Utah Shelter Systems - Because Survival Is The Highest Priority

Paul & Sharon's Office


© 1987 - 2014 Utah Shelters Inc. All rights reserved.

We encourage you to review the questions and answers addressed in this FAQ section. 

Will my steel shelter rust out?

We would expect our shelters to remain functional for between 100 and150 years, depending on your soil type and the Ph and moisture of the soil. Corrugated steel pipe is used in a variety of ways in our nation’s infrastructure, mostly as storm and sanitary sewers, underground pedestrian tunnels, and small bridges.  The American Corrugated Steel Pipe Association has documented steel culvert still in service that was installed in 1902! 

Most storm culvert lasts between 25 and 75 years before being replaced. The mechanism(s) causing the destruction of storm culvert are quite different than the forces acting on a steel shelter.  Storm sewers have runoff water rushing through them at various volumes and frequencies dragging with it all manor of debris including large rocks, gravel, sand, and soil.  This abrades the protective galvanized coating off the pipe and accelerates the corrosion process.  Also, a tiny current of electricity is generated by the flowing water setting up a process known as electrolysis which can cause small holes to be burned through the pipe wall at specific locations.

The good news is that most of these forces are not at work on a buried corrugated steel shelter- there is simply no water dragging rocks and gravel (hopefully!) through a shelter, and electrolysis is not a factor- at least on any significant scale.

In 2004 we retro-fitted an air handling system on a corrugated steel shelter that had been installed in 1985.  As we neared the shelter hull in the digging process, we expected to find some corrosion.  To our surprise, we found the hull to be bright and shiny, and the ink label from the steel mill was very much intact. This shelter had been in the ground for 19 years, and it looked like it had been installed only the week before.

An unscrupulous competitor has been circulating the idea that steel shelters will rust out in as little as five years (can you imagine hundreds of thousands of miles of highways and roads being ripped up every 5 years to replace drain culverts?!).  As we have been involved in the construction of these shelters (about 500) since 1985, we have yet to hear of anyone experiencing a rust-through penetration in a steel shelter.  Our corrugated steel pipe suppliers have assured us that (in our application at least), 150 years of functional use is not an unreasonable expectation.

Paul's backyard shelter is made of ¼” wall steel plate and measures 8 feet in diameter by 32 feet in length.  A few months ago he got around to installing a countertop and sink with a gray water drain penetrating the hull and extending into the gravel surrounding the shelter.  He used a 2 inch diameter hole saw to make the cut.  The resulting disc recovered from the hole revealed that the outside coal-tar epoxy coating was still very much intact and showed no signs of deterioration.  This shelter was installed in 1990, and was coated twice with Sherwin-Williams Hi-Mill Sur-Tar epoxy paint.  His grandchildren will be quite old before any corrosion issues might have to be dealt with.

Will my shelter protect my family from the heat and toxic gases generated by “firestorms”?  Weren’t people in shelters killed in the fire-bombings in Dresden, Hamburg and Tokyo?

Indeed, many citizens in shelters did perish, but many more survived.  We need,  first of all,  to define the different types of shelters that were used in these raids.  In the German cities of Hamburg and Dresden, some shelters were simply basement rooms in reinforced buildings (sort of like our “duct-tape-and-plastic concept of today). Others were bunkers consisting of reinforced concrete walls and ceilings measuring 8 feet thick called “bomb-proofs” in which there was not a single recorded death during the war.  There were also shelters called “splinter-proofs, which were nothing more than trenches covered with an un-reinforced slab of concrete and with no effort towards making them air tight. 

In short, we can say that there was a wide spectrum of sophistication in regards to the quality of shelters deployed during WWII.  They ranged from almost worthless to excellent, with the latter types taking repeated direct hits from American and British bombs without damage (the Allies dropped 20,000 tons of bombs on the German submarine pens in France without scratching a single sub.)  

In the Hamburg raid on July 27, 1943, about 280,000 people were in the zone affected by a firestorm (five square miles).  Approximately 50,000 citizens perished in the intense heat (800 degrees C) fanned by winds of up to 112 mph.  In the morning, after the fires had largely burned themselves out, about 230,000 souls (82%)  emerged from their shelters in good condition even though most had stood up all night (many fell asleep standing up as there was simply no way to fall or lay down) in shelters packed two, three, even five times beyond their rated capacity.  One person who survived the firestorm said that upon emerging from the bunker she could remember having to step through the fat of the molten bodies of those who had come to the bunker too late.

