Despite the threats of a nuclear-armed dictator, it doesn't appear that America is ready for a new Cold War. At least, not if bomb shelter sales are any indicator.
The question was prompted by a weird story in U.S. News and World Report. Titled "Americans Reconsider Bomb Shelters Following North Korean Threats," the article then proceeds to never mention bomb shelters, instead interviewing a South Korean professor who says, in essence, that there's nothing to worry about. We decided to see if there was any reason for such a headline.
It seems obvious that areas that might be more likely to be struck by a North Korean missile would be more likely to invest in a bomb shelter. So the first question to answer: How far can a North Korean missile reach?
The answer, it seems, is "not to America." As Max Fisher writes at the Washington Post, North Korea has a variety of missiles. Many are untested. One, the KN-08, could reach 6,000 miles, enough to hit California — if it worked and if the North Koreans actually have it and if it were accurate. But it's the only one that would reach, so we'll go with it.
Next, we looked for a bomb shelter sales establishment in that range. And we found American Safe Room, in Oakland, Oregon. According to DistanceFromTo.com, Oakland is 5,300 miles from Pyongyang. That's in range.
Map via DistanceFromTo.com.
(Would Oakland ever be attacked? Maybe if North Korea confused it for Oakland, California. Or maybe if North Korea was aiming for Portland and missed. Just go with it.)
We called American Safe Room and spoke with Brian Duvaul, the company's sales manager. The first question gave us all the answer we needed. "We have yet to see any bump" in sales, he told The Atlantic Wire. Not that people aren't paying attention to what's happening in the world. "We had a pretty good bump after the Japanese nuclear incident," he said, running out of stock in a day-and-a-half. But not this time. So why not now? Well, he responded, "I don't know they have the delivery means."
American Safe Room doesn't only sell to Oregon, either — they sell shelter components across the country. (The assembly manual is free.) If Duvaul isn't seeing an increase, there's probably no increase.
Since we had him on the phone, we asked Duvaul just how much good a shelter would actually do. Their shelters aren't rated for certain kiloton blasts at certain distances, but he did offer one assessment. "If you had a blast in your face," he told the Wire, "you'd probably at least be blind and have a concussion. It would probably kill some people." But be warned: their air filters are only good for one event. So "if you have an event you have to change the filter." If you've been blinded, find a helper.
Duvaul didn't suggest how long one would have to stay in the shelter, but this 1960s-era video suggests that it could be as long as two weeks. If you lived through the explosion. Bring books.
And now you have your answer: According to one salesperson, there is no boom in bomb shelter sales. Yes, it's anecdotal evidence, but it's one more data point than U.S. News offered.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.