The Functioning of Fallout Shelters

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Constructing a Fallout Shelter

2008 HowStuffWorks

Building a pole-covered trench can be a quick way for a family to construct a fallout shelter, should a nuclear attack occur and they don’t have access to a public or private shelter. To make this type of shelter, there are a few essential items that are necessary to have.

  • Tools – You will need shovels to dig the earth, picks for hard ground, saws or axes for cutting poles, knives, cans, buckets, pots and pans, which can be used for carrying earth and eventually for storing water, measuring tapes to measure the length, width and depth of the shelter, flashlights, ropes, hammers, pliers, work gloves and medical kits.
  • Rainproof material – Anything including shower curtains, tablecloths, mattress covers and canvas will work.
  • Water – It is recommended to have fifteen gallons of drinking water to last people inside the shelter as long as possible. Sufficient amounts of water will guarantee survival, as it may be necessary to stay inside a fallout shelter for as much as two weeks after a nuclear attack.
  • Homemade air ventilation – Proper ventilation is essential to ensure that the insides of a fallout shelter don’t become unbearably hot due to the water vapor given off by our bodies. Instructions for building a Kearny Air Pump (KAP), a simple yet effective way of circulating air while allowing minimal, safe amounts of radiation into the shelter, can be found on this page.

Firstly, stake out the outlines of your trench with shafts of wood. The shelter should be located at least 50 feet away from any large buildings as nuclear explosions can cause far-reaching firestorms and damage structures well past ground zero. Once you have decided upon appropriate dimensions, start digging away earth and cutting poles to the appropriate length. The poles are placed across the trench, and their ends should extend at least two feet past the edges.

Cover any cracks between the logs with cloth or anything that will stop dirt from falling into the shelter. Two 6-foot poles, one placed onto top of the other and secured with rope, can be placed in front of the entrance to keep dirt from spilling in. One layer of earth, about a foot and a half deep, should go on top of the poles. The waterproofing material listed above goes on top of this first layer, and finally another foot and a half of earth is placed on top.

If you want to know more about nuclear bombs, nuclear radiation and other things nuclear, you can find a lot of information on the next page.

Articles Related to How Nuclear Preparedness Works

  • How simple is it to steal a nuclear bomb?
  • Understanding How Nuclear Bombs Work
  • Explaining How Nuclear Radiation Works
  • Learning How Nuclear Power Works
  • Discovering How the Manhattan Project Operated
  • Understanding How the Nuclear Arms Race Functions

More Useful Links

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency


  • Kearny, Cresson. “Nuclear war survival skills.” U.S. Department of Energy – Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Oregon: Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, 1986.
  • National Conference of States on Building Codes and Standards. “Standards for fallout shelters.” Federal Emergency Management Agency. Sept. 1979.
  • Office of Civil Defense. “Fallout protection for homes with basements.” Department of Defense. May 1967.
  • Zacharias, Pat. “When bomb shelters were all the rage.” The Detroit News. April 1, 1999.


1. What is a Fallout Shelter?

A Fallout Shelter is a type of shelter designed to protect people from the fallout of a nuclear explosion. The shelter is usually built underground and is typically made of concrete and steel. Fallout shelters were first built during the Cold War when the threat of nuclear war was high.

2. How does a Fallout Shelter work?

A Fallout Shelter works by providing a shield from the radiation produced by a nuclear explosion. The shelter is typically designed to withstand the blast of a nuclear weapon and is built to be airtight. The shelter also has a ventilation system that filters out radioactive particles from the outside air. The shelter is usually stocked with food, water, medical supplies, and other essentials that can last for several days or even weeks.

3. How long can you stay in a Fallout Shelter?

The amount of time you can stay in a Fallout Shelter depends on the amount of supplies you have and the level of radiation outside. In general, a well-stocked shelter can keep you safe for several days or even weeks. However, if the radiation outside is too high, you may need to wait for several days before it is safe to leave.

4. How do you find a Fallout Shelter?

Fallout Shelters are usually marked with a sign that says “Fallout Shelter” or “Civil Defense Shelter.” You can also find a list of public Fallout Shelters in your area by contacting your local emergency management agency or by checking the online directory.

5. Can you build your own Fallout Shelter?

Yes, you can build your own Fallout Shelter. However, building a Fallout Shelter can be expensive and requires a lot of planning. You will need to consider factors such as the location, the size, the materials, and the ventilation system. It is also important to consult with a professional to ensure that your shelter is safe and meets all the necessary requirements.

6. What should you do if you are caught outside during a nuclear explosion?

If you are caught outside during a nuclear explosion, you should seek shelter as quickly as possible. Look for a building or other structure that can provide some protection. If you cannot find shelter, lie flat on the ground and cover your head with your hands. Stay there for at least 30 seconds to allow the initial blast to pass.

7. What are the risks of radiation exposure?

The risks of radiation exposure include cancer, genetic mutations, and other health problems. The severity of the risks depends on the dose of radiation and the length of exposure. The closer you are to the source of radiation, the higher the dose you will receive.

8. How do you protect yourself from radiation?

You can protect yourself from radiation by staying inside a Fallout Shelter or other protected area. If you must go outside, wear a mask to filter out radioactive particles and cover your skin with protective clothing. You should also avoid eating or drinking anything that may be contaminated with radiation.

9. Are Fallout Shelters still relevant today?

While the threat of nuclear war has decreased since the end of the Cold War, Fallout Shelters are still relevant today. They can be used to protect people from other types of disasters such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks. Fallout Shelters can also be used as emergency shelters for people who have been displaced from their homes.

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