Advice from the U.S. government on how to furnish your nuclear apocalypse shelterS

Nuclear War Survival Skills, by Cresson H. Kearny, is a book that was once only available to people in the U.S. military, but now it's available to everybody for free online. Packed with all the information you need to survive a nuclear attack, it's the perfect guide for survivalists or science fiction writers trying to conjure up a world after the bomb. Keep this book around for all kinds of disasters, because it deals with everything from post-nuke communications tech to finding water. But it also has some chapters devoted to your apocalyptic comfort, too.

In chapter 14, "Expedient Shelter Furnishings," we learn that having some comfortable furniture can aid in survival - though not too comfortable. In fact, we discover, Americans can sleep on concrete for two weeks:

Throughout history, people have endured being crowded together while living and sleeping on hard surfaces. In times of war and privation, people have lived in such conditions for much longer periods than would be necessary for shelter occupancy due to fallout. Realistic basement-shelter-occupancy tests conducted by research contractors for the U.S. Office of Civil Defense (now the Federal Emergency Management Agency) have shown that modern Americans can live and sleep for two weeks on a concrete floor. In some of these tests, only 8 square feet of floor space was provided for each person; only pieces of corrugated cardboard 3/16-inch thick lessened the hardship of sleeping and sitting on concrete.

"Nevertheless," Kearny writes, "shelters should be adequately furnished whenever possible." So how do we make our tiny bomb shelters more comfortable? The answer seems to be plywood and hammocks. A Utah family of 6 (pictured above) offered to live in a small, "expedient" shelter for 3 days, for a cash reward, and experimented with optimal shelter furnishings:

[The father] knew that the members of his family would be most uncomfortable and probably would have sore backs if they spent the required 72 hours of continuous shelter occupancy huddled on the floor. (Their shelter room was only 3-1/2 feet wide and l6-1/2 feet long.) So this family took with them from home four folding chairs and two pieces of plywood (each 21 inches wide by 6 feet long) tied as part of the load on top of the family car. Four small wooden boxes served as food containers during the drive to the shelter-building site. In the shelter, the boxes were used to support the ends of two narrow plywood bunks.

The family's system of sleeping and sitting in shifts worked reasonably well. There were discomforts: the adults found the two plywood bunks too narrow, and the plywood was so hard that all the family members used their sleeping bags for padding rather than for needed warmth on chilly nights. The father and oldest son, whose turn to sleep was during normal waking hours, had trouble sleeping in such a small shelter while the lively 4-year-old son was awake.

Note that in the shelter pictured . . . the earth walls are covered with plastic from trash bags. Covering earth walls with plastic or bed sheets makes for a cleaner shelter, with less earth falling in the faces of people who sleep on the floor. Bedsheets on the walls make a shelter brighter, but are flammable and a potential fire hazard. The plastic film prevented the earth walls from drying and crumbling as a result of the hot, dry desert air pumped through the shelter during the day . . .

On the last night of the Utah family's shelter stay it was clear that the six members would win the cash bonus offered them for their 72-hour occupancy of the shelter starting immediately after they completed building it. Therefore, the author showed them that night how to make boat-shaped hammocks out of bedsheets. (Any strong cloth of the right size can be used.) They were shown how to hang these short, yet stable, hammocks securely from poles of the shelterroof. With three members sleeping in hammocks, two on the plywood bunks, and one on the floor, all six could sleep at the same time.

Basically, life after Skynet comes online will suck a lot worse than we ever imagined.

Read the whole book for free online.

Thanks for the tip, finnigan16!