A Life And Death Decision – Rushing to Your Shelter

This shelter/bunker has easy access and would allow people to quickly make their way to safety.
This shelter/bunker has easy access and would allow people to quickly make their way to safety.

If you have a shelter and are unfortunately in a region where there’s a danger of being caught by the initial immediate effects of a nuclear explosion, then of course you must get into the shelter and have it secured, shut, prior to any bombs being detonated.

Assuming you even get any warning about an imminent attack (and that’s a very big assumption which we evaluate in a separate article), you almost certainly won’t know how long it will be from when you receive the warning to when the warheads might arrive and explode above you.  In another article, we calculate that the very best case scenario might see you with a five minute warning, maximum; and the more likely scenarios have warnings being too late and not being sent out (and/or not being received by you) until after the missiles have arrived.

So you truly are in a situation where seconds count.  Best case scenario, you have no more than 300 seconds (ie five minutes) from the start of a warning message until the explosion.  More likely, you may have only one or two minutes to get into your shelter.

It goes without saying that of course you want for you and as many other members of your group as are presently close to your shelter, to get into it and have it secured prior to the bomb(s) going off.  Read on for some thoughts about how to make this as achievable as possible.

With most retreat/shelter layouts, you should be able to get to your shelter and inside it in less than 60 seconds (depends how quickly you can get its door open and closed, of course).  Some people might be closer and able to do so in under 30 seconds.  Others may be more distant (we talk about that a bit further on).

You and everyone else must, the instant you get a warning, stop anything/everything you are doing and move immediately to the shelter, because you have no way of knowing if the warning you have received leaves you with 10 seconds or 10 minutes of time before the bombs start exploding around you.

Warning/Alerting Others in Your Group

The only thing you need to do, prior to rushing to your shelter as urgently as possible, is to warn the other people in your group and summon them to the shelter.  We suggest the best way to do this is not by calling out to them, but by sounding a (very loud) audible alarm.

Do not use a method that puts the responsibility on you to make sure other people have heard and understood the alarm.  And do not use some type of alarm system that will delay your own rush to the shelter.  All you should have to do is flip a switch somewhere close by on your likely route to the shelter.

Use some type of general alarm and make sure it is clearly understood that there will be no checking up, so when the alarm goes off, it is everyone’s personal responsibility to hear it, recognize it, respond to it, and get to the shelter before it closes, without assistance.  Sadly, we as a nation have largely turned out back on the concept of personal responsibility, so this may require a paradigm shift, and some passive aggressive responses from some of your group who are slowest to accept this concept (you may uncover this when you do rehearsals – see below).

The only exception to personal responsibility would be, of course, for people who genuinely truly do need assistance.  The aged, infirm, and the very young.

Perhaps the best alarm system would be to have a series of sirens or alarm bells installed around your residence, connected up to a car battery that is being trickle charged by a standby battery charger.  These would be all activated by any one of a series of switches around the house, all in parallel, so that turning any one of them on will activate all the alarms.  The battery/mains power source means that if there’s a power cut, your alarm system will still remain functional, potentially for days or weeks until the power is restored (the alarm system will not be drawing appreciable power until it is activated).

With multiple alarm devices, you can locate them wherever people may be and wherever distracting noises may be present.

If this is too complicated, then a simple system could be to use warning horns that run off cans of compressed air, and have those in multiple locations in your house on the route to your shelter.  Have them in a cradle with a lever so that you can pull the lever down to actuate the device and have it stay actuated for however long there is air in the can.  You can just quickly flip it on and then continue on your way to the shelter.

Failing that, even simple whistles that you can blow, in several places around the house, might be a suitable alternate way of providing a loud can’t be missed urgent alarm sound, but if you’re blowing a whistle as hard as you can, you’re going to be slowing yourself down on your own rush to the shelter.

You’ll be able to test this of course and get a feeling for how clearly a whistle or air horn can be heard in the furthest away nooks and crannies of your residence and the grounds immediately outside.  Probably you’ll find it necessary to use an electric siren system with multiple sirens – these are easy to design and construct.

Note that the human ear will detect an intermittent sound better than a steady sound.  So instead of one long blast of the air horn, or one huge blow of the whistle, you want repeated multiple short blasts.  Each sound should be at least half a second in duration.  Electronic siren devices with programmable siren tones might be better, from this perspective, than steadily sounding alarm bells.

Three final suggestions about this.

First, make sure the alarm sound is very different to other alarms and warnings and sounds in and around your house.  You don’t want it to be confused with your alarm clock, the timer on the microwave, a carbon monoxide detector, a smoke detector, the neighbor’s burglar alarm, your car alarm, etc.

Second, don’t make the alarms ridiculously deafeningly loud, and don’t choose a siren sound pattern that is disorienting (fast warbles are particularly disorienting).  You want to alert people, not disorient and confuse them.

Third, have an alarm cut-off switch in your shelter, so that when you close up your shelter, you can turn off the alarms.  This does two things.  First, it gets rid of the noise in the background that might otherwise continue for many hours.  Secondly, people know that if/when the alert siren stops, that means the shelter has been closed and they should make other emergency arrangements for shelter.

