Build Your Own Fallout Shelter

Civil Defense Now! – So You’re Thinking about a Fallout Shelter?

By Richard A. Fleetwood – Updated April 2017

Really now…..Why a Fallout Shelter???

Did you know that during the 1950’s during the height of the cold war that over 100,000 AMERICANS built their own BOMB SHELTERS? Many people THESE DAYS are concerned about terrorist threats and the availability of nuclear material on the black market,  or maybe the still-viable threat of first strike by Russia or China, or a third world attempt to start Armageddon.

Any student of prophecy or terrorist activity will tell you that the threat of nuclear detonation within the boundaries of the United States is a very real possibility in the next few years.  While the watchdogs of public safety work their tails off trying to stay ahead of all threats- real or imaginary – someone, somewhere is going to actually accomplish their goal of terrorizing the populace with a nuke in the future.  What can YOU do to prepare your family for this fearful action?



IMPORTANT THOUGHT: The term “fallout shelter” may be treated to mean the same thing as a “blast shelter”, a “bomb shelter”, a “nuclear bunker”,  or even a “hidey-hole” (if you’re from the south, that is!)


That’s right…the old staple of the fifties and sixties Cold War era…the time has come to imagebring back the basement or backyard shelter, right to your neighborhood. This report is concerned mostly with PERSONAL FALLOUT SHELTERS, but also covers other types of shelter. Even now, FEMA has many plans available to you, just for the cost of a stamp.  Some plans have even been digitized and can be downloaded over the internet Go to THIS PAGE to DOWNLOAD several ADOBE ACROBAT  digitized FEMA plans of Build Your Own FALLOUT SHELTERS plans. The actual cost of building the shelter, using those inexpensive plans, will be a little more than it used to cost in the sixties…..inflation sucks, right? There are many things to be considered, however, if you REALLY want to build a fallout shelter. Details like actual radiation exposure, claustrophobia, amount of damage, blast waves, food and water, sanitation, and fresh air ALL must be considered in the ACTUAL USE of a fallout shelter.

Where to build one in or around your home is fairly simple, once you understand a few basics of what makes nuclear explosions and nuclear war “a bad thing”.

IMPORTANT THOUGHT: The term “fallout shelter” may be treated to mean the same thing as a “blast shelter”, a “bomb shelter”, a “nuclear bunker”,  or even a “hidey-hole” (if you’re from the south, that is!)\


First, you need to figure out if you are near a likely target of a massive first strike. Check our Nuclear Targets page for a list of historical enemy targets within the U.S.  Most targets of this nature are going to be sources of threat to the attacker, such as military bases, missile silos, large population areas, shipyards, large civil airports, hi-tech industrial regions (such as Silicon Valley, steel regions), energy areas (electricity producing dams, fuel tank farms, oil refineries), large regional transportation hubs (large airports, train switching yards, truck depots,  shipyards and loading docks, cargo storage facilities), and anything that  might be associated with these.

Terrorist threats would almost certainly be in extremely populated areas like New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles.  If your home is located near any of these possible targets, consider moving farther into the suburbs, or into rural areas within commuting distance of your workplace.

Also, consider a small rural property for a small vacation cottage or mobile home, if you still want to stay close to the city for employment reasons. A few acres in a rural area can also act as a retreat or stronghold in case of such an attack. This property would be best used for possible gardening,  a small home or trailer to rent for income purposes for your family, or maybe just a place to take the kids camping on weekends. 

Once you have an idea of possible targets in your area, get a map (preferably a topographic map from the US Geological Survey) and calculate your general bearing from the selected target area.

The idea is to figure out exactly where in your yard or home basement to put your planned fallout shelter.  If your home is north of a military base, then you want to use the southern wall of your basement or the yard by the north facing side of your house to put your fallout shelter.  The idea is to get as much mass, such as soil piled against the outside basement wall of your home, as possible between you and the possible detonation and its aftereffects.



Any nuclear detonation gives off alpha, beta, and gamma radiation during the explosion, as well as severe destructive power by the blast wave (causing winds up to 1000 mph nearest ground zero).  A ground burst detonation is one in which any part of the fireball touches the ground, and these are the most problematic.

