The Doom Boom

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
There are lots of reasons to build underground. In Singapore, there are whole skyscrapers under the Earth because the country has run out of space on the surface. In Toronto, Canada, there’s a network of tunnels called “The Path” that connects the whole downtown so people never have to go outside in the winter. And then there is the curious architecture known as the “doomsday bunker.”

Bradley Garrett:
There’s a huge amount of subterranean space that we’re not aware of around us all the time. For those of us who live in suburban and rural areas, it’s not unlikely that one of your neighbors has a bunker underneath their house that you don’t know about.

Roman Mars:
This is Bradley Garrett.

Bradley Garrett:
I’m the author of “Bunker: Building for the End Times.”

Roman Mars:
People have always built survival shelters to stay safe from things like plagues or hurricanes, but in modern history, we’ve really outdone ourselves. There are tens of thousands of government and military bunkers around the world and every day, people are building private bunker space, from simple backyard shelters to luxury condos that extend hundreds of feet underground.

Bradley Garrett:
Once you start looking for bunkers, you see them everywhere.

Roman Mars:
In this episode, Brad will be our guide to the fascinating world of architecture for the end times and we’re going to find out why today we’re going through a true bunker renaissance.

Roman Mars:
Let’s talk a little bit about the modern bunker as it relates to the Cold War and the first doom boom. So, tell me about it. What happened during the first doom boom?

Bradley Garrett:
Well, essentially what happens in the middle of the Cold War is that it becomes clear that the threat of nuclear war is very real and governments have to make a decision — are they going to try and build shelter for their entire population? Some governments actually do this. Switzerland famously built bunkered space for every single human being in the populace. In fact, there’s space for more than everyone. I don’t know, I guess if visitors are in town, they have a place to go as well.

Roman Mars:
A plus one.

Bradley Garrett:
Yeah, but in the United States, the decision was made not to build these spaces because the nuclear strategists that brought these numbers to the Eisenhower government, I mean, the numbers were astronomical. It was essentially the government’s GDP for an entire year to shelter the population. So a decision was made in secret to build bunkers for politicians and their aides, but not their families, interestingly. The snowball effect there becomes sort of difficult to deal with. But when Kennedy takes power, he is clearly uncomfortable with the idea that people don’t know what kind of danger they’re in, and so he gives this famous speech where he says that, I’m paraphrasing here, “In our conflict with the Soviet Union, it’s not provocation that we seek, but preparation.”

[JOHN F. KENNEDY: OUR PRIMARY PURPOSE IS NEITHER PROPAGANDA, NOR PROVOCATION, BUT PREPARATION. TOMORROW, I AM REQUESTING OF THE CONGRESS NEW FUNDS FOR THE FOLLOWING IMMEDIATE OBJECTIVES — TO IDENTIFY AND MARK SPACE IN EXISTING STRUCTURES, PUBLIC AND PRIVATE, THAT COULD BE USED FOR FALLOUT SHELTER.]

Bradley Garrett:
He sends out this admonishment to everyone — if you have the resources, build a bunker for yourself and your family. You have to look after yourselves. And so this triggers this, what we call the first “doom boom,” this multimillion-dollar industry that springs up overnight of private contractors who are suddenly rushing to excavate people’s backyards and build nuclear fallout shelters.

Roman Mars:
Why didn’t it seem like a good idea for the US to build shelters for every citizen? Was it just a practical concern of doing the numbers, that too widespread, too expensive, or do you think there’s something fundamentally different about the relationship between the government and its people. Why Switzerland would have a place for everyone plus one, or was it just practical?

Bradley Garrett:
That decision has something to do with the way that we imagine the United States as a kind of collective of individuals, right?

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Bradley Garrett:
But the logistics of building bunkered space for every American was also just incredibly complicated because it’s a huge country, people are really spread out. It wouldn’t be fair, for instance, to say, if you live in a densely populated urban area, “We’re going to make sure that you have access to punctured space because logistically we can offer that, but if you live in a rural area, well you’re on your own.”

Roman Mars:
Yeah.

Bradley Garrett:
The government did make an effort to build fallout shelters rather than blast shelters, right? Transforming parking garages, for instance, into a space that people could hide out in, but that’s a far cry from what many governments did.

Roman Mars:
Could you define the difference between a fallout shelter and a blast shelter, or maybe even a fallout shelter and a bunker, as you see it?

