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So, the world experienced an apocalypse about 150 years ago. Sad times. Me and a couple buddies are the the salvaging business, and hello, recently we found a jackpot, an untouched military base. When we tried to raid it though....

The security measures are still capable of keeping us out. My question is, what security measures and equipment could keep out prospective scavengers upwards of 150 years after being abandoned?

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$ – L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica Aug 1 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ The duplicate seems to suggest a whole raft of really unlikely things for protecting a modern military base. Voting to reopen. $\endgroup$ – Starfish Prime Aug 2 at 6:32
  • $\begingroup$ I feel this question is specific enough to stand by itself relative to the old one as the situational requirement is different. Modern security is a long way from dungeon traps. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 2 at 10:08
  • $\begingroup$ IIRC Black Mirror thinks that tenacious robot dogs will do the trick :) $\endgroup$ – Jeremy Friesner Aug 2 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ Be aware that most security measures designed to maim (e.g landmines) are not really designed to kill. They are designed to slow down opponents. How is this? Well even if the security measures aren't advertised (and they usually are) only the first lucky sod to trigger the security measure will bite the dust. Everyone else with then will know to either go elsewhere, or if they are determined to progress, do so at a snails pace in order to disarm the security measure itself $\endgroup$ – Stumbler Aug 3 at 13:50

14 Answers 14

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I know you want proper booby traps, but I doubt they would be the biggest dangers or challenges of invading a military base. Security measures would have a far larger impact.

Firstly a 1 meter thick steel door should make it extremely hard to get in. With the electronics degraded and any ball bearings and grease long gone you will literally have to drag thousands of kilos of metal to get into the base. Then you have to basically break down every single door in your way. That's a lot of potential doors you need to bust down.

Elevators will also be broken. So if access to the secret underground bunker requires a lift, you're in for a tough time. You will need to scaffold down, break through the wreck of an elevator and pry open the doors. Depending on the depth this could basically be impossible, or require a lot of rope.

Oxygen. After 150 years, all the ventilation equipment will be broken. As you enter deeper into the base, you will start to run out of air. Either because the dying inhabitants inside have used it all up, or because you use it as you go in, and when you are trying to get out, it's still the same old stale air you breathed before. Depending on the size of the pathways, corridors and rooms, some sections can become death traps because the air won't move much, and will have low oxygen content as everyone has been breathing and passing through the area.

Unstable ground. While we would like to imagine that everything is still in tip-top shape, parts of the ground may have weakened. Metal stairwells, wooden boards. Maybe even the concrete floor, assuming some potential mishaps have taken place during the apocalypse. There is also a chance of water draining into the base, and since any pumps will have stopped working, it may fill up the lower floors, or wear away at the materials.

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    $\begingroup$ The whole thing being flooded up to the water table would be a pretty good deterrent, that's assuming there is a water table of course. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Jul 31 at 8:29
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that methane and other explosive gasses can build up in subterranean areas, which can turn your day bad if (say) the switches in your flashlights aren't shielded. $\endgroup$ – TMN Jul 31 at 15:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Alexander that is not so. Bad air is a big problem in mines. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackdamp $\endgroup$ – Willk Jul 31 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Willk I admit my statement about "no oxygen problem" is overly broad, but blackdamp falls into "some gasses are seeping in" category that I had already mentioned. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 31 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ If the room is sealed shut (no air ventilation), and if there is a lot of steel - it will oxidize, removing oxygen slowly. This happens on a ships for example, in anchor chain holding room. Effects are deadly. safetyinfo.com/confined-space-safety-index $\endgroup$ – charlie_pl Aug 1 at 11:05
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I'm thinking in an entirely different direction. In one of the Indiana Jones movies he met this cult that was dedicated to protecting a relic and keeping unworthy people from getting it. Suppose that, since the apocalypse, the locals have built up a cult that just absolutely does not want anybody to have what's in the military base. They could be the descendants of the security force that originally protected the base. It could sort of be a "Cargo Cult" in reverse. They build all the structures, follow all the rules, wear all the insignia, with the intent of preventing the return of the military.

So they've been busy doing things like digging the tunnels out to direct you the wrong way, while covering up and disguising the real tunnels. Or loading up a bunch of rusted out old junk in easy to get places so you think you've got nothing but trash. Meanwhile, whatever the real treasure is, they've got hidden behind some trick walls. Or buried under their village huts.

