How to build an above ground fallout shelter

After publishing plans for building a basement fallout shelter many readers commented that they did not have a basement… well all is not lost, because you can still build an above ground fallout shelter.

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M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. I have relatives who live in Oklahoma. Becuase of the groud they needed and above ground shelter for tornadoes and such. There they are readily available and ready make, in a variety of sizes.

  2. mom of three says:

    Thanks M.D. this would work in our area nice plan’s will show hubby tonight this might be something we can utilize.

  3. This won’t do much for you in a hurricane, though, where the major problem is wind-driven rain and subsequent flooding. At least you have some advance warning (hours, days) for hurricanes so you can bug out before it gets to your area.

  4. Get the book: Nuclear War Survival Skills. It is available in pdf format to download for free. I have a hard copy of the book. Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. The book was written by Eugene Wigner, Nobel Laureate and Physicist with support from Civil Defence Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

  5. I’ve been thinking about the topic of nuclear fall-out. It is true that prepping for a nuclear disaster is much like prepping for any disaster – you need food, water etc… But the temporary shelter needed to protect from fallout is a disproportionately huge prep. Sure your fall-out shelter can also be a garden shed or a guest house but the reality is that it is going to be a huge expense. Other preps you have a choice to add to in a creative /cheap manner or you can buy ready-made/more expensive almost anything. For the most part, a fall-out shelter is going to need money, time, a piece of land (or your own suitable basement) and a whole lot of work to complete.
    Then there is the social stigma. Most of preps are done in private. We carefully stockpile and often disguise our activities so as not to raise the suspicion of neighbors. How do you do that with a fall-out shelter? How do you not look like the neighborhood nutcase? It would be easier if most people were building shelters or if most people even agreed that there is a nuclear threat or if the people who agreed that there is a nuclear threat also believed that they could protect their families with a shelter.
    My guess is that this uncomfortable situation is what silences people’s ability to talk about this. Even on this website. If we were all out there building something, there would be a healthy discussion of pros and cons of different styles – instead there is silence. I am guessing that most of us feel overwhelmed and mostly powerless when facing the possibility of a nuclear crisis.
    In my case, I have a basement – but it tends to be leaky in spring and if the power goes out and I can’t keep the generator going to run the sump pump, it’s going to fill with water. Even if it was dry, following the plans to build a brick structure down there would be so labor intensive that I just can’t wrap my head around it. I have the land so an above ground shelter is also a possibility – I already have a 16’long x 6’high culvert “planted” inside a hill – but it would require an earthbag building constructed at it’s entrance and again, there is the expense, the labor and of course the neighbors.

    So, I stand in the basement and look, I go outside and look. I feel defeated and I continue to not do anything and it really bothers me since I can usually solve problems if I put my mind to it. What if I haven’t figured out this one and then it’s too late for my children. What if they die slowly from radiation sickness when I could have done something to prevent it, that would be pretty nasty.

    • Hi B,

      Some things, while high consequence, just aren’t worth prepping for, and for many of us, nuclear war is one of them.

      All out nuclear war is highly unlikely because the countries capable of waging it with us have major disincentives for doing so: we’d wipe them off the face of the earth.

      The countries with governments nutty enough to try don’t have much capability: North Korea, Pakistan especially if they have a revolutionary Islamist takeover, maybe someday in the next decade or two Iran. If they can deliver one or two or three weapons here, it will be a catastrophe for many, but the likeliest targets are Washington DC and NYC. Maybe LA or New Orleans. After that the probabilities collapse.

      For people in or near the likeliest targets, sure, go ahead: do prep, after prepping for more likely events. We overlook Pearl Harbor. If anyone nukes Pearl, we are not going to be worried about fallout, so we don’t worry about it.

      Since you have a basement, you have the ability to use distance shielding from fallout: the further you can get from the radioactive particles on the roof and around the edges of the house, the safer you are. Just going to the basement gives enormous protection compared to being outside.

      I remembered several articles coming out about the major plus of even minimal sheltering, and found one: I’ll link to a New York Times article about sheltering from nuclear weapons. The people who studied the possibilities are pretty optimistic about those outside the blast area.

      Just sheltering in a car before one gets fallout on one, and staying there, cuts deaths by more than half. Think about that: keeping the fallout even a foot or so away, with nothing but glass between you and the particles increases survivability by more than half.

      Quote: “If people in Los Angeles a mile or more from ground zero of an attack took no shelter, Mr. Buddemeier said, there would be 285,000 casualties from fallout in that region.”

      “Taking shelter in a place with minimal protection, like a car, would cut that figure to 125,000 deaths or injuries, he said. A shallow basement would further reduce it to 45,000 casualties. And the core of a big office building or an underground garage would provide the best shelter of all.”

      ““We’d have no significant exposures,” Mr. Buddemeier told the conference, and thus virtually no casualties from fallout.”

      Check out the links in the story, and try Googling about minimal sheltering from nuclear blasts. There were a number articles about the same studies which came out at the same time as that NYT articles.

      Since you have a basement, B, you and your family are actually in good shape. There is no reason to despair over lack of protection: You are in good shape.

      Add the ability to wash off and put on uncontaminated clothes after you get into the basement, removing any fallout particles from yourselves, and your will hugely improve your chances.

      Lack of a dedicated shelter is not a death sentence: you can improve your family’s chances dramatically by just getting into a car. Look at the numbers for a basement, which you have.

      • Yes, there are also some great old films (as videos) from the 1950’s, e.g. “Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter”. You’re right, surrounded by mass, and as far as possible from those tiny x-ray machines, will work wonders. Seven hours after a blast, fallout is 10 percent of its original strength. Seven hours later, another 90 percent decrease, etc. You may have many hours to build a shelter before the arrival of any fallout. Storing 20 or 100 solid concrete blocks for structure and mass might be enough for making a fallout shelter. Hollow blocks can be for structure or filled with sand for mass. Mortar is not necessary. Maybe a patio, to move inside, if your ground doesn’t freeze. Dig up a garden and put it in plastic bags, or just dump soil on a top made from interior doors (center bracing may be needed). The outside walls could be furniture, blocks or bags of soil. Be creative, mass can be tools, file cabinets, books, food stores, water, etc. Huge shelters are nice, but not necessary. If you are working outside, watch for any unusual “dust”. Also, have someone monitor an exterior white plate, (from inside the home) for falling dirt.

    • If my sump needed a hand pump to keep the basement dry, and I did not have one, I would occasionally carry water to the sink. Brief periods of time out of a shelter, would probably be fine. Delay this if you can. Remember the 90% decrease in fallout strength, every 7 hours. You could even use that water for mass, if you have extra buckets or a kiddie pool, stock tank, barrels, etc. I’m jealous. A 16′ long culvert sounds like a great blast shelter but indoors would be more comfortable.

      • Hey B, nice “root cellar”, I mean culvert.

        • Portia, I tell everyone that the culvert is supposed to be a root cellar – and it is – for the most part. We have had tornadoes touch down close to us so it could also be a tornado shelter – or a fallout shelter – but it’s pretty much useless until I have the room attached to the front. I know that I do NOT want to spend time crammed into just the culvert with all 7 of my kids – The noise alone would do me in.

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