Bradley Garrett:
In the traditional Cold War calculation, there are two kinds of shelters. There’s a blast shelter, which can take a direct hit from a nuclear weapon, and there’s a fallout shelter, which is a shelter you would hide in for 14 days. 14 days being the magic number when radiation levels fall to the point to which you can sort of safely emerge from the bunker into the post-apocalyptic world, so it’s a lot cheaper to build a fallout shelter, obviously. You don’t have to reinforce it to the same degree, it doesn’t have to be buried deeply underground, and so many fallout shelters were built during the Cold War. Many of those were private and they were built in people’s backyards.

Roman Mars:
The fear of nuclear war started receding in the 1990s, at least my fear of nuclear war started receding in the 1990s. You write that some of these private bunkers were converted into pantries and nurseries for kids. What happened to all the government bunkers?

Bradley Garrett:
If you think about the sums of money that were invested in constructing those massive bunkered spaces for the Cold War, I mean, it’s kind of incredible, right? I mean, because, of course, they now appear to be architectural follies. They never served the function that they were intended for, so what do you do with them, right? If you’re a government and you’re now operating under varying levels of austerity and you’re trying to scramble to find money for things and then you realize, “Hey, wait a minute. We’ve got that subterranean fortress that we built that we never used. Maybe we could put that on the private market.”

Bradley Garrett:
This has happened over and over again. Governments put their bunkers up for sale, and very often the people who want to buy those spaces are not doomsday preppers, right? People want to put data servers and mushroom farms and wine cellars and all sorts of things, but they are competing with people who genuinely believe that we are headed towards a precipice and they’re interested in buying those bunkered spaces and moving them into the private market. It’s a very lucrative business. If you can afford to pay a million dollars for a defunct government bunker and then retrofit that with some fresh technology and a paint job and sell space inside that bunker to private individuals, it’s a booming real estate market right now.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
Demand for bunkers went down after the Cold War, but in the last few years, it’s gone way back up. The tech website, “The Verge,” reported that according to bunker companies, the demand for bunkered space in America has reached an all-time high since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. Do you think this is an anomaly or part of a bigger trend?

Bradley Garrett:
In contrast to the Cold War, where we had a specific anxiety about a very particular event, I think people now are just generally anxious about everything. So if we think about existential threats, the threats that have the possibility of wiping us out as a species, nuclear war was clearly an existential threat. But now, we worry about climate change, we worry about artificial intelligence, we worry about viral outbreaks, potentially one that’s much more fatal than what we’re dealing with. There’s a calculation there that is incalculable that people are trying to make every day. Some people respond by becoming apathetic or trying to dull their senses to make it through these things and other people respond by trying to control the parameters of their life that are immediately around them.

Bradley Garrett:
I would argue that we’re in the midst of a second doom boom at the moment. That doom boom is, bunker-building is part of it. People are building private bunkers as they were in the Cold War, but we’re also building these massive communal bunkers for multiple families. There’s a thriving market in survival foods, freeze-dried foods, escape vehicles, bug out vehicles people are buying. I mean, look at how the market for Humvees, right? Private market that we’re seeing spring up all around us, which is now a multi-billion dollar market selling all of these products to alleviate people’s dread about an uncertain future. That is all part of the second doom boom that we’re in the midst of right now.

Roman Mars:
How many people are actively prepping in those ways?

Bradley Garrett:
I’m supposed to be a social scientist. Let me give you some numbers here.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

Bradley Garrett:
In 2011, there was a survey done where 3.7 million Americans admitted that they were actively prepping. That was broadly conceived, so that could have been people just putting an emergency kit in their garage and thinking about… I mean, in California, we all do this.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, I mean, that’s the thing, it’s really part of the culture. You get a bucket that has all that stuff in it, or you have a solar-power crank radio. I mean, it’s sort of expected.

Bradley Garrett:
It is expected on a low level, right? Now, here’s the shocking statistic. There’s a researcher at Cornell University, a Ph.D. student, Chris Ellis, who took some survey data from FEMA. They had conducted surveys in 2017 and 2018 in every state and territory and they found that they were extrapolating those statistics, that there were almost 12 million Americans who were prepared to survive for 30 days without any kind of state infrastructure. No water, no electricity, no Internet, no restaurants, no grocery stores. Almost 12 million Americans are currently prepared to do that. Ellis, in his research, he calls these people “resilient citizens.” What was really fascinating is that per capita, the most resilient citizens in the country were Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, many of whom are already growing food or live off-grid, so they’re better prepared than people like myself who’ve been living in cities for 15 years and have absolutely no idea how to grow food.

