Common mistakes

Avoid these bomb shelter blunders

Read this before you design, build or shop for a shelter:

Common Mistakes When Building a Shelter – published on July 30, 2020

1. Telling people that you are building a shelter

The first of the common mistakes is something that has lasting consequences. Your shelter is a fixed asset that cannot be moved. Once its existence and location are known, you will always be vulnerable. Bomb shelters are at the top of the “need to know” list. The only people you should tell about it are the ones who will be invited inside. But most of us need to hire skilled labor to build and equip our shelter. Choose them well. Some people specify contractors that live at least 500 miles (804 km) away. That usually puts them beyond the reach of one a tank of fuel. This is one of the positive aspects of purchasing a pre-fabricated steel bomb shelter. The installation crew comes from the factory and goes home when they are done.

Your neighbors can be an immediate threat. They can watch you come and go. Neighbors who have your back are a blessing, but if they do not have a shelter, they will remember that you do. Words that are never forgotten include “they have a bomb shelter.” Good people do bad things in desperate times to stay alive. In truly desperate times, you will only trust people that are dependent upon the same food supply as yourself.

2. Not understanding the threats you face or the assets you possess

The second of the common mistakes is where to start. If you do this first, you will have the knowledge of where you are at and where you want to be. Take a few minutes and document where you are at in these four categories:

  1. Determine your threat hierarchy – malicious people, nuclear war, severe weather, power outages, disease, famine, etc. What is going to kill you first? What else will impact your existence? The answer to these questions should drive the design, placement, and the equipment of your shelter.
  2. Combine them to create the worst case scenario – bad situations tend to cascade into multiple threats. Major storms cause power outages, interrupt communications, and attract looters.
  3. Determine your asset hierarchy – start with you, your health, and your tribe. Then go with what keeps you alive: air filtration, clean water, safe food, effective weapons, reliable vehicles, good communications, etc.
  4. Take a survey of your site and structures. What are the most common avenues of approach? Which buildings will still be standing after an earthquake? What is the biggest weakness with your position?

These are all things that relate to each other. Hopefully the threats are balanced by the assets. If not, mitigating the threats you identify will be the first order of business.

3. Believing that anything outside the shelter will still be there when you need it

We are programmed to believe that all of our infrastructure will always be intact by waking up to it every day. This belief is not as common in areas that have seen severe weather events like tornadoes and hurricanes. But even people in these areas do get used to these threats. Many of them re-build their homes in the exact same place where it was destroyed. If you survive a “shock and awe” event, you sometimes lose your ability to fear that same event. Anything outside of your shelter is exposed to all of the threats that convinced you to build your shelter in the first place.

Large generators, huge fuel tanks, massive solar panels, etc. These are all things that live outside of your shelter. Malicious people, structural fires, tsunamis, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes are all things that can destroy your home.

Everything above ground is destroyed

Smaller backup items

Imagine you are emerging from your shelter after a severe weather event that levels your home. What tools and equipment would be useful? Investing in the backups to large external equipment should be purchased, tested, and stored before the external components. The backups should be small enough to be stored inside your shelter. Items like:

  1. A mobile generator
  2. Deep cycle batteries
  3. Solar panels
  4. A water filter
  5. A chain saw
  6. A hand truck
  7. A portable power puller (come-along)
  8. A 6 foot (2 meter) pry bar
  9. Bicycles or motorcycles
  10. Fuel, oil, and lubricants

These are all items that can be carried or wheeled through a single leaf blast door. That limits their size and weight, but they are “inside the wire” (the walls of your shelter) and will not get stolen or damaged.


Some of these components require gasoline, diesel, or propane fuel. The safest place to store fuel is outside of the shelter in a separate structure. But this is exactly the place that we can’t count on being there. The safest place inside the shelter is in the airlock. It’s the last space the airflow transits before being exhausted out of the shelter. No matter where you store fuel, there needs to be a prominent sign: FUEL STORAGE, NO IGNITION SOURCES WITHIN 10 FEET (3 meters). There also needs to be two powder (class A, B, and C) fire extinguishers. One stored with the fuel, the other stored outside the 10 foot no ignition zone. These extinguishers need to put out a wide variety of fire types because their purpose is not to just put out fuel fires, but to defend the fuel from other types of fires.

The common mistake of not having fire extinguishers

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Amerex B500, 5lb class A,B,C dry chemical fire extinguisher (2 pack)

Once you have the backups inside your shelter, then you should start on acquiring larger examples of these components that will be installed outside your shelter. The deeper your bench, the more options you have. You can always load the backup generator, fuel, and solar panels if you bug out. Options are what this game is all about.

