Emergency Shelter

By Brian G Carter, www.uspreppers.com

Okay, so you’ve finally decided to go all the way, to design that emergency shelter you’ve dreamed of ever since starting down the disaster prepping path. But it’s all too easy to go completely hog-wild with extravagant features and gadgetry. Actually building a shelter to match those lofty designs is a whole other story. If money and resources were flowing freely in, little would stand in the way of constructing the ultimate shelter to meet every design wish. But since most of us have a budget to abide by, we have to defer to a simpler version when realities come into play. Now, how do you manage to do that if all the do-it-yourself instructional turn out (when all is said and done) to be budget busters themselves?

Thinking outside the bunker

When you think about emergency shelters, what does the mind conjure up? What’s the first thing do you picture in your head? Something underground, I bet. Am I right? That’s not surprising since throughout the Cold War era we’ve been told the best place to survive even a nuclear war would be to hunker down underground. Images of the family fallout shelter are somehow still fresh in the public’s consciousness. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were one of those in your backyard? Problem solved, right there. With a little power system upgrading, ventilation updating and probably a hearty dose of spring cleaning, you’d be all set. If only that were the case, right?

Unfortunately, there are relatively few of those 1950’s gems still around or in working order. The ones that still exist most likely have gone the same way as the one found by this Wisconsin family, filling with groundwater seeping in over forty some odd years. So what is there to do for the budget-trapped among us?

SaferoomStart by thinking outside the traditional underground bunker and picture a self-contained emergency shelter within your existing home. Imagine a room (one of the smaller ones in your home) with reinforced walls, roof, door and foundation on which it is attached, to create a space that will remain standing even if the house around it is demolished. This idea is offered up by a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) publication as an alternative for those residing in storm ravaged areas of Tornado Alley and the Gulf Coast. The intent is to have a secure place to ride out the high winds and flying debris brought on by tornadoes and hurricanes. Storm surges and flooding are another issue. Best to be outside those prone areas to begin with.

These shelters are built into existing spaces within garages, basements, large closets or other locations as long as they can be bolted directly to a concrete slab. The size is determined by your needs, the number of people and the working budget. The shelter’s walls and ceiling are composed of layers (from inside out, in order) drywall, doubled 2×4 studs, steel sheeting, plywood and an outer sheet of drywall. The entrance is a foam-filled, steel door anchored to a steel frame and further reinforced with deadbolt locks set opposite each of the 3 hinges. The floor is steel braced to the concrete slab. This may push some preppers’ budgets higher than desired but some of the cost can be justified by using the room for other purposes instead of simply a space reserved only for emergencies.

Sandbagging it

Militaries around the world have long known about the efficacy of sandbags (or earthbags) as a sturdy building unit for hundreds of years. They are used to build fortifications and secure property against flood waters. So why not use them to build yourself an emergency shelter? A sand or earth bag shelter can be either above or below ground, as they are structurally secure enough for both. These types of structures have been built into designs to resist the high winds from hurricanes and tornadoes and have even passed building code requirements for earthquake prone areas of California

Continuing the scheme of dual purpose rooms from the previous section, consider a below ground, emergency shelter made from earthbags that will also serve as a root cellar for your prepper garden. A dome or beehive-shaped design works well for this purpose. Constructed larger at the base and narrowing towards the top, the interior walls can be plastered for aesthetics and wooden shelving used for storing vegetables can then be added for additional structural support. The entire construction is then covered with grass sod. One thing to remember about underground shelters to ensure for adequate drainage as groundwater and rainwater will seep in overtime if an effort is not made to divert moisture.


Whether it’s an above ground or underground structure ventilation is important for air circulation and maintaining comfortable temperatures. The attractive part of these shelters is they can be built by the average prepper shaving a ton off the budget by saving on contractor labor. Costs come down to materials and your personal time.

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About the author

As an environmental scientist and former County Emergency Planner, Brian lends his unique experience in emergency preparedness and wilderness knowledge to USPreppers.com for the sole purpose of helping you and your family better prepare for any emergency situation.

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