Nick Beckstead just published a post on disaster shelters over at the Effective Altruism Blog. Summary:

What is the problem? Civilization might not recover from some possible global catastrophes. Conceivably, people with access to disaster shelters or other refuges may be more likely to survive and help civilization recover. However, existing disaster shelters (sometimes built to ensure continuity of government operations and sometimes built to protect individuals), people working on submarines, largely uncontacted peoples, and people living in very remote locations may serve this function to some extent.

What are the possible interventions? Other interventions may also increase the chances that humanity would recover from a global catastrophe, but this review focuses on disaster shelters. Proposed methods of improving disaster shelter networks include stocking shelters with appropriately trained people and resources that would enable them to rebuild civilization in case of a near-extinction event, keeping some shelters constantly full of people, increasing food reserves, and building more shelters. A philanthropist could pay to improve existing shelter networks in the above ways, or they could advocate for private shelter builders or governments to make some of the improvements listed above.

Who else is working on it? Some governments maintain bunkers in order to maintain continuity of government and/or to protect their citizens. Some individuals purchase and maintain private disaster shelters.

Questions for further investigation: With the possible exception of pandemic specifically engineered to kill all humans, I am aware of no scenario in which improved disaster shelters would plausibly enable a small group of people to survive a sudden near-extinction event. In the case of other catastrophes where a much larger number of people would survive, I would guess that improved refuges would play a relatively small role in helping humanity to recover because they would represent a small share of relevant people and resources. Many challenging questions about improving refuges remain, but I would prioritize investigating other issues at this point because refuges seem likely to be of limited value and alternative strategies (such as improving biosecurity and increasing the resilience of industrial and agricultural systems) seem more likely to effectively reduce the global catastrophic risks that improving refuges might plausibly address.

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Yes . . . maybe I read too quickly but the author didn't seem to mention that there are lots and lots of survival types in the United States who have constructed various shelters/refuges/etc. Probably they are in general less sophisticated than the Radius Engineering shelters he mentioned, but they may be superior in other respects, such as location and access to natural food and water supplies.

As a side note, what's to stop private shelter providers like Vivos from cheating? For example by oversubscribing their shelters or understocking them?

Is the author aware of a large (and talkative) survivalist movement in the US?

The topic of TEOTWAWKI (as well as the proper kinds of beans and ammo) has been discussed endlessly.

Care to expand that acronym for the uninitiated?

The End Of The World As We Know It

It basically means the collapse of the civilization, both physically (e.g. the electric grid goes down, gasoline becomes unavailable, etc.) and sociopolitically (the government falls apart).


"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Give a man a gun and other men will feed him for a lifetime." - J. R. "Bob" Dobbs quoted by me in the book Revelation X.

Being the guy with the gun who gets into the shelter is an assurance that society will endure. Specifically the oldest form of society. Not necessarily the nicest one.

Being the guy with the gun who gets into the shelter is an assurance that society will endure

I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Do you mean that not bringing a gun into the shelter makes society-in-general less likely to survive? If so, would you mind expanding on your reasoning?


Thank you for your question. I'm saying that society is formed by violence. If someone has the means and opportunity to commit violence then society is the motivation that our species and the species we come from have yet to say no to. I can have a nice disagreement online with strangers because police and military groups (paid for with taxes extracted with threats of violence) stand ready to use violence to stop those who would use violence to stop my nice disagreement. Further, the distribution of the means of violence will influence the society formed. If you're the guy with the gun in the bunker you get to say what kind of society.

Egoism is a philosophy that says no to society, placing the individual (specifically, me) as the greatest good. My book of essays on egoism is approaching publication and I look forward to criticism and analysis of it at Less Wrong.

Thank you again.

Interesting. I don't think egoism is likely to do anything for me, but your reasoning about the question at hand makes some sense. I would quibble, though, that in a situation where large numbers of people are aware of an impending disaster, you're essentially playing a very large coordination game, wherein the most stable society is achieved by having a small-but-nonzero number of people with guns. This leads me to question the wisdom of deciding to yourself take a gun with you, especially given the typical survivalist's fondness for firearms.

Of course, if you live in a geographical area with vanishingly few gun-toting survivalists, it might make more sense given your premises.