Bradley Garrett:
I guess the final takeaway there is that those numbers are from 2017 and 2018. Imagine what they’re going to look like in 2021 when we collect that data again. I think so many people have been pulled into the orbit of what I would call “practical prepping,” prepping for just basic everyday functionality rather than a kind of doomsday scenario. I think that those numbers are going to just, there’s going to be a meteoric rise in the next couple of years.

Roman Mars:
You went out and explored some of the architecture of the new doom boom. What was the most impressive piece of architecture that you came across?

Bradley Garrett:
This was the great joy of the book was going to see people’s bunkers. As you can imagine, most people don’t want you to see them, so it took a lot of trust-building to get to the point where people would send those invitations. But one of the best invitations I received was from a Canadian who was living in Thailand. I was in Sydney at the time, I was at the University of Sydney, and he sent me a message and he said, “I’m building a bunker. It’s in the countryside. I would love for you to come out and see the thing.” Of course, I immediately flew over there to go and see it.

Bradley Garrett:
In contrast to many of the preppers that I met, this guy was, he was very, very cool, very collected. The story that he told me was simply that he moved to Thailand to marry a woman that he met in a DVD rental store way back in the day and they had a wonderful life in Thailand, but he was working on offshore oil fields, and so he was often away for two or three months at a time. Eventually, they had a child and he was worried about them all the time. He admitted that he was spending his time digging through the news for bad stories, and so he kept moving them into more and more fortified gated communities and then eventually decided, “I’m going to build a bunker,” so he bought a plot of land in an abandoned orchard. His plan was to create four blocks that were these villas. He called it Sanctum. He was going to live in the first block and he was going to sell off the other three to pay for the first.

Bradley Garrett:
And the block that he was building, which I had the opportunity to see, was an incredible thing. It was a giant concrete square with no windows, but the place was beautiful. It was open at the top. Light flooded through the middle of it. It dropped down into a swimming pool and underneath the swimming pool, there was a nuclear blast shelter that he had actually turned into a day spa. Yeah, so it didn’t feel like a shelter. That was his idea. He had passionfruit vines growing down the walls inside. It was totally self-sufficient, so he drilled wells. He had solar panels on the top of the building. He actually won some architectural awards for the sustainability elements in the building. But essentially, it was a fortress. We were standing on the rooftop there and I was looking around and I realized that we were in this incredibly remote village. People were living in small huts. Everything was totally open. Most people didn’t have doors or windows. And he’d built this fortress here. And then I looked off into the distance and I could see a Buddhist monastery. This huge gold statue of Buddha that was staring at this fortress. I mean, I was impressed with the building. But I was also very taken by the idea that I was in this remote place in rural Thailand, and even here, someone was building a bunker waiting for the end of the world.

[MUSIC]

Roman Mars:
One of the places you visited was a place called Survival Condo, which is a luxury bunker. What is it like in a luxury bunker? How nice could it be?

Bradley Garrett:
Yeah, Survival Condo was built by an ex-government contractor called Larry Hall. He used to work on defense projects for the government, including building bunkers. And when he had the opportunity to break out and work on his own projects, he decided he was going to build his own bunker. I asked him why and he said, “You don’t want to know,” which was really disconcerting.

Roman Mars:
Implying that he knew of dangers you didn’t know about. And that’s why he was building this bunker.

Bradley Garrett:
Yeah.

Roman Mars:
Yes, okay.

Bradley Garrett:
Precisely, yeah. I have to say, a lot of the people that I met who are prepping used to work for the government. It could be that if you’re in those sorts of roles, you end up seeing disconcerting things and that makes you think about the world in a particular way. Or it could be that they know something we don’t know.

Roman Mars:
Fair.