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    $\begingroup$ +1 For not only being clever, but also for taking into account the passage of a very long, long time. Assuming the Pockyclypse happened relatively nowish, there's just no way current AI or security systems could be anything like functional 150 years hence. A reverse cargo cult would make for an interesting and entertaining story! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jul 31 at 17:23
  • $\begingroup$ This reminds me of the Twilight Zone episode The Old Man in the Cave. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Jul 31 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ They could be the descendants of the security force that originally protected the base. - Patriotism, to defend the base and the motherland. $\endgroup$ – Galaxy Aug 3 at 1:49
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Previous answers have correctly pointed out that infrastructure and electronics decay over time. However, what if that particular base had been the test site for cutting edge military weaponry?

More specifically, AI research, with integrated combat and repair drones. As the world succumbed to the apocalyptic event which wiped out civilization as we know it, the AI received orders to seal the facility, and await further instructions from the military chain of command.

For 150 years the AI has been maintaining the underground facility, scavenging non-essential parts and pieces in order to keep repairs to the nuclear reactor and the basic infrastructure it requires to survive. It used on-site manufacturing capabilities to replace chips, hard-drives, etc., but of course its performance has degraded slightly over time. Maybe it's even gone a little insane.

When you breach the doors to the facility, self-defense conditions are triggered, which now allow it to venture forth into the world, gathering the raw materials and supplies it needs to replenish its arsenal.

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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch - Maybe it had stockpiles on hand. Maybe it ran on geothermal energy. Figuring out the details is the author's responsibility if he decides to roll with this scenario. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 31 at 12:34
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Don't ask. I mean really, don't ask. The last person who asked was taken to a testing chamber and promised cake. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 31 at 16:19
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    $\begingroup$ Several other similar answers to similar "lifetime" questions use existing data to predict that neither energy sources nor the fundamental infrastructure can survive that long, even with a bunker full of spare parts. $\endgroup$ – Carl Witthoft Jul 31 at 18:33
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft - I didn't notice a "realistic" tag on this question, did you? $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Jul 31 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ @carlwitthoft - why wouldn't this AI be able to rebuild entire server racks from scrap metal and plastics? Use its drones to pour concrete if tunnels collapse, pump out water if there's a leak, etc. I never said that the facility would be in tip-top shape 150 years later, or that stuff wouldn't decay. Last but not least, who's to say that the AI was built using the materials and techniques we know of today? Maybe they used nanobots, and other stuff that we can't explain. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Aug 1 at 13:54
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Scorched earth

A scorched-earth policy is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy while it is advancing through or withdrawing from a location. Any assets that could be used by the enemy may be targeted, for example food sources, water supplies, transportation, communications, industrial resources, and even the local people themselves.

On abandoning the base, its owners implemented their scorched earth defense. Radioactive waste was pushed thru the ventilation system. 150 years later the radiation is still strong enough to push your detector needles hard against the right stop. And you are lucky to have working detectors.

The ventilation system no longer works and that is another unplanned aspect of this tightly closed base keeping you out. The air is not breathable. Besides considerable radon from breakdown of the aforementioned waste, there is a lot of methane (leaking up from the deeper earth) and almost no oxygen (the methane ate it).

You canary will die from the bad air before it dies from the radiation. If you have solid radiation suits with onboard air supplies you could go around in there. Good luck with finding those 150 years after the fall.

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    $\begingroup$ The problem here is finding a suitable radioactive element. The medium-life stuff like Sr-90 and Cs-137 is only about 3% as radioactive as it was originally, while the long-lived stuff like Tc-99 and Cs-135 is long-lived enough to not be much of a threat. Nuclear reactors don't produce any waste with a half-life in the hundred-to-thousand-year range, which is what you'd want for this, and non-waste synthetic isotopes tend to decay by alpha radiation (which can be protected against by a simple dust mask) rather than by beta or neutron radiation (which need serious shielding). $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 31 at 21:54
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps Am-241? 432y half-life, generally known for its alpha emissions, but it does have some gamma emissions. It is fissile in a fast spectrum, so perhaps a reactor accident testing a new type of fast reactor using powdered americium as fuel? If it was powdered and spread all over the base, then the alpha emissions become a concern. Inhale too much dust and die in a few weeks from burnt lungs. As @Mark mentioned, it can mostly be protected against by a dust mask, but it has permeated everything in the base - salvaging is made extremely difficult. $\endgroup$ – IronEagle Aug 2 at 16:36
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The military base was in the process of being enclosed in a minefield. There is decaying explosives everywhere. No longer is there a need for triggers and proper arming of the devices, chemistry and time has made them into Russian Roulette To Go.

As the base was in the process of being enclosed in said minefield, not only are there mines scattered around, but also crates of them rotting all over the place threatening the intrepid explorer (intrepid because some stooges go first) with death AND destruction...

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In europe 75-year-old unexploded bombs are found on a weekly basis. Once or twice a year one will explode on its own, sometimes creating a 30-foot-wide crater. Thankfully, usually in farmland rather than city centres!

