Across our State

Remember fallout shelters?

In listening to today's news of fears of radiation contamination from Japan, I am reminded of news reports from the Cold War years of the 1950's and 1960's.

For a few years after the U.S. dropped the bomb in Japan to end World War II, we were the only country to have them. Then in 1949 President Truman announced the detonation of an atomic bomb owned by the Soviet Union. The arms race was on. The Cold War had begun.

With each succeeding year, and each new nuclear bomb capability developed, the general public became increasingly fearful. Could anyone survive a nuclear attack?

LIFE magazine reported in a late 50's survey that 64 percent of those questioned said that this was their number one concern. The Eisenhower administration finally created the Federal Civil Defense Administration to respond to these fears. This agency was to educate the public on how to protect themselves from radiation fallout. At about the same time a movie called Dr. Strangelove helped convince people to build themselves a fallout shelter.

At the Federal level, a huge shelter was built under a hotel at Green Briar, WV for the 435 members of Congress. Cities were expected to be targets, so many surveyed their empty warehouses, designating those most suitable as shelters. Water and food supplies were stored there and a sign was posted at entrances.

Pamphlets were available to advise construction sized for a family. Concrete was the favored building material. It was found that 2.4 inches of cement would reduce gamma rays by 50 percent, so the recommended thickness was 12 inches. They could be built in the corner of a basement or a dug-out in the backyard. Plans were given for the proper ventilation, for the kinds of supplies to store, and the amount of time to plan for proper waste disposal.

Washington state Governor (Albert) Rosellini was a huge proponent of civil defense. Besides the Hanford area, our state had airplane builders, boat builders and oil refineries. We might be a logical target. A large underground cement building was built just east of the Capitol as a fall-out shelter. Today it houses the Washington State Archives. Some of its files contain the sign, some of the supplies and the plans for civil defense.

Another large, 60 feet in diameter, fallout shelter was built in Seattle under an overpass support at the interchange of Bothell Way and Ravenna Boulevard. It was dedicated by the chief of the State Patrol in March of 1963. Used by the Department of Licensing for its first 14 years, it finally stored records until cleaned out a few years ago. Now it is largely forgotten.

Tensions between nations were probably at their highest in 1961 when the Soviets built the Berlin wall. President Kennedy asked Congress for large amounts of money for public fall-out shelters, but by the mid-60's our national fears eased. Plans for building the proposed shelters were postponed. The shelters we have attest to that anxious period in our history called the Cold War.


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