Bradley Garrett:
Yeah, but Larry Hall, he purchased a nuclear missile silo that used to have an intercontinental ballistic missile inside of it, in the middle of Kansas. And so I’m sure many of your listeners will know, but there are two kinds of nuclear silos, right? There are the horizontal ones and the vertical ones. This is one of the vertical ones. Obviously, the missile had been removed. The place was actually flooded. It was in the middle of cornfields and all this sort of agricultural runoff had filled the silo. He pumped that all out of there. And he turned this into, I described it in my book as a “geoscraper.” It’s sort of the opposite of a skyscraper. It’s 15 stories, but it goes into the Earth. You drive through the giant blast doors at the top of this thing, you drive into the parking garage, and then you take the elevator down. As you descend, you move first through levels that contain condominiums, both full-floor and half-floor condominiums, and then when you get to the bottom of the facility, you’ve got the communal facilities. He had hired a psychologist to educate him about what people needed to survive, and of course, the base level needs are easy. You can give people food and clean air and clean water. But what gets tricky is how you keep people there for three weeks or three months or three years. He had introduced all of these elements on the advice of the psychologist that would keep people from going nuts or hurting each other or whatever inside the bunker. There’s a gym, a yoga studio, a shooting range, a climbing wall, a swimming pool, a fully stocked bar.

Bradley Garrett:
The thing that’s really interesting about Survival Condo is that Larry Hall was very clear about the fact that he was building this for wealthy people. He was building this for people who actually didn’t want to take any responsibility for their own preparations. They wanted to pay him to do everything. They wanted a turnkey solution. He sells half-floor condos for 1.5 million and full-floor condos for three million. You have to pay with cash because what bank is going to finance your doomsday bunker? It’s an incredible facility. It’s incredibly comfortable. In fact, I was in the middle of writing the book and I said, “Do you want someone to test this for you? Because I would be very happy to stay down here for three months and finish writing the book.” He didn’t take me up on that offer.

Roman Mars:
Survival Condo is the high end. It costs a million and a half dollars to get a unit there, or three million to get a fancier unit. But you did visit a thorough range, another place called xPoint. I think you suggested it has the potential to be more widespread and functional because it’s not exactly a luxury bunker community. What was it like it at xPoint and who are they trying to attract?

Bradley Garrett:
It was built during World War II. It was actually a munitions storage complex and the Army Corps of Engineers built these semi-subterranean concrete igloos, they called them. Because they kind of have that shape. They built 575 of them in this huge, expansive land in the middle of the Plains in South Dakota. I forget the square footage, but it’s about three-quarters of the size of Manhattan, this bunker field. At one time, they would have filled all of these bunkers with weapons to protect them from other weapons. There’s a strange irony there. Now, they’re filled with people who are protecting themselves from weapons, potentially.

Roman Mars:
Or viruses or zombies.

Bradley Garrett:
Or viruses or what. Yeah, zombies. The zombie apocalypse. This was another real estate development project that was pitched by a doomsday prepper. His name is Robert Vicino. He lives in California. When he saw this bunker field, he saw it as an incredible opportunity to create what he described to me as “the place from which humanity would be reborn after the next great calamity.” He very much saw it as a kind of calling. He was going to build this place, so he found this bunker field in South Dakota. This is another one of these architectural spaces that the government has a really hard time dealing with. What do you do with a giant bunker field? Who do you sell it to? So when they had a real estate developer approach them and saying, “I’ve got a viable business plan,” they said, “Fantastic. Please take this off of our hands.” And Vicino, he started cleaning up and selling empty concrete igloos for $25,000.

Bradley Garrett:
I was there on day one. I saw the first four families move into their bunkers and they were working-class people. So people were building there. They were interested in building a space that would become potentially a second home, right? So rather than purchasing the second home, they buy the bunker and turn it into the second home. It’s kind of their vacation property. So they would go there for 4th of July, for instance. They would have big parties with all of the other bunker residents. But no one was really interested in living there permanently. Because to be frank, it’s a very rough environment. It’s windy, it’s dry, it’s cold. It would be really hard to live in these bunkers permanently, not to mention that in the beginning, there was no running water or sanitation infrastructure. That did come later. The families that are living there now or that have space there are living in decent comfort.

Roman Mars:
This is something I found interesting, and I wonder if you thought about this, too. It seems to me, and these are with broad sociological terms, that a person who builds or is attracted to a bunker is kind of a self-reliant, libertarian-maybe-minded person who is trying to solve this problem on their own because they probably think that they should solve a lot of problems on their own. But they’re buying into this commune in the post-apocalyptic world that might run counter to how they would live their lives today. But they maybe think that this doomsday event would realign their interests or something. Have you interviewed people who thought about what that transition would feel like for them?

