ST. LOUIS –The Cold War ended more than 30 years ago, but the fixation with bunkers has not. It has, in some ways, become a culture unto itself.
With Russia threatening to use nuclear bombs in Ukraine, some Americans are ramping up their efforts to prepare for the worst. One Missouri company is helping to meet the needs of “Doomsday preppers.”
DEFCON Underground MFG co-owner Corey Hubbard creates three types of shelters. His company serves the entire United States.
Hubbard and his co-owner, Ryan Olah, have seen more people coming in since Prime Minister Vladimir Putin first talked about a nuclear threat in the 21st century.
“Yeah, so basically every time something happens, we’ll get a spike in interest or calls. The biggest spike we ever had was probably two or three weeks or month into the Russian/Ukraine situation,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard said that his clients have different levels of interest. Some just want information, while others might be thinking about buying a bunker.
“And then something big happens, and those [seriously interested] people take it to the next level,” said Hubbard. They end up purchasing a fallout shelter. He compares the situation in Russia to the Cold War.
“A lot of people aren’t necessarily worried about the whole nuclear deal, they just think times are getting worse and, at some point, they’re going to need something like that,” said Hubbard.
“But it’s kind of an insurance policy. We get a lot of people who just think they’re neat and want one. We have a lot of people turn them into gun rooms, and some people have turned them into wine rooms,” said Hubbard. “And in the Midwest barn dominions, such as metal buildings on slab grade, a lot of people are putting these under those because they don’t have a basement or anything, so some people will use our smaller ones as a fancy tornado shelter type deal or safe room.”
DEFCON constructs underground bunkers. They come in three sizes: a survival shelter (similar to a safe room), a fallout shelter (for survivors of nuclear fallout), and a bomb shelter (for anyone within 10 miles of a nuclear target).
“A survival shelter will have a shower, toilet, kitchen sink bunks, and power — kind of like a super-small apartment,” Hubbard explained.
“Then we also do a fallout shelter, which is the same shelter but goes deeper in the ground and has nuclear, chemical, and biological air filtration systems, and some of those will have generator rooms.”
“The entrance is a little bit different, typically, those will have a different angle at the entrance, and they can be fully livable. They also come in a variety of sizes, depending on how many people you want to be able to fit inside, and we also offer a bomb shelter, which is something we build if you are within 10 miles of a military installation or something similar, or a major city,” said Hubbard. “The bomb shelter is the same thing as the fallout shelter, except it gets encased in concrete after it’s set in the ground to give it actual blast [protection].”
Last year, Professor David L. Pike published “Cold War Space and Culture in the 1960s and 1980s,” a study that underlines the American fixation with the idea of a dystopian America.
“I expected a lot of nut jobs and just weird people, but, you know, I’m one of those weird people myself, a little bit, but really what I’ve come to find out is that it’s just a lot of normal people, some of them, and most of them aren’t even preppers,” Hubbard explained.
Hubbard considers himself a survivalist, and while he was in high school, he drew a model of his shelter to see if he could build it. Their partnership began when he met Olah, a third-generation structural steel fabricator and ornamental metal artist in school.
Their early childhood friendship kicked off, and when they got older, they collaborated on DEFCON bunkers.
“I also own a small plumbing company in town and have a master plumber’s license, and between Olah and I, we [have some knowledge about building structures],” said Hubbard. “One day I went into work and said, “Hey, we should build one of these for us,” and we started looking into it and realized how specialized and industry-specific it is, and there are only a few [companies] out there [creating these shelters]. We built a demo and then got a website up in 2017, and then it’s just kind of taken off from there.”
At this time, the 1999 film “Blast from the Past” or the popular Fallout video game may have come to mind. But, unlike in Hollywood movies or video games, there is no way to know for sure if these shelters work or not.
Hubbard has an answer for that. He and his colleague work with a specialized team to make sure that these shelters can, in theory, withstand nuclear fallout.
Engineers, according to Hubbard, do everything. Everything is developed into a 3D model, which is then loaded into a program like SolidWorks, where they can define what sort of steel is being used as well as other parameters like diameters, measurements, and what that steel is rated for. A structural engineer can then run the model through his computer system, applying different loads and ratings on it, and it will tell him if it will fail.
The 3D model and program show them what kind of steel is needed for the structure and how thick it should be.
“It’s how they know because, as you said, you really can’t set off a nuclear bomb anywhere to test [a shelter],” said Hubbard.