Demand for underground bunkers soars over COVID fears

The coronavirus pandemic is fuelling a rise in the sales of underground bunkers and survival equipment.

One US company, which runs what is billed as the “world’s largest bunker survival community”, is reporting a 500% increase in the last year, with a 2,000% surge in enquiries.

Vivos now has nearly one million members around the world – and at least 1,000 in the UK.

There are 575 Vivos bunkers in South Dakota. Pic: The Vivos Group
Image:Tom Soulsby lives in one of 575 Vivos bunkers in South Dakota. Pic: The Vivos Group

It comes as Britons have increasingly turned to survival supply sellers who cater for “preppers” – a broad term used to describe people who prepare for worst-case scenarios.

Crime in the UK and many parts of the world has declined over the course of the pandemic – but that hasn’t reassured concerned preppers.

Some of Vivos’ clients have even gone so far as to move into their bunkers.

When Atlanta locked down in March, Tom and Mary Soulsby relocated to a shelter in South Dakota, which was originally built by the government on a former military base.

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Mr Soulsby told Sky News his “immuno-compromised” wife was “terrified” by the rise in cases and they wanted to get away from the “millions of people that could infect us in days”.

Tom Soulsby has made a bunker in South Dakota his home. Pic: Tom Soulsby
Image:Tom Soulsby has made a bunker in South Dakota his home

“More than anything, the main protection you need is from people,” said the 70-year-old Windows server engineer, who now works remotely.

It is not just COVID-19 they wanted protection from – it’s the threat of any event that could disrupt the American food supply chain and lead to widespread “social unrest”.

“I don’t think it’s any more paranoid than keeping a fire extinguisher in your house,” he said.

He believes the likelihood of a solar flare hitting the Earth “in our lifetimes” is “very high” and would cause all electronics to stop functioning.

The Vivos Europa One facility in Rothenstein, Germany. Pic: The Vivos Group
Image:Many Vivos bunkers are sold as empty shells. Pic: The Vivos Group

Like many Vivos clients, Mr Soulsby does not trust the government to protect him in the event of a major disaster.

In the UK, coronavirus and the risk of Brexit-related trade disruption has pushed people to buy products like freeze-dried foods.

Justin Jones, a prepper and sales director of UK Prepping Shop, said their sales have gone up by 487% in the last three months, with many first-time buyers.

Vivos compex in Germany . Pic: The Vivos Group
Image:A new Vivos bunker complex in Germany will fit up to 10,000 people. Pic: The Vivos Group

“I don’t think people expected there to be empty shops,” he told Sky News. “It’s always been laughed at when preppers have talked about this in the past. It came true and now we’ve got a nation of preppers.”

Michael Mills, a prepping expert and criminology lecturer at the University of Kent, told Sky News a “declining faith in institutions” has accompanied the rise of the prepping movement.

He said: “Making sure that the individual or a small group can sustain themselves seems to be a bankable idea and bedrock of security in a world in which other sources of security seem to be on the way out or absent.”

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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