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Rich people are spending millions on underground bunkers equipped with robot security and movie theaters after a year of man-made and natural threats

Mark Ellwood May 21, 2021, 7:43 AM

A panic room door by Rising S

A panic-room door by Rising S.

A 13,000-square-foot house in the San Jose Valley has a single-lane bowling alley and a swim-in-place indoor pool. It’s controlled via fingerprint access, using an app that was developed specifically for the home. The garage is attached and so are the stables — the owner’s horses, used for stud, are too valuable not to keep close to hand.

There’s just one difference between this sprawling mansion and the other wealthy homes nearby: It’s entirely underground.

The project, which cost just under $14 million, was built by Clyde Scott of Rising S, a specialist in luxury panic rooms and bunkers.

Even Scott was surprised at the reach of this brief when he arrived for what was supposed to be a one-day site inspection.

The owners initially intended to build a conventional panic room, around 500 square feet. Eight days later, Scott was still there, workshopping plans for a more ambitious alternative.

Scott collaborated with the owner’s go-to interior designer to make the bunker feel more like home. “Even though there are no real windows, we did virtual ones in the family room so it feels less psychologically claustrophobic,” he told Insider. “We even inset them in a boxed opening to get the depth of a window frame and installed custom drapes.”

This astonishing underground home might be the fanciest bunker Scott has built to date, but it isn’t the only one.

Interest in such plush panic rooms is skyrocketing, he said. His firm started offering high-end shelters and the like a decade ago — of the 232 it’s built so far, 200 were commissioned in the last five years.

The pandemic, of course, added an extra boost to his business: Sales last summer were 15% to 18% higher than projections, and surged 22% more in the winter. “It’s something that our generation had never dealt with before,” he said. “And I saw a lot more urban locations for shelters, an uptick in some of the areas where there were more COVID restrictions.”

A standard bedroom in a panic room

A standard bedroom in a panic room.

For example, until last year, he’d only installed one panic room in Chicago. In the last 12 months, he’s already built two more.

Economic and political anxiety are a factor, too. “The United States is north of $30 trillion in debt, and at some point those checks will bounce,” Scott said. “Owning a shelter is no different than having auto or health insurance — it’s just an insurance policy against a different threat.”

Perhaps the clearest endorsement of a luxury panic room among the elite is the one reportedly installed in Highgrove, the country residence of Prince Charles. According to a recent biography, he’s installed a secret, steel-lined room in which he and his wife, Camilla, can survive for several weeks, whether sheltering from a home invasion or a revolution.