SoCal Connected on KCET

The Underground Shelter Boom

Original Airdate December 20, 2012; Updated June 11, 2014

Vince Gonzales: Ron Hubbard used to make decorative iron doors, then he founded Atlas Survival Shelters in Montebello and entered the underground economy.

Ron Hubbard: Come on in, Vince. So, the way this works is we just came through a decontamination room. So if I have to lock the shelter down, I can latch it down like this, and when I have the weather stripping in, hear the sound change? We have an airlock in here now.

Vince Gonzales: Ron's models go from small, backyard shelters to monsters like this one with water tanks, air filtration systems, food storage, and more.

Ron Hubbard: When you come in you got a flushing toilet. You got a shower with a bathtub. You got a vanity, and then, immediately, you come around the corner and this is what we call the “bunk room.” This is for six people. Six adults.

Vince Gonzales: And don't forget the living room. This is not what people think about when they think about a shelter.

Ron Hubbard: No, when you walk in here you're like: Oh, my god, look at the size of this living room. This is 220 square feet of living room, underground. But this has a mahogany electric fireplace for the ambiance. You've got a big screen TV. You got a fridge. You got a microwave. You got a kitchen here.

Vince Gonzales: Given enough supplies, Ron claims you could bunker down here for a year without opening the doors. But he says his shelters have more to do with recreation than revelations. He calls them "underground homes."

Ron Hubbard: People look forward to coming to the shelter, especially when they're kids; you should see the glow on the faces of the children when they come down here. To them, this is a fort. It's like a playhouse. Kids love this. They think it's the funnest thing.

Vince Gonzales: The cost: from the factory floor to buried 20 feet underground on your property. A shelter like this can set you back almost $150,000. And sales are good. The day we were visiting another finished bunker was loaded up and shipped out.

Vince Gonzales: But Ron admits his buyers, who are all over the country, have a lot more on their minds than recreation. He says his customers, normal citizens, military officers, politicians, corporate CEOs, worry about a litany of potential disasters.

Vince Gonzales: But Ron says he's not preying on his customers' fears. He compares his shelters to buying an insurance policy.

Ron Hubbard: Do we want a fire? Do we want a hurricane? No. Do we want a nuclear disaster? Do we want a chemical attack? No! But what other kind of insurance can you buy other than this thing right here? You can't buy anything else. So, if you've got the money this is the only insurance policy that you can buy in this world to protect yourself. It is better to have a shelter and be 10 or 15 years early than be one second late.

Professor Steven O’Leary: In Los Angeles, there are earthquakes, there's the possibility of civil unrest, there's food chain disruptions. These are things which actually could happen. It's not farfetched at all. So in that sense, it's totally reasonable to stock up on supplies.

Vince Gonzales: Professor Steven O’Leary of the University of Southern California has been studying apocalyptic prophecies, survivalists, and doomsday preppers for decades.

Steven O’Leary: It's very, very important we don't look at these people and say, “What irrational idiots these people are.” There is a rational core, but it's mixed in with some very irrational beliefs. Preparing for disaster, that is reasonable. Worrying about Obama being the antichrist, or worrying about the United Nation troops coming to take your guns, I don't think that's reasonable.

Vince Gonzales: And O’Leary says it's not hard to have your point of view stretched to the extreme.

Steven O’Leary: You could say all of these prophecies…what they do is they take the natural emotions that we feel about the future, which are hope and fear. We are afraid something bad might happen but we hope something good will happen and you maximize those emotions to the nth degree.

Vince Gonzales: And that fear can give all the talk of shelters a darker edge. Take this comment from Ron Hubbard, echoing something we heard a lot in the shelter-survival community.

Ron Hubbard: If you close the hatch, that means we are experiencing civil unrest with zombies out there, chemical warfare, biological warfare, nuclear fallout, of which all four of those will kill you.

Vince Gonzales: You heard right. Of the four threats Ron cited, zombies are on the list. To him, people who didn't invest in a shelter are a potential threat.

Rob Hubbard: When I hear people mention zombies, I don't think of “The Walking Dead,” like the television series. I think of the people who aren't prepared, because they don't think anything can happen. They're gonna be looking around for the government to give them food and water, but the government is not going to be there. No one is going to be there.

Steven O’Leary: The zombies will be knocking on your door and they may not want to eat your brains, they want to eat your freeze-dried rice. There is also a sort of glee in the possibility of catastrophe. Hollywood has given us the pleasure of attack. Every one of these movies has iconic monuments. They are totally broken up by matchsticks. And for some reason we like that.

Vince Gonzales: For “SoCal Connected,” I’m Vince Gonzales.

Catastrophic events, pandemics, and fears of the end of the world have prompted buyers to invest in "underground shelters."

In this 2012 "SoCal Connected" piece, reporter Vince Gonzales uncovers the sudden boom in shelter sales across the country.

Ron Hubbard, founder of Montebello-based Atlas Survival Shelters, is on a mission to provide customers with protective and durable shelters that are often housed 20 feet underground on private property.

The shelters provide all of the amenities a normal house would provide, including bunk rooms, a large living room, food storage areas, and water tanks.

Thinking of purchasing an underground shelter in the event of a catastrophic event? That'll cost you anywhere from $35,000 to $150,000.

Featuring Interviews With:

  • Ron Hubbard, founder, Atlas Survival Shelters
  • Steven O'Leary, professor, University of Southern California

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