News Column

Doomsday Destinations: Survivalism for the Whole Family

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I had no idea how big the survival biz was. But a few companies are taking the possibility of apocalypse seriously, and offering serious options for surviving it.

Think of these options as vacation homes - with more than a fire extinguisher for safety ...

* Vivos survival communities: The California company Vivos is planning a network of survival shelters in sites around America and the world. The shelters can accommodate from 400 to 900 people, and have everything you would want or need to live a regular, if hermetically sealed, life for up to a year, including pools, dentists, restaurants, etc.

It doesn't come cheap, but hey, can you put a value on having a future? For $50,000, you can get a bunk in a luxurious underground survival shelter (that's per person, but kids are only $35,000). The Indiana complex is ready for occupancy, and space is limited (of course it is). Vivos is taking Dec. 21 as a drop-dead deadline, and is working furiously to have other shelters up and running: They're working on sites in Nebraska and the Rockies, and pre-opening sales are reportedly brisk.

Or you can buy your own personal shelter, the Quantum, "a secure, turnkey solution, fully outfitted and furnished, like an affordable luxury yacht; only requiring you add food, fuel, water, clothing and your loved ones!" You can even put it in your favorite place (wonder if they ship to Paris?)

Info: terravivos.com.

* Survival Condo: Built in a former Atlas-F missile solo, the condo extends 200 feet below the earth's surface and boasts epoxy- hardened concrete walls to keep you safe from nuclear attack. The shelter is powered by solar panels, a generator and its own wind turbine. But the $1.75 million for a full-floor unit ($900,00 for a half floor) doesn't just buy you power and security. In fact, the first silo's pretty much sold out. The developers have begun work on their second site.

In addition to your condo's stainless steel GE appliances, Kohler bath fixtures and Jacuzzi tub, your new underground home will also come equipped with a full-size pool, spa, fitness room, library and movie theater. You'll dine on a diet of organic produce and homegrown fish fresh from the facility's state-of-the-art hydroponic and aquaculture center. And there's no reason to fear the anarchy outside your apocalyptic haven because Survival Condo's owner, Larry Hall, promises the silo will have a military grade security system - complete with lethal and non-lethal defense capabilities.

Info: Survivalcondo.com.

HIDEOUT/BAILOUT

I don't know how apocalypses actually work - and several scenarios have been posited for Dec. 21 - but I'm thinking if you were tucked away far enough, you might be able to avoid the process of eradication.

* Soudan Underground Mine State Park, Soudan, Minn.: It's the deepest place you can go into the earth in America - take an elevator down to the first landing and then an electric train to the deepest part of this old iron mine, which closed in 1962.

At the very bottom is a football-field-sized room that shelters a laboratory where physicists are looking for dark matter - there's lots of it in a mine - and are trying to measure the mass of a neutrino. Scheduled tours are over for the season, but group tours run year-round, so bring along all those loved ones with whom you want to roam the empty earth after the above-ground masses fry or fly away. And if you get unnerved by the thought of 2,300 feet of rock hanging over your head, remember that rock may, on Dec. 21, be your friend.

Info: 218-753-2245, dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/ soudan_underground_mine/index.html.

* Jules Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, Fla. - A hotel 30 feet below sea level - in the sea - might also be far enough out of the way. This "mobile undersea habitat," was designed for scientific research in the early 1970s, deployed 100 feet below sea level in Puerto Rico. It was refitted as a little hotel and set up in the Key Largo Undersea Park in the early 1980s as the first true ambient pressure habitat open to the general public.

You have to dive 21 feet to get to the entrance before you can sleep with the fishes. If you're not a certified diver (20 percent of guests aren't) you'll need to take a three-hour resort course to safely and legally spend the night in the lodge. Then consider yourself one of the chosen (and lucky, if you really do avoid a rain of flames or meteor shrapnel). The hotel has room only for two couples, or a family, a night. Packages range from $500 to $700 a night, with discounts in November and (just in time) December.

