Robert Vicino wants it to be clear he’s not a religious man. He is, like a lot of Southern Californians I’ve met, what he calls “highly spiritual.” So when he talks about the apocalyptic “message” he received 32 years ago, it’s understood that message could have come from anywhere—god, the universe, aliens, the collective unconscious. It’s hard to say.
The truth is, he doesn’t remember much about how he received the message today. But he’s spent millions of his own dollars building giant underground doomsday shelters preparing for the gist: that the world as we know it is going to end, probably in the next few years.
“I was inspired with a very powerful message around 1980 that I needed to build a shelter for 1,000 people deep underground to survive something that was coming that was going to be an extinction event,” he explained in an extensive phone interview. “That’s it, that’s all I had. But it was powerful. So powerful that I had a successful business with 100 employees and I took time off to go up into the mountains and search on weekends looking for an underground mine or cave that could be cartoned and converted.”
Today, Vicino is the owner and founder of Vivos, a company that sells space in luxury survival complexes around the country. It's what he likes to call “life assurance”--mini underground cities, in effect, for people ride out the end of civilization in a community setting with good food, television, even a potential dating pool. He says demand has increased 1,000 percent this year compared to last—itself a 1,000 percent increase over the year before.
More than 100,000 people have applied for a space in one of his various shelters around the world, in various stages of completion, he says; more than 1,000 people have bought some kind of shelter from Vivos so far. Vivos sells smaller, family-sized shelters for individual purchase, but most of the clients so far have purchased space in the community shelters—a nice bulwark, one supposes, against the kind of isolation and poor planning that could turn a single-family shelter into a Donner Party reunion.