billionaire. It’s heartbreaking, I know. The realization snuck up on me: when you’re ten years old, you just assume it will happen. At twenty, that first billion dollars seems like it’s right around the corner. At thirty, you still haven’t made a billion, but with the right alignment of stars and events and magic, maybe…
Yet here I am, some undisclosed number of years past thirty and still not a billionaire. Moreover, I’m a writer; my income is more suited to a hunter-gatherer/barter economy than an advanced capitalist one.
Maybe you can relate. I’ve always assumed most of my readers are multi-millionaires at the least, but for those of you who’ve never forgotten how many boats you own, this post will hold a special fascination.
Weep for me, and I will weep for you.
Even worse, I don’t even have any billionaire friends who might gift me a spot in their luxury doomsday bunker. I met Warren Buffet in a hallway once, but he’s never sent me a single birthday present in all the years since.
So my fascination is twofold—there’s the sci-fi/sociological components of what these shelters mean and how they work, and a weird paranoid jealousy at the idea that some humans could live in extraordinary comfort while the world burns.
Broadly speaking, there are two categories of shelter for those interested in riding out the end in style: the individual shelter or the managed community shelter.
The individual shelter doesn’t interest me very much. We all know how that story goes: You descend into the earth, shut the doors, and prepare for a long stay. A month goes by, no problems. Then one morning, you wake up to find alternate versions of yourself inside the bunker with you, and soon you’re chewing off your own hands and writing ancient Greek prophecies on the walls.
But if the individual shelter does interest you, feel free to drop any amount of money on one that you like. The Texas-based Rising S Company will even come to your property and build a customizable shelter of your choice (based on a wide variety of packages on their website). They range from $45,000 (think a slight upgrade from Cold War bunker photos) to extreme luxury shelters costing in the millions. Their “Aristocrat” floor plan (yes, it’s really called that) will run you $8.35 million.
With the proper credit rating and money down, they even allow financing. I adore the concept of long-term financing for a doomsday bunker. Everybody wins: You have peace of mind in case the world ends (moderately likely) and they have your money in case it never does (likelier).
But let’s forget about the individual shelter for now. It’s the community luxury shelter that captivates me the most.
To get inside one of these magical places, you purchase an actual condo or suite inside a gigantic fortified structure or walled-in compound. Some are underground, some above, and some are half-in and half-out. Most of the fancy ones allow you to design the living suite yourself, and once it’s paid for and completed, you have access to it anytime you want—even without an apocalyptic need.
For a condo completely hardened against nuclear attack or biological threat, you might try the Survival Condo project, located somewhere in Kansas (they won’t say exactly). It’s a converted Atlas ICBM missile silo complex, so everything is underground—pool, workout facilities, weird LCD “windows” into the outside world. It has armed guards with military training, hydroponic growth systems for producing new fruits and vegetables, and power to run for years.
If your paranoid cup of tea is more of the “total societal collapse” variety, you might consider a spot in Trident Lakes. It’s still under construction, but the living units are only partially underground, and the amenities are all on the surface. It’s basically a full-scale resort ringed by massive walls and armed guards; everything you need to have fun and keep the barbarians outside the gate.
From an Atlantic article: “In case things do go south, Trident Lakes will offer “Navy seal Experience” self-defense training and a vault for family DNA. The hope is that, down the line, scientists could use genetic material to replicate residents who were lost to catastrophe, thereby ensuring “family sustainability.” Where these scientists might come from isn’t clear, but for a group selling cataclysm, the gesture seems an oddly hopeful bet on the future.”
Oh, how I love the utterly bonkers sci-fi-ness of this. Trident Lakes provides golf courses AND genetic family replication. How could you say no?
Want something just as fancy but fully underground? Try The Oppidum in the Czech Republic. This is probably the biggest shared luxury bunker in the world. It does have some above-ground components, but most of it lies below the surface. Here are some of the perks, according to the Forbes article: “simulated natural light, spa, swimming pool, cinema, library, and other leisure facilities. There will be offices and a conference room as well as medical and surgical facilities and supplies. Custom private vaults will also be designed to store valuables and personal art collections.”
