The apocalypse is big business, and it’s getting bigger every day. These days, Americans preparing for the worst. Terrorist attacks, economic collapse, zombies, black outs, nuclear war, alien invasions, martial law, foreign military invasion- You name it, and someone is preparing for it.
What is sweeping the nation today is not just a guns-and-canned-foods-militia vision of Armageddon preparedness. As the wide variety of fears of survivalists and so-called preppers expands, so too do their ideas and methods of refuge. The business of disaster preparedness is getting higher tech, higher priced, and way more geographically diverse, with state-of-the-art underground shelters complete with greenhouses, gyms, and decontamination units in the boondocks and plush panic rooms in city penthouses.
Welcome to the brave new world of paranoia.
“There’s a lot of uneasiness in society. You see it in politics. You see it in the economy. The world is changing really, really quickly and not always for the better,” says Richard Duarte, author of “Surviving Doomsday: A Guide for Surviving an Urban Disaster.”
Prepping “gives them a certain comfort that at least they’ve got some sort of preparations to … take care of their family if things start falling apart all around them,” he says.
Ever increasing sales of panic rooms alone are a clear indication, that more and more folks are obsessively worrying about everything from home invasions to terror attacks. Sales of safe (aka panic) rooms, where families can safely lock themselves away from most threats, are up 30% over the same time last year at Gaffco Ballistics, a Londonderry, VT–based installer which does much of its business in New York City, according to CEO Tom Gaffney. That’s driven in part by the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, CA, and Paris, he says.
Most of his safe rooms are actually fortified master bedrooms, with ballistic fiberglass–reinforced walls, a Kevlar-lined door that is purported to resist both bullets and sledgehammers, and bullet-proof windows—as well as a high-end alarm system that is designed to withstand burglars, rioters, and more. He also turns home theaters into radiation-proof rooms where residents can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters while World War III rages on outside.
People are “just more aware” of potential threats, says Gaffney of his clients, many of whom don’t consider themselves preppers. “It’s a growth market.”
This ‘end of the world’ paranoia has also been fueling business at construction company and safe room installer GoNavco Corp., a Troy, NY–based safe room installer. Owner Joe Navarra started installing panic rooms several years ago after requests began pouring in. Now this portion of his business is up about 50% over the same time last year. His no-frills chambers start at $20,000, although most are in the $50,000 range. They’re typically installed in the closets or bathrooms of master bedrooms.
“You’re never going to stop a determined attacker” with his homemade safe rooms, says Duarte, who says he became a prepper after Hurricane Andrew destroyed his home in 1992. “But you can slow them down to give you enough time to call the police or figure out how to defend yourself.”
Of course, for some survivalists, cities will never be safe. Some people feel the need to go far off the grid. But even this age-old concept is getting a makeover, and a business plan. Real estate companies are celebrating huge profit increases by specializing in “survivalist properties”—large parcels of rural land with homes targeted specifically to preppers, with full fortification and self-sustainable food and energy options. After all, why not grow your own tomatoes and kale while you wait out the end of the world as we know it?
For example, sales at American Redoubt Realty, a real estate firm nestled in the heart of prepper country in northern Idaho, are up 50% over the same time last year, says real estate agent Todd Savage, who specializes in such transactions. His clients typically hail from Texas and California.
Idaho, Montana and Wyoming are often considered the epicenter of the modern survivalist property trend. But you can find pockets of it across the country, from North Carolina to Washington state.
“Each election cycle we see a huge uptick in interest and sales,” says Savage, who first noticed the trend in 2012, when Mitt Romney faced off against Barack Obama. “People are tired of both sides.”
His buyers are looking for very specific, “100% self-sustainable,” rural properties, at least 10 acres and up, says Savage. For it to be true prepper property, the land must have at least two abundant water sources, like a well and a stream; alternative energy, like solar panels or hydropower; and the ability to grow food. Ideally it could also be easily defended against any number of threats, with either bunkers or safe rooms or simply reinforced doors and windows and a lot of ammunition. Properties already outfitted with solar panels or hydropower are particularly in demand since they can be expensive to install, he says.
Survivalists are also on the prowl for metal containers which can be converted into shelters and buried underground, as well as Quonsets, those steel, half-moon-shaped shelters that can be built into mountainsides, says Jake Crites, a real estate broker at Jake’s Old West Properties in Ashfork, AZ. He’s seen a big uptick over the past two years.
Likewise, sales at bunker builder Rising S Co. have never been better. They shot up 20% to 25% over the past two years for the radiation-resistant shelters, which can be sunk 33 feet underground and tricked out with gyms, greenhouses, and water filtration systems that can even enable dwellers to drink their own urine if need be.
“The more politics that are played on TV, the more our sales go up,” says proud prepper Clyde Scott, owner of the Kemp, TX–based company. “People are in fear of our government passing laws to take their guns away and not allowing them to protect themselves,” including against a foreign invasion.
The company sells nearly two dozen, air- and water-tight steel bunkers a year, which can range from $40,000 to $10 million each. They bear little resemblance to the bare-bulb bomb shelters of the ’50s. The bulk of sales are in Texas, but the end-of-the-world-proof shelters are also big in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Florida, Scott says.
Most of his clients, from surgeons to billionaires, work in cities and are successful businesspeople with families. The bunkers are typically installed on their “bug out” properties, secondary residences in the country where preppers can go if (or when, depending on whom you talk to) disaster hits.
Business is also booming at Ultimate Bunker, on the outskirts of Salt Lake City, where sales have nearly tripled each year since the company opened shop four years ago. General contractor Mike Peters got into bunkers after he watched the TV show “Doomsday Preppers” on the National Geographic Channel, and decided he could build them better. His underground shelters start at $59,000 and go way up from there. His top-of-the-line model has areas for raising rabbits and fish. The majority of his sales are in the $500,000 range.
“Almost everything I do is off-ground and located in the middle of nowhere,” says Peters, who often powers the shelters with solar panels placed on nearby sheds. Customers “want a bunker right now because they feel the country is doomed after the election,” he says. “It doesn’t matter who wins; we’re in trouble.”