Sunday, September 12, 2010 - 20:30

Killer comets, global tsunamis and super volcanoes might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but some people in the United States are taking such threats to the planet extremely seriously.

Video journalist David Brill has been to meet the Kramer family in California, who've already bought space in an underground shelter, ready for the 'cataclysmic disaster' they believe could happen when a 'galactic alignment' takes place in 2012.

He also meets shelter owner, Robert Vicino, whose website counts down the seconds to the end of the world, and offers space in his hotel-style solution to survival for tens of thousands of dollars per person.

Others are approaching the future differently, believing the biggest threats we're facing are problems that we've caused ourselves. Richard Heinberg is one of the world's foremost peak oil experts, who warns that we're addicted to fossil fuels and must adapt before they run out. 

David takes us to a Los Angeles suburb to meet the Dervaes family of so-called 'urban homesteaders'. They've already adapted and are living self-sufficiently and almost entirely off-grid.

But are they all being over cautious, or will the rest of us be under prepared?

WATCH - See David's report and make up your own mind.

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It's sometimes hard to get your head around - the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth including folk convinced that Armageddon is about to hit us. Dateline's David Brill has been filming in the US for decades. When he was there recently, he found that Armageddon 'real estate', for want of a better term, right now is booming as some Americans prepare themselves for what they believe will be a very different world. Here's our man, Brill, to talk us through this American 'future fear'.

REPORTER: David Brill

STEVE KRAMER: We've got a compass, and Matthew knows how to use that.

MATTHEW KRAMER: Very bright flashlight.

STEVE KRAMER: And an old military shovel, and fishing rods.

Steve Kramer and his family are convinced there's going to be a huge catastrophe in America.

STEVE KRAMER: It's a gravity knife. I just keep it handy - you never know when you're going to need it.

MATTHEW KRAMER: I've got some clothes, I've got two water bottles in here.

STEVE KRAMER: One possible scenario would be the super volcano - Yellowstone National Park is one of seven super-volcanoes that have huge collections of magma underneath the ground, but there's certainly an asteroid that's headed for Earth that NASA is also aware of and there's terrorism, there's anarchy, I mean it could be a national cataclysmic disaster when the galactic alignment takes place in 2012, the predictions are that a lot of ambient energy is going to enter our solar system from a binary star. That could really cause a lot of sun spot activity that could trigger an electro-mechanical pulse that would in turn trigger a lot of anarchy.

He heard about this bunker, that was a couple of hours away in Southern California out in the desert, that people could buy into where they could go and live for up to a year.

MATTHEW KRAMER: Terrorism, anarchy, Solar flare, pole shifts; tsunami, or even Planet X. Let's go to the shelter. And this is what it would look like, if you were to do it from above.

REPORTER: Looking down on it?

MATTHEW KRAMER: Yeah. And then that's like each person's vault that they go into where they sleep. This the community centre, this is where everybody comes, where everybody is.

REPORTER: That's a big room there.

MATTHEW KRAMER: What you have over here is a doctor's office, you have a dentist's office, you have all that stuff.

REPORTER: Have they got a barber there to cut our hair, do you reckon?

MATTHEW KRAMER: And they have a time-out place for people who aren't being good, they have a vault

REPORTER: You mean a time-out place would be a jail?


REPORTER: Hope there's a policeman there.

STEVE KRAMER: I have a .38 special, a Charter Arms .38, that's actually on an ankle holster. I also have a military sniping rifle - it's similar to a .30-06. It's a Krag .30-40. It's a sniping real kill-a-deer-at-a-mile. Basically, that's my gun of choice. A shotgun would be - we have a shotgun as well.


He was even teaching his son to ride a motorbike - he's only 12. He'd get his son to ride it, while he'd be on the back with his guns, I imagine, shooting people who were trying to get in front of him or get to the bunker first.

STEVE KRAMER: Look what happened with Katrina, that's just in New Orleans. If you had that kind of catastrophe on a much larger scale, there's no way they could respond to it appropriately to adequately protect people. So you kind of have to have your own plan in place to look out for your own, because there's not going to be anybody who can adequately help you out when you need help the most.

I went to meet the man who set up the shelter.

ROBERT VICINO, FOUNDER OF VIVOS SHELTERS: So Vivos is the name of the network, it's the name of the company, and if you understand Latin or Spanish, 'vivos' means 'to live' and that's exactly what this is all about.

His name's Robert Vicino. He drove me into the Mojave Desert to show me one of many shelters he's developing in America.

ROBERT VICINO: If there is any event involving or revolving around the year 2012 - I personally believe it's going to be a solar flare - as much as 90% of the population would be killed off. And who's going to kill it off is themselves, because as it grows worse and worse, people become more and more savage, more and more predatory. And they'll do whatever they have to, to survive, including that nice little sweet housewife you have next door with a couple of young children. When it comes to the survival of her and her children, she's going to do everything she has to.

As we got closer to the bunker, he asked me would I stop filming. I said "Why is that Robert?" He said, "Look, I'd rather you not film. I don't want to give away the location of where the bunker is."

ROBERT VICINO: We don't want to lay the breadcrumbs, as you will through your video camera, right to the doorstep of the shelter.

REPORTER: This is the entrance here is it, to the facility?

ROBERT VICINO: Yeah, this is the facility, it's very inconspicuous by design.

REPORTER: What was this before?

ROBERT VICINO: David, I can't tell you that. No.

REPORTER: Right, you can't tell me that? What it was?

ROBERT VICINO: That's right.

REPORTER: Did you have to buy it though?

ROBERT VICINO: Yeah. It wasn't free - let's put it that way.

REPORTER: Well this is coming in to the facility, it's 110 degrees outside, and down there are all the bunkers. How far down are you going?