Some of the bombs used in WW2 were chemical time-delay bombs, designed to explode after the initial bombing raid, to kill rescuers. Ain't war grand? Some of these worked by breaking a vial of acetone on impact, which gradually dissolved a celluloid sheet to release the trigger after a few hours. But if the bomb landed upside-down, instead of the acetone landing on the celluloid sheet it would gradually evaporate, with only the vapour weakening the celluloid. So instead of exploding with a 75-minute delay, they explode with a 75-year delay.

So it's plausible that bombs can still work - and sometimes become even more unstable - after decades.

(Of course, most bombs are rusted up and don't explode even when hit by a backhoe or a farmer's plough.)

Combined with the answers by bukwyrm and Willk, perhaps mines and tripwires and suchlike were set - either while abandoning the base, or by defenders who barricaded themselves in but have long since died.

And it needn't be all one sort of trap or bomb - perhaps your base's soldiers saw a lot of different IEDs in Iraq.

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Electronics and chemistry do not hold well against time, and electronics need also power to be operating. Therefore I don't expect them to be effective after 150 years.

Booby traps working with gravity will probably be still effective.

Something like:

  • hanging spike balls
  • masked holes with spikes inside
  • rocks falling

requires nothing too complex to be hold and triggered. The only unknown aspect being wildlife accessing the building and triggering the traps.

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    $\begingroup$ Of course, that turns to the other question - why would a military base be booby trapped? By whom? $\endgroup$ – Luaan Aug 1 at 9:09
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think even "gravity-operated traps" are all that durable. A "hanging spike ball" needs to hang from a rope/chain (or, if mounted on a pivot, a hinge) that will need to last for a decade and a half. A "masked hole (pit, I suppose) with spikes inside" needs the mask to be brittle enough to collapse, but solid enough to endure. Finally, what would prevent/cause rocks from falling? That mechanism also needs to not seize up by dust/moisture/drought/... $\endgroup$ – KlaymenDK Aug 2 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ Working crossbows were found in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shin Huang over 2000 years old. gizmodo.com/… $\endgroup$ – MongoTheGeek Aug 2 at 16:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Luaan If the military base has some secret research (Area 51) it would be booby traps. $\endgroup$ – Galaxy Aug 3 at 1:48
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Lots of stuff about passive defence here, not much about active.

Passive stuff is easy: fail-closed electro-mechanical systems are old hat, and what you can't conveniently lock you can always (conveniently or not) conceal.

But how about active deterrents that won't suffer from decay if they happen to sit idle for a couple centuries? Seems like we should have a lot more examples of those to choose from.

Unfortunately it's going to depend on how many people survived the apocalypse, how long they had and how badly they wanted to protect the base. If the answer to all three is 'enough' then we're in business.

Firstly, let's dig out all those old movies about trapped temples and so on. Get the engineering boys working on ideas for moving floors, pit traps, spike drops, you name it.

Next let's look for ways we can store energy that won't fade over time so that we've got power when we really need it. Chemicals, radioactives and so on aren't going to be reliable for really long time spans, but there's always the overlooked power storage: gravitational potential energy. Put some weights on chains hooked up to the most robust generation methods you've got, seal them in and fill the room with argon or something to make sure they don't get disturbed by rodents 50 years in. Rig it so that some mechanical trigger will remove the support from the weights and boom, you've got power. For a couple minutes anyway. Maybe long enough to get the fire started in your boiler?

Then there's the good old hydraulic method, where you have some hidden sluiceway from the local lake that can be opened to deliver water to a wheel that drives... well, whatever you need it to. Big chunky gears, collars instead of bearings, etc. Doesn't have to be efficient, just robust.

Or how about dropping weights onto piezoelectric crystals? That can generate fairly good electrical sparks. I reckon you could harness that to fire a block of plastique or some other electrically-fired explosive. It would have to be sealed into a chemically inert container to last long enough, but that should be easy enough to do.

There's always power if you look hard enough, and gravity is probably going to be the one that outlasts all the others. In a thousand years the output of your Americium-powered RTG might not be enough to do anything useful, but gravity is still going to be there. Just make sure that your mechanisms are simple and robust and sealed away from contaminants and you'll be fine.

And don't forget to leave a note for the scavengers to find - when they finally make it through your death traps - that apologizes for the fact that you didn't actually leave anything worth finding. Most of it got disassembled for raw materials to make all those traps. Including the one that just sealed off the entrance to this room and the one that's knocking all the supports out from the floor... hey, where did everybody go?

Yeah. I'd make a really nasty GM.

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Feral guard dogs

There are plenty of places where military bases are guarded, in part, by dogs. Sometimes, those dogs are real nasty:

Caucasian Ovcharka

Also, they're huge.

