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So as you probably all know, the Fallout series has these fallout shelters called “Vaults” that were used to conduct morally questionable experiments on their inhabitants. Well, I am writing a post apocalyptic story myself, and in that universe there is a program similar to the Project Safehouse program in Fallout.

It doesn’t have any nasty experiments behind it, and all shelters are designed to legitimately help the inhabitants rebuild society. There were 50 shelters scattered across the country, each with a population of 5,000, from Los Angeles east to New York, and Detroit down to New Orleans. So my question is what would be the most effective way to build and run the shelters inorder to fit the criteria listed below?

CRITERIA

  • The population has to be totally protected from the blast and radiation until it is safe for them to leave. NO EXCEPTIONS!

  • Once the leave, they have to be totally or at least semi-self sufficient, meaning they should be able to grow their own food, get collect their own water, build their own towns and settlements, and defend their possessions.

  • The settlement they build should also be Modern of semi-modern, meaning at bare minimum they should have running water and electricity.

  • You need to be able to survive in the shelter for a maximum of 40 years without any help topside.

  • The Settlement has to be finished in under 500 years, which I think is more than enough time.

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    $\begingroup$ The water table in New Orleans (honestly, the whole lower Mississippi delta) is so high that fallout shelters are completely impractical. In fact, the city's Civil Defense shelter was just a reinforced one story building with a small hill of dirt dumped on top of it. Baton Rouge would be a good place to put it. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 15 '18 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ How many people per shelter? How long do the people need to be able to live in the shelters? Unless you build a complete ecosystem (able to produce food, water & power inside the shelter indefinitely), the design has to have a time limit or the resource requirements will continue growing. As far as "once they leave...semi-self sufficient...modern" sounds like storing & retrieving an entire modern infrastructure in each shelter, not an easy task. $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Apr 15 '18 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ Even on higher ground, the entire national plan to use natural caves for fallout shelters was pretty much trashed by the 1980's as we gained better understanding of hydrology of caves. Rather than serving as shelters they would serve as concentrators $\endgroup$ – pojo-guy Apr 15 '18 at 2:51
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJo, I know about that. The New Orleans shelter is inside of a man made mountain in Bayou. The future inhabitants had a lot of trouble getting there $\endgroup$ – JBH the second Apr 15 '18 at 3:00
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    $\begingroup$ "a man made mountain in Bayou" I live in South Louisiana, so let me tell you from first hand experience: #1 the whole southern third of the state is sinking, and #2 everyone would ask why someone's building a mountain in land that's sinking. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 15 '18 at 3:17
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Step 1: Survival

To survive 40 days is no big deal. To survive for 40 years means needing a LOT of food, water, energy and spares of "everything". A lot of stuff (clothes, light bulbs, computer parts, medicines, etc.) could be reasonably stockpiled, though 40 years * 5,000 people is quite a bit of stuff. But to store food & water for 40 years * 5,000 people is pushing it. So that means enough water & food to get started, recycling equipment (think submarine or space station) to minimize the need for new air & water supplies, and greenhouses to grow food (sorry, no meat or chocolate after the initial supplies run out - need to stock 73,000,000 K-cups to supply 1 cup of coffee per day per person for 40 years!). The biggest issue will be powering it all. The space station uses solar power - that's not an option. So we go the submarine route - nuclear power. Yes, despite the nuclear apocalypse above ground, nuclear power is the way to survive down below. Need a sealed nuclear power plant with 40+ years of fuel and sufficient spare parts. Batteries for backup during maintenance.

In addition to the truly survival mode items, 5,000 people for 40 years really means you need all infrastructure of a modern city. A lot of things can be taken care of via computers - the same rooms used as meeting halls & movie theaters can also be the schools & religious worship spaces. But you will definitely need a fully stocked hospital with 40 years worth of surgical tools, a blood bank, X-ray machine, etc.

Step 2: Rebuilding

500 years is actually a very long time. Consider that 500 years ago was 1518 - before the industrial revolution. You can't go from nothing to modern civilization in a year, but in 100 years you could easily get there since you would not have to reinvent the wheel - or any modern technology. Everything would be stored in your redundantly backed up computer systems - just takes time for 5,000 people to get out and start mining minerals (actually could probably salvage a lot from the old cities), building factories, etc. But with detailed blueprints & specifications it wouldn't take 500 years.

