The owner of a series of luxury underground bunkers says he’s been blown away by increased demand following the COVID-19 outbreak, and already dozens of families are sheltering from the coronavirus pandemic.
Robert Vicino launched the US-based Vivos project more than a decade ago, and his South Dakota base, a former Army depot, now has 575 off-grid bunkers capable of housing more than 5000 people. He also has smaller facilities in Indiana and Germany.
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Described as an “epic humanitarian survival prioject,” the entrepreneur says he first had the idea for the shelters nearly four decades ago.
“The motivation came in 1982,” Mr Vicino told Nine.com.au
“It was personal. It was a voice that I had in my head that I believe was related to the Holy Spirit, and it was crystal clear.
“The voice said I needed to build large, deep, underground bunkers to save thousands of people from something that’s coming our way.
“Every four or five years ago I would look at it again and think about whether or not I really wanted to do it.
“And in 2007 I got a very, very strong feeling that I had to proceed. Something was coming, and it was coming soon, and the world was going to feel a lot of chaos.”
According to Mr Vicino, the bunkers can sustain life for at least a year, with deep underground wells providing fresh water, filters purifying the air, and even the capacity to grow fresh food.
And if you’ve had trouble finding toilet paper at your local supermarket in recent weeks, Mr Vicino has that covered as well.
“We had to do a little study to find out how much toilet paper we needed. And we did the research and found out it’s 20,000 sheets per person, per year.
“These facilities are fully stocked, they’ve got gyms, small surgical clinics, even a jail. If someone needs to be detained, maybe because they’re just losing it psychologically, we can do that.
“There’s plenty of redundancy. We have two ovens, two stoves, two microwaves, two of everything. If one fails you’ve got a backup.
“It’s very posh inside, I’d say four-star level.”
If you’re looking to buy in South Dakota then $57,000 will get you a bunker, and how much you choose to spend on the interior is then up to you.
Vivos has what it calls a four-star fitout which costs $179,000, although Mr Vicino says many are opting for a cheaper alternative.
“If you can’t afford that, many are doing their own fit-out, and it’s kind of like glamping. It’s like camping under the dome of concrete rather than the stars,” he said.
“The bottom line is it’s a shelter. You can make it very posh and very comfortable, it doesn’t matter.
“The key is you have a place to go where you can lock the door.”
‘We’re about the aftermath’
Being able to lock the door is the big selling point. While residents are already occupying the South Dakota facility, it’s not just the COVID-19 pandemic that they’re concerned about.
According to Mr Vicino, the actual medical concerns might be the least of our worries.
“We’re not about the virus, we’re about the aftermath,” he said.
“We’re seeing economic collapse, we’re probably going to see a worldwide depression.
“When people run out for money they’re going to go looking for food. And that’s when it’s going to get real ugly. It could be in two weeks, it could be six weeks, I don’t know.
“They’re going to go and raid the supermarket and empty those shelves, and the supermarket will be destroyed. Then they’re going to start going door-to-door.
“They’re going to come in and take what you’ve got, and it will be very hard to defend yourself.
“At that point you want to be in Vivos. Think of it as a fortress. You’re safe from all of the marauders and anarchists.
“You don’t want to be around when people start killing each other for what they have. The have-nots are going to go after the haves.
“And Australia will not be immune to this.”
Expansion into Australia on the cards
The United States has been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 400,000 cases and over 14,000 deaths. New York alone has already recorded more deaths than during the September 11 terror attacks.
It’s caused many people to reach out for Vivos in search of protection. And Mr Vicino confirmed Australia is also a potential location for an underground site.
“I would say our genuine enquiries are up 2000 percent, which is huge. Our sales are up 400 percent,” he said.
“We’ve had a lot of requests from Australia, but not enough that are ready, willing and able to proceed. We can’t afford to come down to Australia and build a shelter for 1000 people unless we have firm commitments.
“But it’s on our radar. We’ve picked some locations west of Sydney, west of Brisbane and just out of Melbourne. Places in the mountains that are near the metropolitan areas, that will be high and dry away from the coast.
“All of the coastal areas are very vulnerable. You could get a huge tsunami if an asteroid hits.”
And those that are buying the underground bunkers are not who you might expect.
“It’s really funny, because it’s people just like you. Normal, average people. People that have families, sometimes three generations, that they want to protect,” Mr Vicino said.
“You might have life insurance, so if you pass away, you’re going to leave some money to your family. But isn’t it better to not pass at all, and live on?
“We’re just full of average people, middle class, but not the elite, not the top one percent. That’s a myth. It makes good headlines, but it’s not true.
“The elite have bunkers, but they have private bunkers, under their own homes. I know Bill Gates has one under ever single house that he owns.
“For them it’s just like having a swimming pool or a gym.
“What we’re doing is providing the same level of security to average people.”
‘I’m not here to scare you’
As the world grapples with COVID-19, Mr Vicino says the big fear is a catastrophic event while the population’s attention is elsewhere.
“It’s not going to be one event, it’s going to be a ripple of events,” he said.
“Put on your thinking cap. What happens if a major event happens in the next couple of months? What if a country decides to lob a nuclear weapon? Or there’s a major earthquake? Or a comet hits?
“I’m not here to scare you, what I do is resolve people’s fears. We provide people with a solution. When you have control you feel more comfortable.
“Don’t believe everything you read. People should not be so naïve to believe that this is going to pass in 30 days. Governments aren’t going to tell you about a problem if they have no way to fix it. Coronavirus is a wake-up call.
“I’m not a doctor, I’m not the government, I’m not the military. What I am is a solution for people who have their eyes open.”
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