Japan did not deploy shelters on a widespread basis and most were the efforts of individual families trying to protect themselves with crude structures (sound like America?).  Tokyo had less than a dozen shelters, enough to house about 9,000 people in a city of over 400,000.  Nagasaki had constructed several large tunnel shelters, but these were occupied only by construction workers (some 400) when the nuclear attack occurred. There were no serious injuries or burns among these workers, even though they were well inside the zone of direct weapon effects.

With regards to firestorms or burning buildings, it would help if your shelter were not sited right next to large buildings where the ventilation intake could be covered by burning debris.

Corrugated steel shelters installed correctly, can protect people from all nuclear weapons effects including firestorms by virtue of their deep depth of burial and long entrance tubes.  The average family sheltering in a 10’ X 50’ shelter can suspend ventilation operations for up to 12 hours to avoid pulling carbon monoxide fumes into their shelter before the CO2 build-up became uncomfortable (1% to 2%).   (Most homes will burn to the ground in less than two hours.)  A carbon dioxide scrubber (filter) can be connected to the VA-150 ventilator and used to extend the “lock-down time” of the shelter by about 300%.  Heat transfer is not a problem-it would take quite some time for heat to get through the eight to ten feet of earth above the shelter hull.  Also, there are few American cities if any, that have the fuel density (except certain areas of Boston and New York) required to sustain a firestorm.

What about using steel sea shipping containers for underground shelters?

Ever seen a square submarine?   A square underground steel gas tank?   A square steel storm culvert?  We haven’t either. 

Some folks are trying to use these containers because they are cheap and widely available.  The containers are designed to be stacked on top of each other on the deck of a ship during transport.  The corrugated walls are reinforced at the edges and are designed to sustain vertical loads on the container walls, ONLY.

Square-shaped structures are obviously more efficient in terms of space utilization.  This shape works well in properly designed and built reinforced concrete structures.  It is structurally dangerous to use shipping containers in this way because while it may carry the load (until it doesn’t) of the soil on top of the container (the static load), it could fail catastrophically under insult from blast (live) loads.  In addition to the already mentioned forces working on the structure, there are also twisting (torsion) motions to consider in a blast environment.  Add to this the effects of corrosion (seen and unseen) present in and along the welded seams that cannot be inspected over the life of the shelter and you have a shelter of questionable safety at best.  The very shape of the container guarantees the trapping of moisture on top of the ceiling and at the edges, promoting corrosion.  We urge folks NOT to use shipping containers for this purpose.

Galvanized steel cylindrical shelters and welded steel shelters do not share these problems and have proven their strength, durability, and reliability. 

Can my shelter leak?

Any shelter can leak.  The best way to avoid this is by choosing a good building site away from high water table conditions and sited to drain rain away from the shelter.  Do not place your shelter at the bottom of a hill where run-off will congregate and super-saturated the soil.  If you live in an area where you may receive 20 inches or so of rain in a 24 hour period (i.e. hurricane), a corrugated shelter is not a good idea.  A welded-plate shelter is a much better choice for this environment.  We have recently manufactured and observed the installation of a steel-plate shelter in Florida in which the entire shelter hull and entrance tube connections are immersed in the water table.  A tiny amount of water (2 tablespoons) leaked past the silicone caulking at the joint flange of one of the entrances and apparently self-sealed. 

We are now being supplied with corrugated steel pipe that features a marine-grade caulking compound inside the crimped seams.  This may prove to be superior to the more traditional method involving a cord-type gasket.  This arrangement has been proven successful for shelters in states having high rainfall averages.  The extra expense is well worth the lack of aggravation from a leaking shelter.

The main reasons for our preference for corrugated steel over weld-plate steel shelters is cost per cubic foot in volume.  Dollar for dollar, we can get almost twice the useable volume in the shelter with corrugated steel versus the welded-plate design.  Of course, if one had to choose between a smaller shelter and no shelter at all because of water table considerations, the choice is obvious.

Why build a shelter when all I need is some duct tape and plastic sheeting?

The short answer is: because the people who thought up the duct tape/plastic concept have never tested it against real biological/chemical weapon aerosols, nor have they ever put a few people (their loved ones??) into a small sealed-off room for several days without ventilation.  If they had, they would have discovered very quickly that the build-up of  carbon dioxide and body heat would have driven them out of the “shelter room” in a few hours--to say nothing of people using a chemical toilet in the experiment.   This concept is likely to prove more lethal than the threat we are trying to avoid (weaponized anthrax will kill you in 4 days…the duct tape/plastic room will kill you and your family in less than 24 hours). It would be much better to quickly evacuate than to spend the time preparing such a room.