Bradley Garrett:
One of the most difficult things to get out of people is what they imagine the post-apocalyptic world to be like. Everyone’s building now and they can imagine the bunker they want to build. I’m using “bunker” loosely.

Roman Mars:
Yeah, sure, sure.

Bradley Garrett:
This kind of whatever space, their remote property, or their subterranean bunker, whatever. They can imagine the event, the thing that drives them into the bunker. And then they imagine very often this moment of relief. “I don’t have to go to work anymore. I don’t have to participate in society. My phone doesn’t work, right? The Internet’s broken.” There’s this kind of euphoria that people have expressed to me over and over again about the idea of being trapped in the bunker, maybe with a couple of what they would consider like-minded people. But we never really get to the long-term vision. Where are we headed with this? What kind of society do you build after that? Those people who might also have depended very much on themselves and mistrusted the government to deal with emergencies, you’re now in a community with those people and you have to rebuild. When I entered into those conversations with people, often they would stall out at that point.

Roman Mars:
Many of the bunker preppers are prepping in a way that it’s really geared towards them and their family. It’s very individualistic, no one’s going to tell them what to do, and yet some of the preppers you talked to seem totally ready to assign people roles after the disaster, like “You’ll be a baker and you’ll be a doctor,” like they’re making a commune. It strikes me as a funny contradiction.

Bradley Garrett:
That’s part of the utopia, I think, is imagining all of the traditional roles being broken, which is an irony, right, because a lot of these people are very stuck in traditional notions of how things should function. But we should also be careful not to character preppers too much because there’s some brilliant research by Anna Marie Bounds at Queens University in New York where she worked with urban preppers and she worked with a specific preppers network of inner-city preppers, most of whom were black, and most of whom said that they had been through traumatic experiences in the past. They’d been through Sandy. They’d been through 9/11. They’d had difficult childhoods. And they said, “We’re not going back there,” so stockpiling for them and saving money and preparing for emergencies and skill-building, for them, that was all an effort to keep themselves in the space that they had climbed to, in their minds.

Roman Mars:
We’ll have more with Bradley Garrett after this.

[BREAK]

Roman Mars:
How did your outlook on prepping change while you were doing the research for this book and writing the book?

Bradley Garrett:
Preppers defied all my expectations. They were more diverse than I expected, they were calmer than I expected. I realized in the time that I spent with them, how many skills I was lacking and how little knowledge I had about so many things. It’s also introduced a bit of dread in me that I can’t shake, you know, this kind of uncertainty about where we’re headed and what the purpose of all this is. I guess it’s kind of shaken my faith in this kind of enlightenment trajectory where we’re supposed to be just escalating into utopia or whatever.

Bradley Garrett:
I kept running into this feeling that they saw time as moving in spirals, like breakdown was inevitable. Tomorrow is going to be different than today and that’s okay. They were at peace with that idea. Before I started working on this project, I wasn’t. I wanted tomorrow to be better than today, always. And it was actually filling me with anxiety, continuing to think constantly about what more I needed to achieve? Or what universities should I work at next? How many books should I write in the next 10 years? And I just don’t care anymore. I mean, I do care, but I guess that kind of obsession with my career and that trajectory has been tempered now. I mean, the pandemic has also contributed to it because I’ve been stuck here with my family taking care of them. And that’s been great, it’s been actually a healing process for me. But when I started writing this book, I had no idea there was going to be a pandemic. So there was this kind of, I don’t know, just perfect crescendo that has led me to this place where I feel so much better about my own life. And that’s what the preppers told me. They said the disaster… I mean, we didn’t know what the disaster was going to be but they said the disaster will forcefully realign your priorities.

Roman Mars:
When you talk to people who were sort of engaged with this, who like built or lived in hardened architecture, had bunkers, prepped a bit — did you feel that their fears were being assuaged by this stuff surrounding them or stoked by this stuff surrounding them?

Bradley Garrett:
I expected to find a group of people who were anxious and paranoid and they really weren’t. They felt that they had taken control of the parameters around them. They lived with a profound sense of peace, actually. Regardless of the external circumstances that they were dealing with or might have to deal with, they had put everything in place that they needed to assure the best possibility of survival. You can’t assure survival, but you can assure the best possibility of survival.