Take a gander at the Oppodium’s “conference room”:
But my absolute favorite luxury shelter company is Vivos, which has multiple locations on offer around the world. The website is deliciously creepy—in addition to describing the available facilities and a “How to Apply” button, there are dedicated links to “Prophecies” and “Timeline.”
Their flagship shelter is in Germany; it’s called Vivos Europa One.
Best. Name. Ever.
I’m deeply tempted to pretend to be a billionaire—don’t ask me how I’d manage it—just to apply and get a tour.
Did you think my use of a Great Gatsby party pic for the cover photo a bit hyperbolic?
Ladies and gentlemen, Vivos Europa One:
According to Robert Vicino, the CEO of Vivos, their suites are a lot like what you’d find on luxury yachts. Quote: “Most of these [customers] have high-end yachts, so they already have the relationship and they know the taste, fit, and finish they want,” (CNN)
Ok, enough touring. I’m not trying to Robin Leach this thing.
Let’s say you do actually purchase a place in a communal luxury shelter. I have tons of questions about the concept , and I’m answering ALL OF THEM RIGHT NOW.
How Do You Get There?
This may be the toughest issue. The big communal luxury shelters, both in North America and Europe, are in fairly remote locations—nowhere near the primary residences of their customers.
So when the marauders start their marauding, or the plague begins its plaguing, how do you get to your multi-million dollar forever home?
If you’re a billionaire, you probably own a private plane or helicopter. Ok. Not bad, if the airports are still working and your pilot is nearby at the time. Maybe start your flying lessons now?
Barring ownership of your own plane, odds are pretty low that you can get to one of these things during a general panic. As I’ve talked about before, driving a car to escape any catastrophic event is a non-starter. Motorcycles are better, but you still need access to gasoline. Bicycle is best, but with that method, distance to the shelter becomes a serious problem.
Bottom line: you better hope there is plenty of advance warning for the end of the end. With even the slightest hint that things might be going south, you go to your shelter, settle in, and hope you didn’t jump the gun.
Once You Get There, Do They Let You In?
Maybe, maybe not.
If it’s a simple societal collapse without a biological, chemical, nuclear, or environmental component, you probably have a good shot (unless the place is already surrounded by an angry mob).
But if it’s a fast-moving virus, forget about it. Doesn’t matter how much you paid. Same with nuclear fallout. Theoretically, some of these places could establish medical testing stations on the outside to check entrants for positive or negative virus carrier status, but that seems like a lot to ask.
For a shared luxury shelter to operate, the majority of people inside are definitely not going to be the wealthy ones who purchased access. According to Elizabeth Stamp’s article, “The developers…work to create well-rounded communities with a range of skills necessary for long-term survival, from doctors to teachers.”
Oh yeah? What does that background check look like, exactly? Do you only recruit from locals so that your staff can report for work when the s*** goes down? Notice they didn’t mention plumbers and cleaning staff…
How Do You Maintain Order Inside? What is the Law? Who Decides it? Democracy or Dictatorship?
About that staffing issue…
If the civilized world has gone the way of the dinosaurs and you’ve bought your way into a luxury underground shelter, then you’re also stuck there with a bunch of support staff and security guards. These people live in…what? The staff quarters? Whatever it is, it definitely won’t be as nice as what you live in, that’s for sure.
Additionally, these people are now contractually obligated to make your life comfortable.
Umm… why would they?
At this point, is money even a thing anymore? You might have gold and jewelry stashed away with you, perhaps even in secure safes, but it’s still down there with everyone else. What’s the incentive for any non-homeowner staff (especially the ones hired to guard the place with really big guns) to stick to a contractual employment agreement during the apocalypse?
Let’s say you’ve purchased the absolute top-of-the-line home in a shared doomsday luxury shelter. Doomsday came, you got to the shelter in time, they let you in, and now you’re living semi-happily in your private suite. Everything worked out.
It’s late on a Saturday morning. You’ve just returned from a lovely breakfast in the dining suite after some racquetball and a swim at the pool. You make a quick trip to the bathroom, and—oops—the toilet isn’t working. You call the plumber. After an annoyingly long wait, he arrives. You lead him to the bathroom and show him the problem.