A ground burst will raise soil, building materials, and anything in the area up into the mushroom cloud, as the heat from the explosion rises and cool air rushes in from around the base of the cloud to fill the void, therefore bringing in even more material to be rained downwind all over the area as highly radioactive fallout.The more mass you have between you and the detonation, the less of a problem you will have with direct radioactivity.

The three main radioactive particles you need to be concerned about are as follows…. Alpha particles can be stopped by one inch of air or a sheet of paper.Beta particles are halted by 10 feet of air or heavy clothing.  The bad particles,Gamma, are slowed down by a half mile of air or 2 1/2 feet of earth. Gamma particles. also called ionizing radiation, are responsible for the great majority of illness associated with nuclear explosions.  During the explosion, radioactive particles are caused by the great quantities of earth and other debris that are sucked up into the nuclear cloud. These particles  are condensed from the gases caused by the explosion, and settle into the dust and dirt that falls back to earth as “fallout”.  On the way down, and after they reach the ground, the radioactive particles exude invisible Gamma rays, like x-rays, into the surrounding area.  Too much direct contact with Gamma rays can kill or injure, and cause lifelong health problems like cancer.  Gamma particles give off most of their radiation quickly and during the first few hours and days after an attack, they should be avoided as much as possible.

As mentioned above, mass makes a difference as to how much shielding you may get from gamma rays. Most fallout shelters have a masonry area covered at least by some earth to help slow down the path of gamma rays.  Whether your fallout shelter is in your basement, or buried in the back yard, consider the following before you build.

“Concrete, bricks, earth and sand are some of the materials that are dense or heavy enough to provide fallout protection.  For comparative purposes, 4 inches of concrete would provide the same shielding density as:

  • 5 to 6 inches of bricks
  • 6 inches of sand or gravel or 7 inches of earth (may be packed into bags, boxes, or cartons for easier handling)
  • 8 inches of hollow concrete blocks (six inches if filled with sand)
  • 10 inches of water
  • 14 inches of books or magazines
  • 18 inches of wood
  • -source FEMA book H-14, “In Time Of Emergency”, page 20.

Other kinds of shelters could be custom made pre-fabricated shelters from any of a number of companies(more info below), custom built in place shelters buried several feet underground somewhere in your yard, with either tunnel access from your basement or a double entry area thru hatches in your yard (somehow hidden from common view), or if you would like to get the most bang for your buck, a custom  built, earth-sheltered, off-grid powered, well shielded, concrete-lined underground home, available from several companies.


Most people who would hear the words “fallout shelter” these days, would think they were in the vicinity of the neighborhood kook, or maybe a member of a weird religious cult.  Most of these people are more concerned with whether or not their new car needs another coat of wax, or if they need to pick up their laundry or have their fingernails refinished at the local mall on the way home.  These people would consider the possibility of terrorist nukes, first strike, tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, or any other earth changes v-e-r-y unlikely in their town ANY time in the near future.   

IF you are  reading this, then you obviously suspect that current  economic, sociopolitical, and natural sciences  situations are more serious than they have been in a long time.  The book shelves at your local bookstore add new books on prophecy, earth changes, terrorist activity (and reviews of their handiwork), and new age “we can save the world if we all work together to heal it” crowd, at an alarming rate.

All throughout the 1990’s, talk radio hosts like Art Bell, Chuck Harder, Bo Gritz on AM or FM stations, and a multitude of shortwave broadcasters at all times of the day and night made a regular habit of spotlighting the growing rumble of “end-times” activity. In this new century, radio shows of old are replaced by reality shows on every major network, including specific survival, doomsday, global catastrophe documentary shows on the Science Channel, the History Channel, and even the National Geographic Channel. Almost weekly reports of North Korea’s famine situation, China’s threats to the US about “which is more important to you-Taiwan or YOUR west coast?”, and middle eastern suicide bombers, as well as recent events within our borders like the bombings of Oklahoma City and the World Trade Center,  ALL bring us closer to the eventual possibility of someone/some group upgrading the stakes to a nuke threat.

