Category Archives: Apocalypse and End-of-the-World Survival Guides

Hiding In Plain Sight: The Secret Shelter Phenomenon

Hiding In Plain Sight: The Secret Shelter Phenomenon
Looks a lot nicer than the places I used to hide out in
Source: Courtesy Columbia University

Ever play hide-and-seek as a kid? Of course you did. I was the champion in our neighborhood, stuffing myself into hollow logs, climbing highly unsafe trees and hiding away in long-abandoned communication shelters. Actually, that last time, I stayed hidden so long that my folks panicked and called in a search party — sorry, mom!

Anyway, I’m not just waxing nostalgic for no reason, here. On the radio the other day, someone was advertising survival supplies, like freeze-dried food and plant seeds, so that you could stock up before the apocalypse. I couldn’t believe that nobody told me the apocalypse is coming—I would’ve quit going to the gym years ago! Then I caught this TV show about people called “doomsday preppers,” who are obsessed with preparing themselves for the end of the world. The more I started looking into this whole thing, the more I realized that hiding yourself has gotten a lot more sophisticated since my great 16-hour communication shelter hideaway adventure!

Panic Rooms and “Panic Room”

Back in 2002, the movie “Panic Room” really brought the titular living space into the popular imagination. In this blockbuster thriller, a woman and her daughter hide from home-invading burglars in what is called a “panic room,” which is a highly secure space equipped with emergency supplies. While the idea of a panic room was heavily popularized by the movie, they’ve been around a lot longer than that.

For example, panic rooms were popular in medieval times, when castles were built with special rooms in which lords could hide during invasions. They stayed popular for centuries, eventually evolving into hideaways like the one featured in the movie. Used for hiding from home invaders and harsh elements, these rooms can be expensive

The Popularization of Protection

While I’m deservedly proud to this day of my game-changing, communication shelter-barricading, police-alerting round of hide-and-seek, there was one neighborhood spot I always wanted to hide in even more: My neighbor’s fallout shelter. Now remember, this was back when we were being taught to hide under our school desks for protection from a nuclear blast, so fallout shelters weren’t quite as sophisticated as they are today. But these things were still heavy duty, and our neighbors had stocked it so that they could hide from nuclear winter for quite some time. I never got to go in.

Now, the cold war has been over for kind of a while, but people are still building all kinds of secret rooms, bomb shelters and doomsday bunkers—you know, just in case. Just look at the people on the reality show I mentioned earlier, “Doomsday Preppers.” Everybody has their own reasons for suspecting that the world as we know it is going to end soon, whether it’s widespread financial collapse, hostile government takeovers, worldwide power failure, nuclear war, overpopulation and rising sea levels. Clearly, it takes all kinds.

The Danger of Hiding

The point is, though, these people won’t settle for holing up in a rundown, rat-infested communication shelter like certain eight-year-old boys do. They stock up on non-perishable supplies, build expensive and extravagant fallout shelters, undergo weapons training and wait for the end of days to come on already.

Naturally, political rhetoric from the likes of certain radio show hosts and cable news stations encourages this kind of thinking, because it’s sensational and compels people to vote and otherwise behave in a certain way. But the obsession with self-protection is also big business. A single doomsday prepper can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on equipment and supplies like a bunker, food, generators, fuel, bottled water and more. The companies that manufacture these survivalist supplies convince people that they’re a form of insurance, but they really remind me of an old episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “The Shelter.”

In this episode, a man and his family have guests over to their house when a CONELRAD announcement warns that a nuclear attack may be imminent. The man and his family hide in their fallout shelter, but the other neighbors—who don’t have shelters of their own—panic and demand to be allowed in, too. There isn’t enough room in the shelter for everyone, and the neighbors turn first on each other, then on the family hidden away. Eventually, they break into the shelter like wild animals, just in time for CONELRAD to announce that its previous warning had been a false alarm. The attack never came, but the bonds between the neighbors were destroyed by doomsday panic.

Obviously, you can see where I’m going with this. Preparedness is one thing, but widespread doomsday panic isn’t healthy. Fortunately, doomsday prepping like the people on the TV show do isn’t that widespread of a phenomenon—mostly just people with too much time and money on their hands. Still, if eight-year-old me had seen the silly way people would be acting in the future from the inside of that cruddy old communication shelter, I might’ve just stayed in there myself!