The apocalypse has become big business. And it’s getting bigger every day. In the ’50s, homeowners fearing Communist attacks built bunkers in their backyards and basements, hung up a few “God Bless Our Bomb Shelter” signs and called it a Cold War. But today, Americans en masse are again preparing for the worst—and Communists are just about the only thing not on their list. What is? Terrorist attacks, a total economic collapse, perhaps even zombie invasions. Or maybe just a complete societal breakdown after this November’s scorched-Earth presidential election. But this is not your Uncle Travis’ guns-and-canned-foods-militia vision of Armageddon preparedness. While the fears of survivalists and so-called preppers are modernizing, so too are their ideas and methods of refuge. The business of disaster readiness is getting higher tech, higher priced, and way more geographically diverse, with state-of-the-art underground shelters tricked out with greenhouses, gyms, and decontamination units in the boondocks and the latest in plush panic rooms in city penthouses. Welcome to the brave (and for some, highly profitable) new world of paranoia. “There’s a lot of uneasiness in society. You see it in politics. You see it in the economy. The world is changing really, really quickly and not always for the better,” says Richard Duarte, author of “Surviving Doomsday: A Guide for Surviving an Urban Disaster.” Prepping “gives them a certain comfort that at least they’ve got some sort of preparations to … take care of their family if things start falling apart all around them,” he says. If the booming sales of panic rooms are any indication, more and more city dwellers these days are obsessively worrying about everything from home invasions to terror attacks. And they’re backing up those worries with cold, hard cash. Sales of safe (aka panic) rooms, where families can safely lock themselves away from most threats, are up 30% over the same time last year at Gaffco Ballistics, a Londonderry, VT–based installer which does much of its business in New York City, according to CEO Tom Gaffney. That’s driven in part by the terrorist attacks in San Bernardino, CA, and Paris, he says. Most of his safe rooms are actually fortified master bedrooms, with ballistic fiberglass–reinforced walls, a Kevlar-lined door that is purported to resist both bullets and sledgehammers, and bullet-proof windows—as well as a high-end alarm system that is designed to withstand burglars, rioters, and more. He also turns home theaters into radiation-proof rooms where residents can watch the latest Hollywood blockbusters while World War III rages on outside. The rooms range from $250,000 to $1.5 million. (No one said paranoia came cheap.) People are “just more aware” of potential threats, says Gaffney of his clients, many of whom don’t consider themselves preppers. “It’s a growth market.” That paranoia has also been fueling business at construction company and safe room installer GoNavco Corp., a Troy, NY–based safe room installer. Owner Joe Navarra began installing panic rooms several years ago after requests began pouring in. Now this burgeoning portion of his business is up about 50% over the same time last year. His no-frills chambers start at $20,000, although most are in the $50,000 range. They’re typically installed in the closets or bathrooms of master bedrooms. Panic rooms aren’t just relegated to the biggest cities and the biggest disasters. Author Duarte has several spaces in his suburban home outside of Miami that could serve as safe rooms with fortified walls and doors. “You’re never going to stop a determined attacker” with his homemade safe rooms, says Duarte, who says he became a prepper after Hurricane Andrew destroyed his home in 1992. “But you can slow them down to give you enough time to call the police or figure out how to defend yourself.” Of course, for some survivalists, cities will never feel safe. These are the folks who need to go far off the grid. But even this age-old concept is getting a makeover, and a business plan.
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