Investing in the End of the World: Cash-Flush Preppers Try to Up Their Odds of Disaster Survival

Vivos Underground Shelter Complex (TerraVivos.com)

Vivos Underground Shelter Complex (TerraVivos.com)

While Ms. Drescher and Milo seem to be aiming for the Hamptons as an immediate destination if disaster should strike, the question for others—assuming they make it out of the city—is: where do you go next? Or as the sales pitch from Robert Vicino begins, “How do you prepare for the end of the world when you’re literally living at Ground Zero?”

Mr. Vicino is the founder of the Vivos Group, a network of luxury bunkers across the U.S. (Europe is pending), where, for $50,000, you can buy yourself co-ownership in what the former real estate salesman is calling “life assurance.” “We have 25,000 members around the world,” Mr. Vicino told The Observer, adding that the majority of his clients—whom he refers to as “middle class”—reside in densely populated cities.

“We understand that not everyone is very rich, or else they’d have their own bunker,” Mr. Vicino said. “Vivos is designed for the middle class—people who make six but maybe not seven figures. Mainly we see people that are highly intelligent and well-educated: doctors, lawyers and Wall Street types, sure.”

Mr. Vicino is in the process of building two Vivos facilities in upstate New York, which seems to attest to the fact that locals are investing in their end-of-the-world experience. Abandoned missile silos are being reimagined as luxury bunkers, like Larry Hall’s Survival Condo Project in Kansas. But the real hidden gem of Cold War opulence is the Atlas F missile silo luxury home, located in the Adirondacks and currently on the market for $3.03 million. The estate includes its own tarmac on which to land your superjet after a quick and convenient puddle-jump.

What Vivos and these other upscale survival housing outfits are really selling, though, is the idea of a comfortable postapocalyptic existence: this isn’t your mom and pop’s Cold War backyard bunker.

There are currently six Vivos facilities across the U.S. in one stage of development or another; the smallest facility is 10,000 square feet and holds 80 humans, while the largest is 120,000 square feet and holds 1,000.

Milo said he had looked into buying a stake in Vivos, but his wife put her foot down. Still, he told The Observer, his philosophy remained the same: “I’m a big proponent of having stuff and not needing it, rather than not having it and needing it.”

One wouldn’t think such a maxim would be hard for New York City’s 1 percenters to get behind, and yet Milo said too many of his social classmates—like Ms. Drescher’s castmates—have their heads buried in the sand. “None of my friends do this. They think I was out of my mind,” he said. “Though I joke with them, ‘When this happens, you’ll be trying to get to my apartment.’”

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead.

Norman Reedus as Daryl Dixon on The Walking Dead.

While reporting this story, The Observer ran into actor Norman Reedus one night at the Spotted Pig. Mr. Reedus plays Daryl Dixon on AMC’s smash hit The Walking Dead; who better, we figured, to compare prepping plans with than a man who spends his days pretending it’s the zombie apocalypse?

But Mr. Reedus was dubious about the whole endeavor. “I think the prepping movement is kind of over,” he told The Observer. “I have friends in the city who do it, but like, if it happens I’m just going to grab my kid, my guns, my motorcycle and two grand from a hidden safe.”

“That’s it?” we wondered. “What about amoxicillin or Cipro?”

The actor looked confused. “Once you are bitten, antibiotics won’t help you.”

We clarified: we weren’t talking about just a zombie scenario. Still, the answer was no. “Anything you have will be stolen if you can’t protect yourself. The cash will last you two weeks, and then it’s a matter of guns,” he said.

We floated the idea of Vivos.

“No bunkers,” he said. “Fuck bunkers. They can always gas you out of bunkers.”

Ignoring the question of who “they” might be, Mr. Reedus raised a good point. High-end prepping may take you so far, but most doomsday scenarios act as a great equalizer: no matter how many go bags you pack, how much cash you carry or how many escape routes you plan, surviving the chaos will most likely come down to non-monetary factors, like who has the least to lose, who has the most guns and who has the constitution to make those tough decisions along the way—survival of the fittest being one of those things that money still can’t buy.