If YOU think that somewhere, sometime soon there will be another bombing, possible larger, than you should consider making a shelter for you and your loved ones in or near your home. As the new millennium approaches, the low growl of millennium madness will rise to a crescendo, grabbing everyone’s attention in subtle ,or more likely, highly visible and very disturbing ways.  This added factor alone may be the nudge that pushes that particular terrorist group over the edge, to the nuclear brink…

IMPORTANT THOUGHT Sources for actual designs of fallout shelters: FEMA, Association of Civil Defense, books, online plans, EBay, etc.


Since the birth, subsequent death, and phoenix-like re-emergence, of “the cold war”, there have been MANY different kinds of nuclear fallout shelters designed, for all sizes of groups of people, for different kinds of geologic earth work, for every kind of military survivability. Many of these plans have made it to public light, and some plans and information are easily available, including downloadable plans on this site.

The most common that the “baby boom” generation might remember are the “community fallout shelters.” These are shelters found inside city limits, usually in the basements of municipal government buildings, libraries, churches, and larger office buildings. The signs directing citizens to these shelters, nailed up decades ago, still exist on some of the original walls, street light poles, and doorways where they were put up….faded, sun-beaten, and often hard to read. Small towns across America still have these most highly visible, and recent trips thru such states as Utah and other conservative states displayed these old fallout shelter signs on many street corners.

These community shelters can be, and sometimes are, used for other kinds of disasters, such as floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, chemical spills, and the like. Unfortunately, Civil Defense supplies (food, water, meds, sanitation, communications, rad detection equipment, etc. ) originally placed in these shelters has long since disappeared or gone bad, with no replacement by the Federal government who originally put them there.

Current Federal government thought on community shelters are to instead replace their use with various forms and methods of CRISIS RELOCATION, or moving mass populations out of cities into rural areas, where there would be less loss of life, at least as direct result of nuclear detonations. In reality, this system would NOT work, and probably cause worse loss of life than direct nuclear weapons. 

Instead of Community Shelters, many possible variations of PERSONAL SHELTER would save many more lives in an actual nuclear attack, however large or small, however close or distant. Government testing of personal shelters during LIVE nuclear testing in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as well as simulated nuke tests using tens of thousands of pounds of dynamite, produced positive results that people COULD live thru nuclear detonations, as close as half a mile away from the blast crater, provided they had a properly designed, sufficiently shielded and strengthened, and somewhat stocked shelter. The immediate effects of nuclear blasts, such as the blast pressure wave, blast tossed projectiles, thermal ignition, and so forth could all be planned for in any personal shelters, for groups from 1 to 100 or more. 

imageFEMA still has some of the original nuclear shelter reference material STILL available, including a report titled CIVIL DEFENSE SHELTERS – A STATE OF THE ART ASSESSMENT – 1986. A digital copy of this 315 page government document is available from our Downloads section. This is an excellent resource, and the bibliography alone lists HUNDREDS of sources of more information, of actual government, university, and think tank studies in these areas of shelter survival. 

This book discusses MANY of the systems, requirements, and technical thoughts on having a viable, safe shelter in a nuclear situation. This report seems to be one of the LAST full blown reports, however, in the area of shelters. The printing date of 1987 makes the report seem dated, but understand that little has occurred in nuclear weapon progress that would make data on shelter obsolete since this time frame.

Now, regarding the specifics of a personal shelter, if you think times and political climates truly require YOU to build one, then you have many alternatives. In the past couple of years, several NEW options have appeared on the horizon for potential shelter customers. There have always been BUILD IT YOURSELF shelters around, dug into the backyard, built into the corner of the basement, or planned into the creation of a brand new home from the beginning.

These days, you can actually order a PREFABRICATED nuclear shelter, and have it delivered to your back yard, and even installed by contractors in a weekend. Steel pipe shelters, 6 feet around and 10 to 20 feet long, can be ordered from Utah Shelter Systems. Shane Connor, author of several comprehensive radiological FAQs, also offers mini-blast shelters, which can be delivered FOB from central Texas for around $3200.The highest state of the art nuclear shelters can be ordered complete and fully stocked, fueled, and filtered from Radius-Defense, a company run by Walton McCarthy, author of THE NUCLEAR SHELTERIST and PRINCIPLES OF PROTECTION. Costs on these shelters can run from $6000 up to $50,000 and more, if EVERY option is ordered.