Roman Mars:
Thousands of years from now, when humanity is gone, what is going to be left? Will it be the Empire State Building, or do you think it will be apocalypse bunkers?

Bradley Garrett:
Just look at the Atlantic wall. Those bunkers from World War II, that are like giant robot helmets and they’re slumped into the beaches of Normandy? Those things are going to be there in a thousand years. We are building monuments right now, monuments to this age. They may outlast us. It could be some other species that emerges that eventually finds these giant bunkers and subterranean fortresses that we built. And they’re going to tell a story about a civilization that is afraid of itself.

Bradley Garrett:
I used to be an archeologist and I worked in Mexico at a site called Tulum. It’s a post-classic Maya site. And these people had like the most idyllic lifestyle you can imagine. They sort of built temples on the beach and there’s beautiful blue water. And right at the end… so eventually they disappear like every civilization. Right at the end, according to the material records, they start building these walls around their temples and they never had walls before. And no one knows quite why they started building them, some people have said that they were engaged in warfare with someone that they had a falling out with. But there’s another theory that actually it was because of viruses. When the Spanish came over and people started getting infected, they didn’t know what it was and so they started building walls to keep the virus out. Those walls are still there today, but it occurs to me that the walls that we’re building now are going to tell a similar story of a people who were scared and uncertain about the future, who aren’t sure where they’re headed. I think one of the most interesting aspects of the bunker as an architectural space is actually imagining it as future archeology.

Roman Mars:
Bradley Garrett’s book is called “Bunker: Building for the End Times.” It is so good. If you’re fascinated by this stuff at all, you’re going to love this book. There’s so much in it that we did not cover here. You can get it now in hardback and it will be out in paperback later this year.

———

Roman Mars:
99% Invisible was produced this week by Chris Berube. Music by Sean Real. Sound mixed by Ameeta Ganatra. Our senior producer is Delaney Hall. Kurt Kohlstedt is the digital director. The rest of the team includes Emmett FitzGerald, Joe Rosenberg, Vivian Le, Christopher Johnson, Abby Madan, Katie Mingle, Sofia Klatzker, and me, Roman Mars. We are a project of 91.7 KALW in San Francisco and produced on radio row, which has scattered in little audio bunkers across the continent. But when the end times come, we will run straight to beautiful downtown Oakland, California.

Roman Mars:
We are a founding member of Radiotopia from PRX, a fiercely independent collective of the most innovative, listener-supported, 100% artist-owned podcasts in the world. Find them all at radiotopia.fm. You can tweet me @romanmars and the show [email protected] We’re on Instagram and Reddit, too. If you want to see pictures of bunkers and a link to the book “Bunker: Building for the End Times” – it’s so good, you’re going to want to get it – look no further than 99pi.org.

Credits

Production

Host Roman Mars spoke with Bradley Garrett, author of Bunker: Building for the End Times.

This episode was produced and edited by Chris Berube.

  1. Dennis Klinsky

    Listening to Doom Boom and comments about fallout shelters brought back many memories:

    At the beginning of the Cold War era my father – Joseph W. Klinsky – was a bacteriologist in the University of Iowa Preventative Medicine labs. At the beginning of the ’50’s his research involved tracking brucellosis in the waterways of Iowa and determining if there was potential carryover in to the dairy herds in the state (Yes – Iowa really did have dairy herds then), and that involved in taking water samples from farm ponds and milk samples from dairy barns. He had an excellent rapport with the land owners, and I often accompanied him on his rounds to collect samples.

    When the Cold War blossomed and atmospheric testing became rampant, the U.S. needed to develop infrastructure and expertise to track Radioactive Fallout, and the nature of his interest changed from following Brucellosis trails to examining fallout, including, but not limited to Strontium 90 in milk and Radium 235 in water. it was a perfect cover, with the logistics already in place to monitor fallout and Dad’s expertise became Radiation Chemist.

    His lab was moved out of the Preventative Medicine Labs and in to a non-descript house off campus that was gutted, then fitted out with shielding vaults (to isolate samples from background radiation), a wide variety of counters, a Gamma Ray spectrometer, and electronics that were the state of the art for the day.

    When a nuclear “event” occurred, anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, the radioactive material would get up in to the Jet Stream and circle the globe within a matter of hours. Hi lab, crude by today’s standards, was sophisticated enough that they provide the Department of Defense a remarkably accurate description of the make-up of the device within 36 hours. (!! and this was still the era of slide rules).