ROBERT VICINO: It's about 40 feet down, several flights here.

It was like a 1950s bunker that you could imagine was built for the Cold War and say, the Cuban Crisis. A lot of the old electronics are still there - it was like going back in time. And there was a big fan going, it was very noisy.

ROBERT VICINO: This room becomes the kitchen for the entire complex, so it'll be a large kitchen and food storage up above. This is an interesting piece of equipment, it's the original nuclear blast detector. This is fed a signal from a gamma ray detector that sits on the surface - I'll show you that later. And what that gamma ray detector does, is it sees that flash of a nuclear bomb. You know light travels faster than everything else, so that light signal could be 100 miles away and it'll see it and it instantly tells the blast detector to shut down all doors, all air vents, everything - this place seals up, seals up in a nanosecond.

Well, this was the original and this will be retrofitted but it still gives you an idea of what we're talking about. And the beauty of Vivos and our concept is you don't have to prepare, you didn't have to go to school and study survivalism and read all the books and join all the websites and stockpile all the goods. It's already done. The only preparation you need to do here is get out your pen and your chequebook, and you know, buy yourself an interest for you and your family.

The cost of buying into this bunker is $50,000 per person.

ROBERT VICINO: I believe that there's a need for this product.

REPORTER: You say quite openly you want to make a buck out of it.

ROBERT VICINO: Well, I have to make a profit. I'm not Bill Gates, I'm not a philanthropist, I cannot afford to do this for free.

He had a television team from South Korea that turned up. A photographer and a reporter from a German magazine, drawings and maps of what the place will look like when it's renovated. He had his wife there. She spoke a little bit about what her husband is doing. She's obviously very proud of him.

MRS VICINO: People are very afraid. We had a group from Taiwan contacted us and they said they're very concerned, because they said they have a 100 missiles pointed at them from China. And at any given moment

REPORTER: But can't they build their own shelters?

MRS VICINO: One would assume so, but I guess either they don't have the vision, or the technology, or the foresight to build shelters to accommodate that many people. And the government's not doing for anyone.

REPORTER: What do you think about entrepreneurs who are buying up old nuclear shelters?

RICHARD HEINBERG, SENIOR FELLOW AT THE POST CARBON INSTITUTE: Knowing what I know, I find that very understandable. It's not the way I personally choose to go though.

This man is Richard Heinberg, he's a peak oil expert. He's written nine books. He's been saying for years, we've got to do something about oil, we cannot rely on oil. And he thinks if we don't do something - and I kept pushing him on this - that there will be civil unrest.

RICHARD HEINBERG: The growth phenomenon that we've seen over the past 200 years is coming to an end, and it's going to affect absolutely everyone on the planet.

REPORTER: Anarchy?

RICHARD HEINBERG: If we don't handle this historic change properly, it's going to look basically like the collapse of civilisation.

Heinberg thinks that if we're going to survive, we need to change the way we live.

RICHARD HEINBERG: We've got to work together on this because individual survivalism just isn't going to cut it. You know, if I've got my vegetable garden and my neighbour is starving, then the only way I'm going to be able to continue eating is to stay up all night with my shotgun to make sure no-one goes over the fence. What kind of life is that? We're creating out of this paradise, Earth, we're creating a hell for our descendents. I think it's our duty, not just to somehow try to survive this but to change what we're doing and to create a survivable planet for everyone, for our communities and for our descendants.

I met a family that's doing just that.

JULES DERVAES: Some more tomatoes here, we're about 90% self-sufficient in the summertime because this is all our bounty.

Jules Dervaes lives in Los Angeles, right next to a major highway, but he's turned his backyard garden into a farm.

JULES DERVAES: These are heirloom squash from Italy, and they hang from the trellis here. Just watch your head.

He's got two daughters and a son.

REPORTER: How do you like this yourself?

JUSTIN DERVAES: I love what I do, so I can't complain. I've got a green thumb.

They grow 350 different fruits, vegetables, herbs and berries. They all survive on what's grown here.

JULES DERVAES: This is our barnyard. It's in the city, so we've got a nice little animal enclosure here. We've got five ducks, eight chickens and two goats.

And while I'm there looking at these goats and chickens, I can hear the traffic next door, whoof whoof up and down the highway, but you could be in the middle of the countryside.

JULES DERVAES: We're looking at a planet that has run amok. So you have to be sensitive about which direction you're going. If it's going the wrong direction, it's either you're going to turn around early or you turn around at the edge of the cliff.

Come up here to our store on the front porch - Nice to meet you.

They obviously had a fear for the future too of what's going to happen. But they're going around it in a different way.

JULES DERVAES: This is a completely different dream, we're talking about self-sufficiency, we're talking about neighbourliness, we're talking about a community of helping one another.

ANAIS DERVAES: It has the herbs from the garden. And we've already made some ice-cream. Yeah we have a hand-cranked...

JORDANNE DERVAES: It's cool, yes, it works for us. But it's a little scary because out there, it's no. It's, you know - you could actually forget about the bad things out there.

There seems to be this common strand running through America right now - A fear of the future, and a sense of doom. But I saw people responding in very different ways - from preparing to hide from change, to preparing to make change happen.

JULES DERVAES: So we figure we're preparing ourselves to live simply. I mean this here is riches, but people don't understand. If you look around, you'll see riches here but it's in the form of tomatoes and peppers and animals. So we're going backwards, and I say a step backwards is progress.

GEORGE NEGUS: David Brill there. I know the 'Armageddonites' can say things that make you just shake your head, but that last comment about going backwards does raise the question of whether everything we call 'progress' necessarily is. If you want to know more about that underground shelter, or becoming self-sufficient, follow the links from The website for that bunker has a handy clock counting down to the end of the world! But, right now, I think we're still OK.


David Brill







12th September 2010