Biological weapon aerosols have been manufactured to survive in the environment for various periods of time.  The particles are micro-encapsulated to make them resistant to sunlight, moisture, and other environmental factors,  and they might be positively charged so as to enhance their ability to stay airborne instead of clinging to objects they might bump into.  While anthrax may deteriorate within a few days of exposure to direct sunlight, one has to realize that there isn’t a great deal of direct sunlight inside your house, closet, air conditioning ducts, carpets, or clothes.  Bio-weapon aerosols are designed to penetrate buildings like a gas…once inside they can remain potent for months, even years.  The particles range in size from .003 micron to 5 micron and can drift from 50 miles to 400 miles down wind.  A single particle of weaponized plague or smallpox in the lung can kill, yet some people feel comfortable protecting their families with about thirty bucks worth of “stuff”.

To even suggest that a home basement will afford any serious protection from radioactive fallout is to reveal one’s profound ignorance on the subject.  If the reader is still in doubt about the duct tape/plastic concept, just ask yourself: “In the event of a nuclear, biological, or chemical attack, would the President be taken to a room sealed with duct tape and plastic?” ----Then don’t take your family there, either…

Can I build a shelter in my basement?

Yes.  The only question is how effective do you expect this shelter to be?  It is possible to construct an improvised shelter in an existing basement for protection against fallout, offering limited protection and comfort.  It will be cramped (occupants may have to be laying down all the time) because of the 18 inches(concrete) or 24 inches (dirt) of shielding material in the ceiling and walls.  There will be precious little room inside for water, food, chemical toilet, ventilation system, and bedding.  You AND YOUR FAMILY will be in this confined space for at least seven DAYS.  We haven’t even mentioned preparing meals in there.  The protection factor (if the house is swept off of the first floor), assuming 18 inches of concrete shielding, is around 64pf. This means that you will receive 1/64th of the radiation that exists outside the shelter, which is marginal. IF the home survives, you will receive 1/1280th of the fallout, which is very good. IF you are far enough away from the blast to avoid fires (ignited by the thermal pulse); initial radiation (present within 1 ½ miles of the blast); home invasion (by those who have survived and are now hungry); IF it is not winter time, and IF the fallout turns out to be the only threat that actually materializes, then you will probably survive.   Which begs the question: “What if you go to all this effort and “your” terrorist uses a bio-aerosol instead of a nuke?”  You would have spent almost as much money, and more time on the home basement project than you would have by installing a steel shelter, and it really only addressed one type of threat.

A steel shelter installs in less than a week, has a protection factor  in excess of 10 million, and is very resistant to blast, fire, initial radiation, chemical and biological aerosols, tornadoes, hurricanes and industrial accidents.  Oh, and did I mention it is a whole lot more comfortable and easier to cook in? 

If you really want to do a basement shelter right, then do it when building a new house, and use the Swiss shelter specifications and components (armored doors, ventilators, etc.).  We would be happy to sell you a copy (in ENGLISH!) of the Swiss shelter-building instructions and code.  Be prepared to spend three to five times more per square foot than the cost of a steel shelter.

Why build a shelter at all?  Isn’t the Cold War over?

After the former Soviet Union spent itself into the poor house building mountains of offensive weaponry, the United States declared “victory” and began spending the peace dividend.  The Warsaw Pact dissolved and the Russians lugged most of their tanks, aircraft, and nuclear weapons home.  This  is a good thing, especially for Europe.  The Russians also scrapped their old nuclear delivery systems (they never throw anything away) to save money for upgrading and maintaining their newer third and fourth generation strategic missiles. 

Russia might not be able to regularly pay Red Army soldiers, but is still lavishing funds on maintaining a 6,000 warhead first-strike capability. In addition, they still have a number of active nuclear warhead production facilities while the U.S. cannot produce a single new nuclear warhead…our production facilities have been closed more than a decade.  In fact, America has not produced a single new nuclear warhead since 1990.  This causes deep concern among many experts because the design life of a U.S. nuclear warhead is 14 years.  Do the math.  (The average age of the active warheads in the U.S. arsenal is 25 years.  Please consider that nuclear weapons are very sophisticated instruments involving some very high-tech materials.  The passage of time is not kind to these kinds of machinery.)

In addition to maintaining a powerful offensive nuclear capability, Russia continues to build huge underground complexes, some of which are as large as Washington DC (Yamantau Mountain)  It is known that there are over 200 large facilities constructed for the ruling elite, each housing from ten thousand to more than 200,000 officials and their families.  Inquiries from the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon about Yamantau Mountain have been met with responses ranging from silly to flat denial. 

Also consider that Russia has built millions of shelter spaces for civilians and has a civil defense (CD) program that is still taught in their schools.  This CD program combined with the worlds only active (and well tested) anti-ballistic missile system leads many to ask:  “Is the Cold War really over?”

© 1987 - 2014 Utah Shelters Inc. All rights reserved.