    Around 1958 (?), the Federal Civil Defense Administration sponsored a fallout shelter symposium at the Iowa City High School auditorium that engaged a panel of “experts” in the field of constructing and provisioning fall out shelters. My father represented the scientific community.

    The presentation went smoothly enough with each panel member presenting a synopsis of their expertise – until it got to questions from the floor and someone asked my father to describe the fallout shelter that we had at home. Dad was a much better Radiation Chemist than he was a liar, and after an uncomfortable silence he murmured something to the effect of “well … we don’t have one” , and of course he was then placed in a position where he had no option but to explain why.

    He then explained that they had been picking up traces of Cobalt in their samplings of radioactive fallout, and that in case of war, if the nuclear devices contained significant amounts of cobalt “You will not be able to leave your fallout shelters in two weeks …. it will be closer to two centuries.” As the representative from the Civil Defense tries to get new questions from the audience to save the credibility of the event, the audience left the auditorium without a sound. Not surprisingly, he was never invited to be on another Civil Defense panel.

    In Doom Boom Bradley Garret made reference to fall out shelters that were built and provisioned for 14 days. He is correct. That was the suggested time frame, but that was woefully inadequate for the purpose for which they were supposed to address.

    The Cold War was rife with misinformation designed to relieve the sense of helplessness of the population. Kids in schools instructed to crawl under their desks, if you are driving and there is a blast, get out of the car and lay in the ditch. The only effective appliance that I ever saw that offered an accurate response was a sealed glass bulb that contained a match and a cigarette with instructions that read “In case of Nuclear War,
    1.) break glass,
    2.) light and smoke the cigarette,
    3.) Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye”

    In the spring of 1960 (61?) The Soviet Union and the U.S.A. signed the Test Ban treaty, which was hailed as a huge step toward peace. That was not the reason for that treaty.
    The Labs had been reporting levels of background radioactivity from fallout that were considered to be lethal if exposure continued over time. Keep in mind, these were levels that had been established after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and were levels of background radiation that were much higher than what would be acceptable today. The Test Ban Treaties were a necessity to avoid the general populations of the Hemisphere with showing signs of Radiation Sickness. We can only speculate if, or how much, those levels of radiation affected the rise in diseases such as cancers, Leukemia etc in the decades that followed.

    The Treaties were signed in late Spring, and the labs were watching radiation levels very closely, because they continued to rise for several weeks that followed. A date was set – my recollection is that the date was mid July of that year – by which if the levels of background radiation did not begin to fall, the Dept. of Civil Defense would have to issue public warnings to the effect of “Do not let your kids play outside, do not drink fresh milk, keep your homes closed ……”. Clearly not a preferred action after the reassurances that they had been issuing. For weeks my father would return from the labs with the weight of the world on his shoulders. The levels of background radiation finally began to fall TEN DAYS before the directives would have had to have been issued. `

  2. Alex

    From its title, I was hoping this episode would be about the meteoric rise in popularity of MF Doom since his death and the media phenomenon that surrounded it.

    It wasn’t that. At least it was about “end times” , which is always amusing.

    Usually I love the show, but in my humble opinion it got worse (and worse, and worse) from there.

    According to the author you interviewed, “For those of us who live in suburban and rural areas it’s not unlikely that one of your neighbors has a bunker underneath their house that you don’t know about.”

    What an exaggeration. I guess it depends how you define “unlikely” and “neighbors”.

    Later he admitted, “I’m supposed to be a social scientist, let me give you some numbers here.” But didn’t provide any.

    He related some research from an unnamed Ph.D student that suited his book pitch, then exaggerated them, proceeded to extrapolate them into even more theoretical territory.

    Were they peer-reviewed? Published? In what journal? Validated? By whom? What other data exist?

    At it goes on…

    How “lucrative” is the business of bunkers, really? Just one obvious question: How many units at “Survival Condo” were sold, for what profit?

    In other words, how much of this supposed “Doom boom” is real?

    I don’t doubt there has recently been a spike in armageddonists, nor that it’s a new phenomenon, but let’s not exaggerate, especially not for personal profit, and not at further expense of truth.

    This episode is not why I listen to 99% Invisible, nor is it one I ever suggest it to a friend.

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