Survival bunker business is ‘brisk’ amid the coronavirus crisis

Atlas Survival Shelters owner Ron Hubbard . AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

The COVID-19 pandemic may be battering Canadian business, but the underground economy is booming.

No, I’m not talking about the still-flourishing black-market marijuana trade. I’m talking about a literal underground business: installing a survival shelter in your backyard or basement.

The bunker business is brisk, reports Ron Hubbard, owner of Atlas Survival Shelters in Texas.

“The demand for shelters is skyrocketing worldwide,” Hubbard told me, noting Canadian demand for his ready-to-install underground emergency shelters is spiking along with the COVID-19 infection rate.

“I do lots of bunkers in Canada,” said Hubbard, who lives three months a year in Saskatchewan. “British Columbia is the hottest market in Canada.”

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Why is B.C. the hottest market? Maybe it’s because Canada’s west-coast province was among the first to experience a surge in COVID-19 cases, along with the heightened anxiety of living next door to Washington state, an early coronavirus hot spot.

Hubbard said his fanciest bunkers — costing upward of $100,000 a pop — feature all the comforts of home.

“It’s a pre-manufactured drop-in basement that’s water-tight and skin-tight,” he said.

“My own bunker has a master bedroom and eight bunks in a second bedroom. It has a full kitchen, living room, den, dinner table, entertainment centre, cameras and monitors. I’ve got a bathroom with a vanity and toilet. I’ve got a bathtub with shower.

“It’s got everything you’d have in a two-bedroom apartment, except mine’s 20 feet underground with a bullet-proof hatch.

“You could go into that shelter if there is an airborne pandemic.”

But wait. There’s no evidence the COVID-19 virus can float and survive for long distances in the atmosphere like the radioactive fallout from a nuclear bomb.

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So why would people buy an underground shelter to guard against an unproven threat?

Maybe it’s a sign of anxiety-riddled times, Hubbard told me.

“People want a Plan B,” said Hubbard, whose last major surge in business happened two years ago during the frightening nuclear sabre-rattling between the United States and North Korea.

“Every two or three years there’s some kind of scare,” he said, adding the scare-o-meter is rising.

“COVID-19 is not the big one. This is a warning shot across the world’s bow. The big one is coming later.”

Let’s hope not, because the damage inflicted by this emergency is bad enough, never mind a worse one.

The Conference Board of Canada this week released a sobering analysis of the economic impact of the pandemic that’s enough to make you batten down the hatches of your underground bunker and never come out.

“Canada will suffer record job losses in March and April — with lower-wage workers taking the brunt of the hit,” the economic think tank said in a new report.

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“Shutting down most, if not all, non-essential services across Canada will result in massive job losses in the coming weeks. Our estimates suggest Canada could lose 2.8 million jobs in March and April — nearly 15 per cent of total employment.”

For a guy like Hubbard, business tends to be good when times are bad for others, especially if they’re frightened.

But his business can be cyclical, as he experienced when tensions eased between the U.S. and North Korea and orders for his shelters quickly slumped.

The goal of public-health officials now is to inflict another drop in the underground bunker market, by flattening the curve of COVID-19 infections and eventually re-opening an economy brutalized by the pandemic. It could take months, as Canada braces for more tough times ahead.

Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

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