How to Turn Your Living Room Into a Fallout Shelter

In the event of a nuclear attack, the best thing to do is to take shelter underground. But if you’re stuck aboveground, the next-best thing to do is to build a DIY “expedient shelter.” We show you how.

The demand for well-stocked fallout shelters has receded since the end of the Cold War, when the Soviet Union collapsed and the threat of nuclear destruction receded, the world’s nuclear states continued to follow the diplomatic and behavioral norms of that era. Years of inflammatory statements by North Korea and Russia, for example, were met with comparative calm from the United States, whose responses were carefully calibrated to deter aggression. Global leaders learned to look to the United States as a voice of nuclear reassurance.

Donald Trump’s inability or unwillingness to abide by these norms has revived the sense that Armageddon is once again within the realm of the possible. Tensions with North Korea have grown under his administration, and the danger of nuclear confrontation is now higher than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis

In 2010, the U.S. government released a 130-page publication designed to help local officials plan for the explosion of a 10-kiloton weapon. The publication instructs survivors (anyone outside the blast radius) to shelter where they are, preferably in a basement or other underground space. It recommends waiting at least 12 hours before emerging; fallout drops by 90 percent within 7 hours of detonation. Not all experts agree with the shelter-in-place campaign. Joseph Cirincione, the author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, says firestorms could turn such shelters into coffins. “The only true defense against a nuclear attack is to prevent it from happening in the first place,” he says.

Living Room to Fallout Shelter

A basement or underground area is the best location to hide from nuclear fallout, but what if you’re stuck aboveground? people in that situation should build an “expedient shelter.” Here’s how:

Step One: Find a solid table, desk or workbench that is tall enough to fit survivors and supplies.

Step Two: Surround it with shielding, such as books, mattresses or furniture. Several inches of protection is enough to block radiation.

Step Three: Gather your supplies in the shelter. Don’t go overboard—you may only need 12 hours’ worth.

Step Four: Block the entrance, but include two small vents for air.


Hand-Cranked Radio: Listen for updates on fire and radiation risks.

Bucket: Use for personal sanitation.

Medicine: Fill prescriptions so that you always have a few days’ worth.

Food: Opt for snacks and bottled water.

Dosimeter: Emerge when the pen-size device detects low ionizing radiation; a safe level depends on how long it will take to find new shelter.