Is it the prospect of an apocalyptic rendezvous with disaster in late 2012, the likelihood of nuclear terrorism devastating the homeland or just another garden-variety economic meltdown - this one perhaps qualifying as The Big One? Take your pick, but enough people are sufficiently freaked out these days to feed an apparent boomlet in disaster shelters, circa 1955.
Most folks may have assumed that doomsday bunkers had been relegated to museum backrooms chronicling the Cold War. But this USA Today reminded everyone that yes, Shakespeare was right: what's past is sometimes prologue.
A shelter construction company called the Vivos Network, features a real-time clock on its home page counting down to the year 2012, a year associated with various schools of eschatology. The website also serves up the following message:
Millions of people believe that we are living in the "end times." Many are looking for a viable solution to survive potential future Earth devastating events. Eventually, our planet will realize another devastating catastrophe, whether manmade, or a cyclical force of nature. Disasters are rare and unexpected, but on any sort of long timeline, they're inevitable. It's time to prepare!"But it is pitches like that which drive others in the business like Walton McCarthy to distraction. McCarthy, president of shelter construction maker Radius Engineering, says his $23 million company has doubled sales each of the last five years without recourse to marketing end-of-the-world scenarios.
"Our motto is "the future belongs to those who plan," Walton said in an interview, adding that Radius has built more 1,100 shelters - about one third based in Washington D.C. "We're not a 2012 company...we're about protecting people."
Like other companies in the bomb shelter business, though, demand for Radius's products is clearly linked to the vagaries of the daily news cycle. And when the news is bad, frankly, that translates into good news for sales.
"What really changed things for us was July, when Iran tested a missile fired from a boat that went 40 miles in altitude," he said. "That was most significant event in the 30 years that I've been doing this."
By the 1960s, the popularity of bomb shelters faded as belief in the survivability of a massive nuclear attack waned. But Walton argues that most of the public has drawn the wrong conclusions by ignoring the fine print. He believes that a missile attack from the Gulf could disrupt the U.S. power grid for months, impacting electricity and food production and distribution across the nation.
"74 -that's the number of nuclear weapons that have been tested above ground in the U.S. and we're all still here," he said. "The thing about nuclear [radiation] necessarily being the end of everything is total nonsense. After 30 days, radiation levels go back to normal."