There are also a couple of prefab plastic, fiberglass, or steel shelters that are primarily storm shelters, but in a real fallout situation, would be much better than open ground. Your best choice for shelter these days, if money, low visibility, and multiple use are considered high priority, is to build your own shelter, on your own land. This option gives YOU the most options if and when its use is truly required.

imageIf a shelter need is required but little time is available, then take the time NOW to gather information and plans on EXPEDIENT shelters, which are shelters that can be created in as little as 12 to 24 hours by a group of motivated people, using shovels, saws, and locally available materials such as plywood, sapling trees, sheets, blankets and dirt ( the same dirt removed in digging the shelter excavation). 

The best source of expedient shelter I know of is NUCLEAR WAR SURVIVAL SKILLS, available in total online at and also available for download from the Bunker file area. I would recommend a hard-copy of this book in ANY survival library, and at least some time spent reading it to get an idea of what you would need just in case. There is plenty of other good survival information regarding food, air filtration, radiation shielding, and more, including full size plans for a KEARNEY EXPEDIENT FALLOUT METER. Check out the online version, then order a copy directly from the site above. You won’t be sorry.



When it comes to having a SAFE place, the less folks that know about it, the better. Even neighbors can do bad things if they have cause or reason to, and while you may trust your neighbors as much as your family because you’ve known them forever, still be wary. During the cold war years, movies such as ON THE BEACH, or THE DAY AFTER gave us a few views ( though many areas were off the mark, thanks to left leaning trends of Hollywood) that even in the worst of times, you just can’t trust every single person you come into contact with. 

Because of this, I’d recommend as much low profile as possible WHEN you build a shelter. Call it anything but a shelter when asked, such as a root cellar, wine cellar, tornado shelter, a cistern for water storage, or many other things. In the long run, YOU will be more confident and secure if you have to use it for its intended purpose.

The most obvious place to start, if you are fortunate enough to have one, is your basement. All construction, finish out, and stocking can be done without any prying eyes, in whatever time you need. The best way is to include poured in place floor slab, walls, and ceiling in new home construction, but it can also be done after the fact in already built homes. Cinder blocks and an existing foundation either in your basement or on ground level, can also be used, filling each layer with mortar or concrete, and inserting rebar before the cement sets, so that each succeeding layer is solidly connected to the layer below it. Your final block wall will have a very strong radiation PF (Protection Factor) if done this way, and will be a great tornado shelter if you suffer these natural threats in your area.

If you don’t have a basement, or prefer not to have the shelter within the basement, you can excavate and build a very good shelter in your backyard. Be careful where you dig, learning where power lines, gas lines, septic and sewer system lines, water lines, and so forth are BEFORE you remove one spadeful of dirt. Your local utilities will help you figure out where such lines are and mark them for you for safety before you start. Also, be sure, if your locality requires it, to have the proper BUILDING PERMIT before you start. I know, I know….it is a pain, but better to be legal than to have to waste all that money if you have to go to court, or get huge fines. Unless your close neighbors work down at the courthouse you won’t have a problem with your shelter secret getting out if you don’t want to.

Some FEMA and older Civil Defense plans including making the shelter a part of the backyard landscaping, such as placing a patio or picnic table or BBQ area on the slab making up the roof of your shelter. This could be a very useful way to blend in your shelter while making access to it very quick and easy in emergencies. I have also seen plans where the shelter was used as an underground maintenance room for a swimming pool, with water pump, filters, and heating equipment for the pool all in the underground room. If going this route, plan for a larger floor area than originally needed. Consider this also…you would have access to water without having to ever leave the shelter. 

Other shelter placement thoughts include having a shelter on a piece of rural land you, your family or a group of friends might commonly own. You can build a much larger shelter there, with the cost spread among several folks other than just by yourself, but you’ll have to worry about the OTHERS sharing your secret and bringing lots of friends or other people unknown and untrusted by you…not a good idea in survival situations. Better to stay small and quiet than to be overrun with strangers. It does not have to be a location hundreds of miles from your regular home to be useful….a couple of acres 20 to 50 miles from home would work great, giving you peace, quiet, and space from incoming threats should the need ever arise.