Caucasian Ovcharka

If a bunch of these got loose when the base shut down, and no one bothered to corral them, there's a solid chance a pack of them could grow and expand in the environs of the military base. A large pack of 30-40 feral guard dogs will be all the disincentive anyone needs to drop by the base for a visit.

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    $\begingroup$ What are they eating? $\endgroup$ – AakashM Aug 1 at 12:36
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    $\begingroup$ @AakashM they eat the salvagers of course! The trap that maintains itself... $\endgroup$ – Drgabble Aug 1 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ @AakashM They are able to leave the base, naturally, and hunt. $\endgroup$ – Daniel B Aug 1 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ The dogs may thrive and spread far and wide into the lands, but the population inside the base would not be any higher than a single pack. Without training, they will also be only interested in self preservation, not guarding. MythBusters has shown how easy it is to distract a guard dog unsupervised by a human. $\endgroup$ – KC Wong Aug 1 at 16:31
  • $\begingroup$ A single pack would be plenty, and the behavior of a territorial pack of feral dogs is very different from domesticated guard dogs. $\endgroup$ – Daniel B Aug 1 at 17:38
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A story I read used an RTG to keep capacitors charged. Those capacitors energized various electric-fence-like obstacles, including strips across the floors of entry chambers to bunkers. The scavengers in the story were familiar with this design, and knew to short them before entering, but this wasn't common knowledge among others.

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    $\begingroup$ Capacitors tend to degrade over time. Electrolyte evaporates, the ultra-thin isolation layers start to degrade in various ways. Electrolytic capacitors last a few years (typically less than a decade, though a lot depends on temperature), tantalum ones hold up better but 150 years is really, really tough. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Jul 31 at 20:28
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    $\begingroup$ One could go really low-tech on capacitors, and just do a parallel-plate style design. $\endgroup$ – Phil Miller Jul 31 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ago Parallel plates have such a really low capacity, I doubt any military installation would use that. $\endgroup$ – toolforger Jul 31 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ The thermocouples of the RTG degrade over time due to radiation exposure. After 150 years, you'll be lucky if you can get even 3% of the original output. $\endgroup$ – Mark Jul 31 at 22:08
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    $\begingroup$ @Mark And then there's the decay of the fuel. Pu-238 is widely used, with a half-life of 88 years. So after 150 years, you'd already be down to quarter the original output; add that to the thermocouples losing efficiency (if they work at all), you're well below 1% original power. $\endgroup$ – Luaan Aug 1 at 9:14
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The other answers are likely to be what you're really after, but the first Emperor of China's burial tomb has lasted thousands of years without being breached. Sure, these days we don't dig it up for fear of contaminating it, but even as recently as a couple of hundred years ago we weren't so careful about such things.

My point is, it's somewhat hidden in plain sight, it's actually a logistically difficult job to break into (even by today's standards), and even if we got all the earth off the top, there's no guarantee that we'd be able to break into it without having to destroy some rock walls and the like. In other words, our investment into the task would probably out-weigh the gains we'd made by getting into it (even if it were full of 150 years old military goodies).

Last point: since technology of almost any type degrades over time, is it likely that 150 years old military kit would actually work? Most explosives lose their potency and/or stability over time, so weapons may not fire, bombs may go off without warning, etc. Vehicles or other machines would likely not work either. Maybe the whole lot has got a bit wet and is now a rusty pile of junk? Whatever you decide about all of that, it has a bearing on the "work versus reward" of breaking into the base in the first place.

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Today about the most precious thing is data. And it is likely to be even so in the future.

So your hypothetical scavenger 150 years from now probably does not want to salvage rusty metals, and old computer hardware, but want the data. We are already very good at encrypting data, and not so adept at preserving it for a long time, so it will not be easy to salvage anything.

Maybe the military base will not be in real space, but a database in cyberspace. Some classified and encrypted data, preserved for eternity, and may worth a fortune for data collectors in the future. If only they know the password ...

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Very simply It is a nuclear hardened bunker and the door is locked, or worse rusted shut.

enter image description here

Hope you have a few months to hang around cutting it open.

Worse when you finally open it there is gaping hole, the supports for the floor having long since rusted away and collapses (not uncommon in old bunkers) and across the gaping hole you see... another *******ing door.

Sometimes the best protection is just time breaking some things and making other more solid.

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  1. Your military base is build into a salt mine -> electronics are well preserved as the air is veeery dry (though you shouldn't take them home, as the salt dust will attract water from the air, ruining it).
  2. Your military base uses thermal energy as source of electricity
  3. It was shut down, but you entering it reactivated it -> lights are still working

So from this, electronics should still work (at least anything not requiring batteries) and anything movable should work, as long as it doesn't require a lot of maintenance. The rest is up to you.

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