Info: 305 451-2353, jul.com.

* Bugarach, France: While none of the commercial space-flight companies will be prepared for liftoff before Dec. 21, more and more folks are looking for a more unconventional ride off the planet. For years, some spiritual groups and UFO-devotees have believed that the little town of Bugarach, in the French Pyrenees, has magical powers thanks to its Mountain, Pic de Bugarach, which some believe is inhabited by extraterrestrials. The story goes that little aliens will conveniently emerge on Dec. 21 and take some earthlings back to their planet aboard a spaceship. Others believe the magical influence will make the town, pop. 200, the only place in the world to survive the apocalypse. Doomsday believers and New Age types have been showing up there in increasing numbers; if the invasion gets much bigger the mayor has promised to call in the military. So you may need to plan your assault and gain access to the mountain with careful planning. Could be a close encounter ...

Info: france-voyage.com/towns/bugarach-586.htm.

* The Chunnel: If the engineering of this tunnel running across the English Channel is strong enough to withstand the pressure of all that water above it, I guess something else earth-shattering might not register, either. And if it does, well, perhaps your train can act as a flotation device. (Keep those windows locked.)

SURVIVAL-SPECIFIC SITES

There are also places, old and new, designed to withstand apocalypses (apocalypsi?). Some you can tour, some you can live in, and some you should just plan to be near as the clock ticks down to zero ...

* The Greenbrier Resort, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.: This luxury resort has what is probably the best-known classified hideout in America, The Bunker. Carved 720 feet into the hillside on the resort beneath the hotel's West Virginia Wing is an emergency Cold War fallout shelter, an 112,544-square-foot bunker commissioned in 1958 to house Congress in the event of nuclear holocaust. The bunker had three outdoor entrances and one secret entrance inside the resort - a 25-ton blast door. It also featured decontamination chambers, a power plant, water storage tanks, a clinic with operating rooms, an intensive care unit, a pharmacy and dormitories that could accommodate more than 1,100 people

When the location was exposed by the Washington Post in 1992, the government ended its lease agreement and The Greenbrier began offering bunker tours - today the space includes an exhibition gallery with artifacts and reproductions representing the security and communications area, dormitories, VIP lounges and medical clinic, as well as numerous photos of the facility, a video on the history of the Cold War and other materials relevant to the bunker.

The Bunker will be closed Dec. 4 to 6 (perhaps they'll be checking for leaks in the three- to five-foot reinforced concrete walls), but will indeed be open again in time for possible doom. Renovations to the Greenbrier in 2006 added meeting/event rooms to the bunker, so you can bring a group of friends for the end. For tours ($30, $15 children), reservations are required: Call the main number or the Bunker Office, 304-536-7810.

Info: 800-624-6070, greenbrier.com

* Capitol Visitor Center, Washington, D.C.: The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center opened in 2008, and at nearly 580,000 square feet, is the largest project in the Capitol's history. Approximately three- quarters the size of the Capitol itself, the whole facility is underground. The perfectly believable reason given for the subterranean setup is that no one wanted it to detract from the appearance of the Capitol and the grounds designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1874.

The government doesn't mention that of the three levels, the entire bottom floor is off-limits to the public; it's top secret, reserved solely for Congress members, and the government avoids any mention of its doomsday shelter use.

Although the building was designed before the 2001 terrorist attacks, the architects report that the floor plans were subsequently amended "to deliver adequate security measures and material protection." There are four bombproof skylights and a tunnel system large enough for vehicles to move through.

The Capitol Visitor Center is open to visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday except for Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year's Day and Inauguration Day. If you plan your visit carefully for Dec. 21, you might be in luck if the end is imminent. I can't imagine our government officials (whose salary we pay) would herd everyone out of the building. I would just start heading down those stairs, and who knows? You might just get to spend the apocalypse rubbing elbows with or even bending the ears of your elected officials. Given enough time, you might even begin to understand how government-bought toilet seats could cost four figures.

Info: visitthecapitol.gov

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