Now, if you got the “big bucks”, go for the remote retreat high in the mountains, at least 100 or more miles away from any large metropolitan area. As far back on dirt roads as you can go is really good, and better yet is having your retreat/shelter/compound miles from ANY road. Like I said…you’ll have to have really big bucks to go this route.

Now here are a couple of ideas you may NOT have considered yet. If you have a few acres, whether in town or in rural areas, consider purchasing one of more CARGO CONTAINERS. You can find these used in nearly any big city or port or transportation hub. These are the big 20 to 40 foot long, 8 foot tall boxes you see on the backs of semi trucks, or going down the railroads every day stacked on dozens or hundreds of flat cars. These can be found, and even purchased, on the internet now, and used costs can range from $1000 to $3000 depending on age, condition, and freight charges to your final destination.

A crane and crew to operate it can be rented by the hour or day to set in in any hole or setup you wish, and for less then $10000 you can have a 40 by 8 by 8 foot steel box, on a cement slab foundation, covered with another slab, and dual access entries, with several feet of dirt covering the entire thing, all ready for you to finish out and stock. 

If it were me, though, and this is one of my goals, I’d get the container delivered, have it completely sandblasted inside and out, at least two or three good thick coats of rust proofing primer applied, and at least one layer of waterproofing membrane applied BEFORE putting it underground. Making the equivalent of a basement for one or more containers to be buried, and then dropping them into the excavation, before applying the roof of whatever design, gives you a lot longer lifespan than if you just bury it and pile dirt up against the sides.

The basement idea lets air circulate all around the containers inside and out, and therefore will let you dehumidify the air, keeping rust and other bad things from happening to the containers and/or their contents. If done this way, you can literally build a house or garage right on top of your BIG fallout shelter, and the stuff on the lower level will last for decades, while giving you many levels of protection from ANYTHING.

The other idea that most intrigues me is a full blown earth sheltered home, buried in a southern facing hillside, with full off grid support systems, and very highly efficient in all system areas. A very self sufficient project is what I’ve had in mind for years, but funds won’t allow for a long time. ‘Tis my dream, but it may come true someday if I work hard enough between now and then.

More details coming soon on the following topics…

Stay tuned!



planned, emergency, after detonation, local community shelters


filtered air, food and water, power supply, light, heat, cool air, humidity control, safety locks, fire safety, invasion, self defense, communications, sanitation, living areas,


bricks, morter, sand, wood, air filter, air pump, rebar, cement


do it yourself, contractors, prefab, time frames, problems that might arise,


before, during, after construction…sump pumps, dehumidifiers, double wall construction, french drains, etc.


store food storage, extra tools, camping equipment, water supply,  a quiet reading room, playhouse for the kids, photo darkroom, Pirate radio station, ham shack, chinchilla farm, chia pet factory, bat preserve, secret valuables storage area, etc


food, water, cots, reading material, communication hardware, cleaning supplies, extra clothing, medical supplies, bottled air, oxygen in tanks, alternative energy sources, self-protection gear


sources for food storage information, and purchase


for all possible events that might happen


should you still have questions, just look at the evening news…

For EXCELLENT information that would assist you even further in FALLOUT SHELTER preparedness, read THESE pages available here in Civil Defense Now!

U.S. Potential Nuclear Targets

Standards For Fallout Shelters

FEMA Civil Defense Shelters – A State Of The Art Assessment – 1987

USA National Fallout Shelter Options – From State of the Art Assessment above – Table 8.1

72 hour kits, Food and Water, Emergency Water Storage, and Emergency Cooking, Heating, and Lighting

Updated: April 19, 2017 — 4:22 pm

The Author

Rich Fleetwood

Rich is the founder of SurvivalRing, now in it's 24th year, author of multimedia CDs and DVDs, loves the outdoors, his family, his geeky skill-set, and lives in rural southern Wyoming, just below the continental divide (long story, that...). Always ready to help others, he shares what he learns on multiple blogs, many social sites, and more. With a background in preparedness and survival skills, training with county, state, and national organizations, and skills in all areas of media and on air experience in live radio and television, Rich is always thinking about the "big picture", when it comes to helping individuals and families prepare for life's little surprises.

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