I’ve seen private fuel storage tanks that had thousands of gallons of gasoline and diesel feeding large generators the powered a home, office, and shop without any backups at all. All of this storage and equipment were extremely vulnerable to attack or accidental structural fires. The owner of this property went to Mexico to for a medical procedure by private plane. He found himself stuck there on September 11, 2001 with all of the planes were grounded. It’s always something out of left field.

4. Not having the equipment and knowledge to safely leave and re-enter your shelter

You must to be able to leave your shelter for short periods of time. This will happen. Only in movies do families stay underground for years. To egress and ingress safely, you need to have everything prepped, tested, and stored inside your shelter. In a contaminated environment like you find after a nuclear event, protective clothing and equipment is required. This includes:

  1. Either a full face respirator or a military gas mask with filter cartridges
  2. Either a Tyvek suit or a military chemical resistant suit
  3. Gloves, boots, tape

These items need to be added to the list of what you should purchase even if you have not built your shelter yet. We need to start with ourselves and work outward: health, work capacity, proper clothing, good footwear, every day carry items, get home bag, personal protective equipment, etc. The topic of masks and suits will be explored in a future article.

5. Not installing a pass through (firing port) in your shelter

A pass through enables you to pass keys, food, water, or bullets from one side of a wall to the other. Without a pass through, the only way to directly interact with someone outside your shelter is to open the door. You either fully trust them, or you don’t. A pass through allows you to physically interact with someone outside your shelter while still maintaining the ability to keep them out.

Even if they manage to wound you, they are still on the other side of the wall. Firing ports should be located so that they afford an attacker a limited field of fire. Inside your airlock beside the outside door can be a good place. Keeping malicious people out of your shelter is a top level priority. When your position is overrun, you lose everything.

6. Trying to hide something as nothing

Don’t bury a bomb shelter in the middle of a field and hope nobody notices the hatch and ventilation pipes. Put a shed over the hatch and bring the vent pipes up through some beekeeping boxes. Very few people will approach what they believe is a bee hive. The best disguise is something familiar to most people. If you have a shelter in your basement, you could bring your air vents up through a wall and put a dryer vent hood over it. Dryer vents are something we are used to hearing air coming through. Our ears will back up the story that our eyes are telling us.

7. Not developing protocols into habits

The reason we have protocols is to establish the safest and most efficient way of doing essential tasks when we have the time and mental acuity to perform them without interruption. When your adrenal glands dump their contents into your bloodstream, you will lose your fine motor skills and critical reasoning ability. The parts of your brain still working will fall back on what it’s done before when interacting with the objects in your world.

There have been accounts of illogical behavior from of police officers back when they carried revolvers. After they were involved in a high stress shooting incident, it was common to find spent cartridge cases in their pockets. They did not remember putting them there, but every time they went to the shooting range for training, they carefully unloaded the shells from their revolvers and put them in their pocket. They did this so they would not have to bend over and pick them up off the ground. The parts of their mind that still worked in the midst of a lethal force encounter did exactly what it was trained to do. So, during a life threatening event, they took the time to pocket their brass.

Here is a short video of a harmless prank that illustrates critical thought processes under stress. The mark (Tyler) watches the finger move in and out of the staple and it just does not mentally register until the trickster takes a step back and holds up his finger:

A few good shelter habits to develop are:
  1. Always latch the door or hatch when it’s shut. Never leave it closed and unlatched. Internal latches should be painted a contrasting color.
  2. Always leave critical items in the same place: keys, weapons, radios, phones, etc.
  3. Always check the perimeter before leaving cover.
  4. Always having vehicles and critical machinery fueled up and ready to roll.
These things take discipline, but you won’t waste your time looking for keys. Wasting time is the least of the consequences you will avoid!

8. Not spending time in your shelter

Every shelter owner should spend a weekend in their shelter. You need to eat, sleep, bathroom, and bathe in it. You will discover all the little things your imagination didn’t see. If you don’t have time to do this, then take what time you have. Go into your shelter and physically go through all of the tasks of daily life in the shelter. Here are some of them:

  1. Safely using the airlock.
  2. Test your NBC air filtration system. Ensure you have overpressure. Seal the filter canister back up when you are done.
  3. Cooking a meal and washing the dishes.
  4. Bathing, brushing your teeth, and shaving.
  5. Sleeping – at least take a nap or lay on your bed.
The more time you spend in your shelter, the better.

The take-away

Build an effective shelter, equip it to survive the threats you face, and turn the protocols into habits by always following them.

Next article:  Decontaminating radioactive fallout At Amazon: Best Sellers in Safety and Security Full disclosure: as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. The convenient links below will take you directly to the items on Amazon and help support this website. Thank you very much!