How to survive the End Times for a mere £32,000

The 'apocalypse industry' is growing again, with one US firm about to open Europe's first nuclear-bomb-and-asteroid-proof bunker

Guy Adams
Sunday 29 August 2010 00:00
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Are you terrified of earthquakes, floods or tsunamis? Does the prospect of terrorist attack or nuclear holocaust fill you with dread? Or does it take that ancient Mayan stuff about 2012 to get your juices flowing? Whatever your paranoia, fear not: if the End Times really are coming, then a small financial investment is all it will take for you to survive it.

That, at least, is what they're telling customers of the apocalypse industry, a small section of the American economy which, after years in abeyance following the end of the Cold War, has once more started growing again.

Robert Vicino, the founder of Vivos, a Californian company building a "survival network" of upscale underground bunkers across the United States, will travel to London this week to announce the opening of his firm's first nuclear-bomb-and-asteroid-proof property in Europe.

It is understood to be a former military facility, though its exact location, like all Vivos bunkers, is secret, since they don't want non-residents over-running the place when the Big One does strike. It will be stocked with all the food, water, fuel and clothing that its residents need to survive for a year.

"London is of course on the radar of terrorism, and nuclear attacks," Mr Vicino said. "You're closer to the Middle East than we are here in California. And where the divine decides to drop the next asteroid is anyone's guess. Now is the time to prepare if you value your life." You'll have to have a few spare pennies, though. Investors seeking to buy part ownership of one of the Vivos bunkers must stump up $50,000 (£32,000) per adult, and $25,000 for each child. Nonetheless, Vicino claims already to have 5,000 Americans on his books.

He says he's so far built 300,000sq ft of bunker space in the US. Though Europeans have traditionally been more reluctant to buy into the impending apocalypse, he believes the explosion in London's population of high-net-worth individuals has left the British market ripe for exploitation.

"People have life insurance. We are selling something better: life assurance," he said. "Our places can survive a 50 megatonne blast 10 miles away; they can be submerged to a depth of 500ft, they can survive shockwaves, and electromagnetic pulses. They have medical facilities, libraries, security offices, gymnasiums, even prisons."

Potential residents don't just have to pony up cash for their stake in a Vivos bunker. They also have to undergo a psychological evaluation and criminal background check to weed out individuals who would be unsuited to the strained conditions of an extended stay underground.

Some of those who passed met reporters recently at a press tour of a bunker near Barstow, in the desert east of Los Angeles. "We're not crazy people, but these are fearful times," said one of them, Steve Kramer. "My family wants to survive. You have to be prepared."

Jason Hodge, a father of four who also counts himself a "future survivor," to use the jargon of the apocalypse industry, added: "It's an investment in life. I want to make sure I have a place I can take me and my family if that worst-case scenario were to happen."

Critics have accused Mr Vicino and similar businessmen of exploiting the public's irrational fears. Kenneth Rose, the author of One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture, recently told the Los Angeles Times that bunker culture leads to "a society of fear, a society obsessed with its own survival. I don't think that's any way to live a life".

There is more than a whiff of snake oil about the Vivos website. It lists various scenarios under which life as we know it might cease, including "Planet X", "Solar Flares" and "Super Volcano". Mr Vicino reacts angrily, however, to allegations that he's preying on fear. "If anyone's doing that, it's you guys in the media," he says. "You guys are reporting fear every day. We are not promoting that fear, but we are selling the solution to it."

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