The 5 Safest Places on Earth

by Jared Wade on November 17, 2010 · 22 comments

Security is a critical component of risk management. If company employees and assets are not considered safe and sound, little else matters. Some locations take protection to the extreme, however.

Of course, many military facilities are incredibly hardened, of course, but there are a handful of other quirkier institutions (as well as one world-famous bank) that virtually guarantee their people and property are secure — both from manmade and natural threats.

Here is a list of those five safest places on earth.

5. Istanbul’s Earthquake-Safe Airport

2010 has been the year of the earthquake. The decade began with the devastating quake in Haiti that killed hundreds of thousands. Soon after, seismic activity in Chile, China, Mexicali and New Zealand rocked all regions of the globe.

If we can learn from an earthquake-proof airport in Istanbul, however, perhaps future quakes will be much less damaging than they have been throughout history.

The world’s largest seismically isolated building, the new international terminal at Istanbul’s Sabiha Gökçen Airport, is now complete and open for business.

Stretching across more than 2 million square feet, the terminal doesn’t sit directly on the soil, but rather on more than 300 isolators, bearings that can move side-to-side during an earthquake. The whole building moves as a single unit, which prevents damage from uneven forces acting on the structure.

Given that a massive, 7.4-magnitude temblor struck Turkey in 1999, killing some 17,000 and destroying billions of dollars worth of property, this seems like a great development in a city that geologists expect to see another major quake within the next few decades.

4. Bahnhof’s Underground Data Center

Swedish internet service provider Bahnhof set out to find a safe place for its data. For them, an old nuclear bomb shelter 100 feet below a mountain in Stockholm seemed safe enough. And its not just the ISP that thinks so.

The infamous Wikileaks has also moved some of its servers to the bunker that was built in 1943 and renovated in the 1970s to house governmental officials should catastrophe strike.

Apparently, the Bahnhof people are pretty happy to host Wikileaks in their ultra-secure bunker, safe from any political pressure and physical assaults. Wikileaks is under attack by the US government for the publications of many of its secrets. Most recently, Wikileaks released 100,000 internal military documents from the Afghanistan war.

Wikileaks has since unveiled a trove of documents on the current war in Iraq. Neither the company nor its founder, Julian Assange, are making any friend in the Department of Defense, but failing a full military assault on their servers, Wikileaks can at least rest assured that its computers are safe.

3. The Terror-Proof 7 World Trade Center

Along with the Two Towers, the nearby 7 World Trade Center building was also destroyed on 9/11. Unlike the larger structures, however, this one has been rebuilt. It maintains the original name, but when it comes to protection, this one will not be destroyed.

It has been hailed as the safest building in the world, its 52-stories of glass elegance belying a concrete core built to be a bunker in the sky. It is the first skyscraper to be completed at the World Trade Center site, and as it approaches its second anniversary, its innovative architecture and endlessly redundant security features – most of them designed from the lessons of the Twin Towers catastrophic collapse – offer a template for high-rise buildings in a post-9/11 world.

“The biggest change in high-rise construction now is this sealed, hardened core,” says Dr. Herb Hauser, president of New York-based Midtown Technologies, a firm that specializes in security technologies for buildings. “This means that the structure around the core can go down, or be on fire, or be invested with a biological or chemical problem, but the actual core itself will be protected.”

Many other buildings are now being designed and built with the new 7 World Trade as a model.

2. The Svalsgaard Doomsday Seed Vault

Deep beneath the ice of a remote, arctic Norwegian island lies humanity’s last hope to restore agricultural production if any worst-case scenario ever happens. From climate change and nuclear winter to global pandemic and asteroid strikes, humankind has little trouble envisioning any number of catastrophes that could qualify as extinction-level events. But this seed bank now houses the genetic code for all of the critical crops we would need to reboot civilization.

How secure it is? Well, here’s what I wrote about the Svalbard seed vault a few years ago.

Physically, it is virtually impervious to disaster. Earthquakes, such as the 6.2 magnitude quake that struck nearby in February, cannot damage the underground bunker as its steel and reinforced concrete structure is even strong enough to withstand a direct nuclear strike to the mountain. Time, too, will cause minimal harm-Global Crop Diversity Trust’s executive director Cary Fowler expects the vault’s life span to rival the Great Pyramid of Giza.
The vault uses a series of electric cooling units and enormous fans to maintain its constant zero-degree temperature. In the event of mechanical failure, however, its depth below the arctic permafrost would keep the vault cold enough to ensure adequate conservation for multiple years, even presuming the most drastic climate change-related temperature increases.
Human-instigated sabotage is almost equally unlikely. The remoteness of Svalbard, a Norwegian island chain located about 600 miles from the North Pole, is one of the seed bank’s greatest safeguards. The closest community to the vault, Longyearbyen, has a population of 2,000, which easily makes the sparsely populated mining community the metropolis of the archipelago. By contrast, the islands are home to an estimated 3,000 polar bears, which if the armed security guards, steel doors, air locks and video surveillance all fail, can presumably provide a final line of defense against would-be trespassers.

Physically, it is virtually impervious to disaster. Earthquakes, such as the 6.2 magnitude quake that struck nearby in February, cannot damage the underground bunker as its steel and reinforced concrete structure is even strong enough to withstand a direct nuclear strike to the mountain. Time, too, will cause minimal harm-Global Crop Diversity Trust’s executive director Cary Fowler expects the vault’s life span to rival the Great Pyramid of Giza.

The vault uses a series of electric cooling units and enormous fans to maintain its constant zero-degree temperature. In the event of mechanical failure, however, its depth below the arctic permafrost would keep the vault cold enough to ensure adequate conservation for multiple years, even presuming the most drastic climate change-related temperature increases.

Human-instigated sabotage is almost equally unlikely. The remoteness of Svalbard, a Norwegian island chain located about 600 miles from the North Pole, is one of the seed bank’s greatest safeguards. The closest community to the vault, Longyearbyen, has a population of 2,000, which easily makes the sparsely populated mining community the metropolis of the archipelago. By contrast, the islands are home to an estimated 3,000 polar bears, which if the armed security guards, steel doors, air locks and video surveillance all fail, can presumably provide a final line of defense against would-be trespassers.

I think it’s safe to say that, no matter what, we’ll always have seeds.

1. Fort Knox

Everyone knows that Fort Knox, the colloquial name for the U.S. Bullion Depository, is where the United States houses much of its gold. But did you know that the nearly 5,000 tons of precious metal valued at some $137 billion stored there is protected by a 22-ton door? Good luck getting through that.

The vault door, which has a combination that must be entered by some 10 different staff members — none of which know anything but their part of the code, is the crown jewel of a nearly impregnable fortress. And while this is a fantastic security measure, it’s not like anyone could ever get inside the building anyway, what with the tanks, Apache helicopters, armed guards, fences, concrete-lined granite walls, video surveillance and alarms that all safeguard the facility. It’s no wonder, then, that at the height of World War II, Fort Knox stored the Magna Carta, the Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom, the gold reserves of several occupied European nations, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. The Gettysburg Address and the Guttenberg Bible have both reportedly been protected inside Fort Knox as well.