For anyone who grew up during the Cold War, or even had parents growing up during the Cold War, the specter of a nuclear holocaust was entirely too real.
And sadly, today the shadow of nuclear war is again stretching ever longer across the globe as superpowers are at each other’s throats.
Accordingly, fallout shelters seem to be on everybody’s minds and lips. Maybe it’s time to get one yourself. But what exactly is a fallout shelter?
A fallout shelter is just any enclosed space that is designed or capable of protecting people inside from radioactive fallout created by a nuclear blast. Fallout shelters can be purpose-designed or improvised.
A fallout shelter does exactly what it says it will, assuming it’s designed correctly or chosen properly.
Surviving a nuclear bomb is one thing, but surviving the attendant fallout is an altogether different challenge.
Nonetheless, with a little luck, a fallout shelter can get you through the weeks or months of a peak danger following a nuclear blast.
But, as you’d imagine there’s a lot more you’ll need to know about fallout shelters before you bet your life on one.
Keep reading, and I’ll tell you what you need to know…
What is Fallout?
Fallout is the radioactive debris, typically in the form of dust or fine sand, that settles back to Earth in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion.
Since it was exposed to hard neutron radiation, the debris itself is radioactive and extremely dangerous, emitting alpha and beta particles and also gamma radiation.
Its radioactivity fades rapidly in the following days and weeks, but it is a dire threat initially, and a serious one for a long time after.
Why is Fallout Such a Problem?
Radioactive fallout is a major danger because, even if someone survives a nuclear blast with no injuries, fallout can drift from many miles away from the detonation and cause widespread casualties and illness.
The quantity and intensity of the fallout is directly proportional with the size of the weapon that created it and also the type of detonation; ground blasts will generate dramatically more fallout than air bursts.
If someone is in a good fallout shelter, with the appropriate supplies, it is possible to wait out the worst of the radiation before emerging.
Is a Fallout Shelter the Same as a Bomb Shelter?
No, although the terms are commonly used synonymously in casual conversation.
A fallout shelter is designed to do only what the name says, protecting its occupants from dangerous radioactive fallout.
A true bomb shelter, on the other hand, is designed to protect occupants from blast waves and overpressure attendant with explosives, potentially including the unknowable fury of nuclear bombs.
Of course, though, this protection is always relative to the distance from ground zero and the size of the bomb; at ground zero or close to it, true annihilation is all but guaranteed.
Of course, it is possible that a given shelter can be both, providing protection from blast waves and heat and also from radioactive fallout in the aftermath.
Are Fallout Shelters Always Below Ground?
No, not always. Although we typically think of fallout shelters as being below ground, because packed earth is highly effective at degrading the intensity of emitted radiation, it’s entirely possible for a fallout shelter to be above ground.
A good fallout shelter might be the innermost rooms on the ground floor of a building that is tall and has thick walls.
With enough dense material and/or standoff between occupants and the radioactive material accumulating on the roof and outside on the ground, effective protection can be achieved regardless of how a structure is situated or what it is made of.
This assumes of course that the structure is well sealed against any fallout that might make its way inside on air currents or by other means.
How Long Will a Fallout Shelter Protect Occupants?
Assuming that the shelter was not damaged or destroyed in the blast that created the fallout in the first place, it can provide shelter to its occupants as long as they can inhabit it.
Generally, this means that a fallout shelter must supply food, water, sanitation concerns, and general livability for no less than a few days and preferably a couple of weeks or even longer if possible.
Major considerations for the occupancy term of fallout shelters included sleeping arrangements, a way to discard waste, ventilation to circulate hot, stale air out and fresh air in without letting in any fallout and more.
What Structures Can Be Fallout Shelters?
Technically any structure can be a fallout shelter if it will keep the fallout far enough away from the occupants.
However, the best fallout shelters are those made from concrete, masonry, steel and other heavy materials that will significantly impede radiation.
Generally, the bigger the building the better, because the more floors and walls are between the occupants of a fallout shelter the better off they will be in terms of safety.
There are many such common civic structures, particularly in larger cities, that are entirely suitable for use as fallout shelters.
The US government, and many other governments around the world, did exactly that during the height of the Cold War.
Everything from city halls and libraries to subway tunnels were turned into ready-made fallout shelters, and many of them were stocked with water and provisions to provide a safe refuge for the citizenry.
Can You Install Your Own Fallout Shelter?
Yes, it is entirely possible to install your own fallout shelter in or near your home.
A fallout shelter can be something as rudimentary as a below-ground level dugout with a piled, earthen and waterproof roof or as intricate as a purpose-designed and installed module that is placed elsewhere on your property or adjacent to your home.
In fact, your basement might be an entirely suitable fallout shelter already if you take steps to prepare and to proof your house against the infiltration of fallout.
There are many ways to construct meaningful fallout protection no matter what your budget is and no matter where you live.
The biggest concern, as always, is if you live near a priority nuclear target.
Fallout shelters are not necessarily bomb shelters, and many structures around your community that might work just fine for protecting you from fallout could offer little or no protection against a near nuclear blast.
Lucky for you, we have many resources on exactly this subject right here on Survival Sullivan.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.