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  • $\begingroup$ One big problem for the "emergees" is that all the easy-to-get chemical and mineral resources were gotten a long time ago. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 15 '18 at 5:53
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn - If there were no surface survivors then there will be plenty of aluminum available to recycle - soda cans (the soda will be no good but cans will be fine), car parts, etc. - aluminum is great for recycle-much-easier-than-start-from-scratch. In general, starting with technical/scientific/engineering knowledge it will be easy to build the ships, mine the ore, build generators, refine the ore etc. NOT a one year or (given small population) 10-year process, but considering aluminum was first smelted in 1824 and mass produced 1854, it won't take long starting with modern knowledge. $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Apr 15 '18 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn - Last on this item (I don't feel like going to chat) - basically there are items that can be done on a small scale (for a town of 5,000) that would be done differently (simpler) than they are done today. A team of workers with shovels can take the place of a road grader - takes a while but they can do it. Don't need the highest strength concrete from the most modern plant - you don't have 18-wheelers going over these roads. But where you DO need the technology - e.g., building internal combustion engines - you have the blueprints and the time and you'll get it done eventually. $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Apr 15 '18 at 20:12
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn - I'm not saying it would be easy. But the R&D is done - this modern settlement (running water & electricity, and roads, etc. - but not 64-bit semiconductor fabs and supersonic jets and nuclear power plants) can be done in a reasonable amount of time with 5,000 people. They don't need to devote people to figuring out HOW to build things or WHY things work. For example, water: They will have clear instructions on how to build a basic (remember it is serving 5,000 people, not Manhattan) treatment plant and they don't need to figure out what chemicals to use or how much of them, etc. $\endgroup$ – manassehkatz-Moving 2 Codidact Apr 15 '18 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ @RonJohn only if they didn't have nearby sources available themselves, and if they wanted iron. Most people did, and traded where available, but you seem to be operating under the assumption that a world-spanning highly-interdependent civilization is absolutely vital for life to exist. That people trade when available is only evidence that people are not stupid and will make deals - not evidence that humans cannot survive without such large trading networks. Self-sufficiency with modern technology is easy (especially with the ruins of civilization to mine). $\endgroup$ – pluckedkiwi Apr 16 '18 at 13:59
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My favored option is cryogenically freeze them. They take up the least amount of resources, are the easiest to protect (toss them in a lead bunker that doesn't need to be miles deep), and would be the best. You can also use this to lead in to another method, where you freeze them until the surface is not 100% contaminated, and then release them to a lesser containment to prepare themselves.

To provide food, I can see hydroponics being big, especially with gray water reuse factored in. You'd need a way to store the water, an area for the food, and then the hydroponics system itself. The planting could be scaled vertically and horizontally to almost any extent you want, allowing for a large number of denizens for your vault. Here's an article about something very similar to this, growing in a bank vault.

To provide sleeping quarters, I can see a few problems in accommodating a large population, assuming some kind of resource constraint or wish for costs to be lower. You could have a 3-shift system, whereby each person is assigned a bed, along with 2 others. When your sleep shift is on, you sleep in the bed, and then vacate it for the next person. This allows for an acceptable level of sleep, although a 2 shift system would provide more sleep, at the expense of needing more beds. This allows for the most efficient usage of resources, although at the expense of personalization of anything.

As to actually engineering the shelter, you'd probably do best to look at the miners. In particular, a story I enjoy is Virginia City, NV. The miners had to invent a unique way of trussing to be able to mine deep, square set timbering, had to figure out how to pump the water out, generally from a sump. Also a factor during construction and then eventual habitation is the fact that you need to cool the area constantly, because it is quite hot. With the Comstock Lode they used ice baths for the miners, but I believe this would be impractical for your use case. You will also need to provide air when digging, and after the fact. While digging the air can be brought in from the surface, but after the fact you will need recyclers or a large enough supply of compressed oxygen to provide for a fair bit of time. An interesting and relevant subject to read up on is the Comstock Lode.

Another interesting tie-in of note is that you can situate these on mineral deposits and use the money from those to at least partially defray the costs of the whole operation.

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  • $\begingroup$ Additionally, you can see Mt. Cheyenne for an actual fallout shelter, though not on the scale I think you imagine. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Lucky Apr 15 '18 at 3:27

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