Plumber: “Toilet’s busted.”
You: “Yes, that’s why I called you.”
Plumber (looking around): “Nice place you’ve got here.”
You: “It’s ok.”
Plumber: “I think it’s mine now.” (takes another look) “Yep, this will do fine.”
You: “Excuse me?”
Plumber: “I live here now.”
You: “No, I do. This is my home. I paid for it.”
Plumber: (nodding) “That’s true, and thanks for financing all this.”
You: “It’s not yours to take. There are rules. I’ll call security.”
Plumber: “You could do that, sure. But most of the guards have taken over the other private residences by now. I kind of doubt they’ll answer.”
You: (reaching for phone): We’ll see about that. I happen to know the head of security, Ms. Andrews.”
Plumber: “You mean Janet? Yeah, see, Janet declared herself a living god this morning. Her acolytes control all the upper floors now. She converted the movie theater into her new throne room.”
You: (putting down phone): “She’s not head of security anymore?”
Plumber: “She’s still technically head of security, she’s just also a living god. Comes with some extra perks.”
Plumber: “So anyway, you can live here and be my servant if you want. Or you can go upstairs and prostrate before Janet, God-Queen of UnderEarth, praise be her name, may she live forever. Your call. Now if you don’t mind, I have to fix my new toilet.”
Should the world slip away, I suspect loyalty to the established order of things is going to be pretty hard to come by—both inside and outside of these shelters.
Internal Security/Prison for Violators of the Law
There is nothing on the websites about this, but I’d love to see what some of these places have in terms of a prison or a brig. Even if the law can’t survive for very long, what form of law do they start with?
Do You Actually Want to Survive?
It’s a morbid question, but a valid one.
The individual bunker thing—forget about it. You’d need a family down there at the very least; living alone is a non-starter for me. If separation from the human race meant you would get lean and fit and have adorable conversations with a volleyball, that would be ok. But real, prolonged human isolation—especially without natural daylight—brings on some terrifying effects remarkably quickly.
That’s the biggest attraction of community shelters—theoretically, you don’t go crazy. But none of these shelters—not even the fanciest ones for billionaires—are equipped to power their amenities for more than a few years. Survival Condo promises five years of good living. The Oppidum promises ten, but that’s the longest span I’ve seen advertised. Widespread nuclear fallout would hang on for well past a natural human lifespan. Even with a simple societal collapse, it’s hard to imagine the world righting itself in only five or so years.
After the main power runs out, it’s back to batteries and candles and toasting bread over cans of jellied alcohol.
That, or you return to the outside…
What’s the World Like When You Emerge?
If you hide during nuclear destruction or viral outbreak, sure, that makes sense. It almost doesn’t matter what the Earth looks like when you emerge, if you ever do.
But if it’s just a societal collapse and you disappear for years to wait it out, you abdicate any control over what the world—or your little slice of it—looks like after the storm. Maybe being safe and warm behind the walls will work out in your favor, or maybe it won’t. What if the only way you can truly survive long-term is to battle it out in the wilderness, becoming a hardened warrior with weird tattoos and a loyal pet wolf? Or what if a new government, rebuilt from the rubble, grants political rights only to those who took part in its making?
Not to mention the fact that you’ll miss out on all the legendary stuff-of-movies adventure on the outside. Nobody’s gonna write a novel about your underground tennis game.
This was a longer post than usual, so I appreciate you reading all the way to the end. And because I love you, if you leave a comment today, I will put your name in a hat for a drawing at the end of the month. The winner gets a reserved space in a hidden doomsday luxury shelter!
Don’t laugh; this is a $2,000,000 value, potentially yours just for reading this blog. If you win, I’ll text you the GPS coordinates of the shelter. You’ll need to report there sometime between now and the end of the world to give the staff some biometric data and to see what your suite will look like. Get excited! You’ll have a guaranteed (if you can get there and if they let you in) role in furthering the human race.
After that, all you have to do is wait. Maybe set up a google news alert to let you know when the CEOs of major corporations begin to vanish from public life en masse.
Relax. You’ve got a plan. You’re safe.
And buy a helicopter.