How to create a fallout shelter

Written by scott knickelbine
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How to create a fallout shelter
You can build an earth-shielded fallout shelter. (symbole nucléaire... image by dead_account from

If you think that fallout shelters went out with the Cold War, think again. Although the world's superpowers are reducing their nuclear arsenals, the threat of a terrorist “dirty bomb” is growing. These low-yield weapons work primarily by spreading radioactive dust, or fallout. The good news is that soil is one of the best radiation shields, and you've probably got plenty of it in your back garden. Building a simple fallout shelter takes some digging, but it doesn't take an engineering degree.

Things you need

  • Shelter area, 6 m by 2.1 m (20 feet by 7 feet)
  • Shovel
  • Pick (optional)
  • Tape measure
  • 12 stakes
  • Strong rope or cord
  • 3 hollow core doors, 75 cm by 200 cm (30 inches by 80 inches)
  • 2 waterproof tarpaulins, at least 2.1 by 2.4 m (7 feet by 8 feet)
  • 2 waterproof tarpaulins, 2.1 m (7 feet) square
  • 50 sandbags
  • Sand
  • Knife
  • 4 wooden stakes, 1.2 m (4 feet) long
  • Kearny Air Pump (KAP)

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  1. 1

    To build a door-covered trench shelter, stake out an area to dig the first trench, 2.1 m (7 feet) long by 1.2 m (4 feet) wide.

  2. 2

    Dig the trench 1.2 m (4 feet) deep, using one 1.2 m (4 foot) stake as a measuring rod to maintain an even width and depth. Pile the dirt at least 90 cm (3 feet) away from the edge of the trench.

  3. 3

    Dig an entrance trench, about 90 cm (3 feet) wide and 90 cm (3 feet) long, starting from one corner of the large trench and extending parallel to its 2.1 (7 foot) length.

    How to create a fallout shelter
    Make sure you have stable soil before beginning to dig your trench shelter. (Digging in the garden image by dquinnan from
  4. 4

    Place the three hollow core doors side by side widthways over the large trench, so they extend 40 cm (16 inches) over each side of the trench. Make sure the doors are lying flat on the ground all the way up to the edge of the trench.

  5. 5

    Cover the doors with one of the 2.1 m 2.4 (7 foot by 8 foot) tarpaulins.

  6. 6

    Pile filled sandbags to a height of about 60 cm (2 feet) on the doors over the edge of the entrance and ventilation trenches, and along the sides of the ventilation trench.

  7. 7

    Cover the doors between the sandbags with about 45 cm (18 inches) of soil. The pile of soil should slope away on the long sides of the large trench.

  8. 8

    Cover the soil mound with the second 2.1 by 2.4 m (7 foot by 8 foot) tarpaulin.

  9. 9

    Cover the second tarp with another 15 cm (6 inches) of soil, again sloping off to the sides.

  10. 10

    Drive two of the 1.2 m (4 foot) stakes into either end of the entrance trench, about 60 cm (2 feet) down into the soil.

  11. 11

    Tie a length of cord between the tops of the two stakes.

  12. 12

    Place one of the 2.1 m (7 foot) square tarpaulins over the cord, so it extends equally over both sides.

  13. 13

    Use cord and stakes to stake down the corners of the tarpaulin, so the sides are taut.

  14. 14

    Build a similar tent shelter over the ventilation trench.

  15. 15

    Install the KAP ventilation pump in the ventilation trench.

Tips and warnings

  • This shelter provides about enough room for three people. To build a larger shelter, add an additional hollow core door per person, and lengthen the central trench accordingly. Make sure that the two tarps that go over the doors are long enough to cover them.
  • This shelter will provide about 250 times more radiation protection than an unshielded location would.
  • A KAP ventilation pump is a simple, hand-driven pump that keeps fresh air flowing to your shelter. Instructions to build one are available online.
  • You can dig a standing area an additional 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 feet) down near the ventilation end of the shelter, so people inside will be able to stand up and stretch occasionally.
  • Be sure to store supplies in your shelter to last about two weeks. You'll need food, water, a hand-crank radio, a portable toilet, and a battery operated flashlight or lantern, at the very least. You may also want to store inflatable mattresses, sleeping bags or bedding, books, etc.
  • Always check with your local utilities before doing any digging.
  • This shelter may not be suitable for all areas because it depends on having stable soil. If your trench starts to collapse as you dig it, stop digging, and look for another site for your shelter.
  • If you strike groundwater as you're digging, you've picked the wrong location for your shelter. Try to find higher ground on which to build.
  • Having a radio in your shelter is a must, so you can learn the nature of the radiation threat in your area, and when it is safe to emerge from your shelter.
  • If you live in a rainy area, you must dig a drainage trench around the outside of your shelter to keep water from flowing into it.

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