Whatever method of warning other people in and around your house you choose, of course you must test it to ensure that everyone can hear it, everywhere in the house, no matter what they’re doing.  The person singing in the shower, the person with headphones on listening to their iPod, the person laughing and giggling with friends, the person watching a loud movie, the heavy sleeper in their far away bedroom, the person mowing the lawn outside and so on – all of them must be absolutely able to clearly hear the alarm.

Map Out Travel Times to the Shelter

The next part of your planning is to understand how long it will take people to get to the shelter from different parts of your residence and adjoining property.

You want to do test drills from various locations so you build up an understanding of what the range of times will be to take people to get to your shelter.  Time both faster/nimbler members of your group and slower/less dextrous members too, so as to get best and worst case scenarios.

As you do this, you’ll quickly see that, for example, people can get from everywhere in your house to the shelter in a maximum of (whatever number) seconds, and where the furthest away (from a traveling time point of view) locations are.

If you have some people who are less agile on stairs or whatever, of course their travel times will prove to be significantly different if there are stairs or other complicating factors.

Please understand, at this point, that mapping out the times is not the same as setting a policy for how long you’ll wait for people to get to the shelter, but it certainly is the step prior to that and provides you with helpful data to consider when making those difficult decisions, discussed in the next article.

There’s also one other thing to consider when looking at time it takes to get to the shelter.  The key issue is how much more time it will take people from further away to get to the shelter than it will take people close by.  That is the most difficult time, when some people are already in the shelter and waiting anxiously for the door to be closed and for safety to envelop them.

Rehearsing Shelter Alerts

You need to carry out rehearsal drills to instill the appropriate instincts in everyone in your group to move to your shelter instantly and also to check for things like the ability for your alert/warning sound to be heard.

Do we need to tell you that once an alarm is sounded, don’t pause to grab anything (because everything you need for an extended stay in the shelter must be already pre-positioned in the shelter), don’t fuss over opening/closing doors/windows, don’t turn anything on or off, just go directly to your shelter.  Nothing else matters, because you’re anticipating a scenario where everything outside the shelter is about to be completely destroyed, after all!

Some rehearsals can be simple timed exercises to see how long it takes each person to get to the shelter, and see what issues each person experienced in terms of delays and problems, then work on fixes to optimize those issues.

Depending on the type of entrance to your shelter, you might also discover problems having a number of people all transit through it at once.  If that is the case, see which way works best – slow people first, fast people second, or vice versa, and see if there’s a way for more able-bodied people to assist the less able-bodied people.

If you have a vertical shaft with a ladder leading down into a shelter, maybe there’s a way you could augment that with a ‘fireman’s pole’ on the other side of the shaft, opposite the ladder?  That way some people could use the pole to quickly go down while others use the ladder.

We suggest you never have a total surprise alert, because the adrenalin caused by an unexpected and apparently for real alert might prove too much for the weaker hearted among you.  But it would be acceptable to say ‘Some time today or tomorrow I’ll sound the alarm’ – there’s no need to have everyone ready, waiting, and already prepared.

Now for an important thing.  After a few ‘normal’ rehearsals, you want to then start adding a new element into the practicing.  You want to deliberately be late, yourself, and subsequently secretly arrange with other individuals for them to be late.  You are now rehearsing not just the ‘getting to the shelter in time’ scenario but also the ‘closing the door in the face of late-comers’ scenario, and this is an essential thing to rehearse.  Not only does it give the door closer the confidence to do so, but it also impresses on the stragglers that the door will close at the agreed upon time (see our separate article on how to set these policies).

A Policy For Unexpected Guests

What say you have friends visiting when an alarm is sounded.  What do you do – leave them staring in amazement as you suddenly all get up, open a hitherto unseen ‘secret panel’ in the wall behind them, and rush down a flight of stairs without a word of explanation?  Or try to hastily tell them what is happening and invite them in to your shelter with you?

On the basis of safety in numbers, and on the basis of it is probably easier to include them than to exclude them, you probably should plan your shelter to have some extra capacity – extra space, extra beds, extra food, and so on.  So, in the event an alarm should occur when you have guests visiting, and all other things being equal, you invite them too.

This assumes that the visitors are people who you are generally compatible with and who truly would add to the overall dynamics and resilience of your group.  The problem is that your group will have had time to already prepare their attitudes and mindset to the scenario that is now unfolding, and hopefully have some fortitude with which to face the future.  Non-prepping friends might bring with them all the dysfunctional attitudes and expectations that have made our society as unstable as it presently is.  Which would be worse?  To exclude them from entry to your shelter at the get-go (quite possibly at gunpoint) or to eject them from the shelter some days later (again quite possibly at gunpoint)?


All your investment in a shelter is wasted if you and the rest of your family/group can’t get there in time, before any bombs start to go off around you.

You need to plan and then practice the process of making your way to your shelter as quickly as possible, because if an alert is ever sounded, you may have mere seconds to get from wherever you are to the safety of your shelter.

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