Tags: Fallout | Shelters | Fall | Short | U.S.

Fallout Shelters Fall Short in U.S.

Thursday, 14 February 2002 12:00 AM

According to Commander Michael Dobbs, a policy planner on the Joint Staff, an effective shelter program would cost $60 billion, 30 times the cost of implementing a crisis relocation strategy in large cities.

"Evacuation is still the primary protective measure in the event of a nuclear incident,” said Don Jacks of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Edwin Lyman, scientific director for Nuclear Control Institute, has evaluated the state of affairs as nothing less than a return to the primitive Cold War ritual of "duck and cover.”

"If there were a nuclear explosion of relatively small yield, people who are maybe tens of miles away would have something like a half an hour to shelter themselves,” Lyman said. "Does this mean that the U.S. should reactivate a system of fallout shelters? I don’t know.”

According to Dobbs, civil defense programs have historically been on the government’s back burner. Annual appropriations for civil defense never totaled much more than $1 billion (1962) and, from 1952 to 1986, varied between $200 million and $400 million.

In 1984 per capita federal expenditures for civil defense programs were 75 cents, contrasted with $6 for ballistic missile defense and $1,350 for the Department of Defense.

In 1957, with a bellicose Soviet Union flexing, President Dwight Eisenhower refused to initiate a fallout shelter program. Following through with his campaign promises of "missile gap” catch-up with the Reds, however, President John Kennedy was an exception to the rule, calling for "a fallout shelter for everyone as rapidly as possible.”

In 1972 President Richard Nixon followed the lead of his former boss and refused to augment civil defense programs.

And it is not just the government that’s been slow to get hot and bothered by the issue.

In a 1953 poll, Americans were asked whether they were likely to build an air raid shelter within the next year. Fewer than 3 percent said yes. True to the poll, 10 years later, fewer than one in 50 Americans had built any kind of shelter. And this was the time of the Cuban missile crisis, when fears of nuclear holocaust were nearly pandemic.

According to Dobbs, the public apathy toward shelters during the Cold War was mostly grounded in a mind-set that such preparations were futile in the face of a large-scale nuclear exchange.

But that mind-set is changing and was well on its way to being recast, even before September 11.

In a 1999 survey by the Pew Research Center, 64 percent of those polled stated that they thought a major terrorist attack on the U.S. involving biological or chemical weapons would happen sometime over the next half century.

The experts agree. They now see nuclear attacks from terrorists or a rogue nation as limited in scope and duration, making precautions for a WMD incident prudent. There is no more exaggerated fear of "nuclear winter.”

The experts also agree that despite all that is being done by the states and the federal government, self-help will be the rule for many citizens during the initial hours of a large-scale nuclear incident.

The rub, according to Dobbs: "We are spending billions to train first responders and local leaders, but very little to train the general public.” He suggested that FEMA provide citizens with information on how to protect themselves and their families from attack just as the Home Front Command does in Israel. Another imperative: tax incentives for Americans who install a sheltered space in their home.

Dobbs also sees the nation’s stockpiling of antidotes such as the controversial potassium iodide as a step in the right direction, but of limited utility for those who have to wait days after an incident until the medicines can be distributed.

In the meantime, some Americans are voting with their pocketbooks and digging up their backyards just like the good old days of the Cold War. "They’re treating me less like a crazy woman than they did before,” Dr. Jane Orient of Tucson, Ariz., who promotes home shelters as head of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness, told NewsMax.com.

Fallout shelters are a good defense from radiation but are

Dr. Orient’s favored example: "If that soot raining down in Brooklyn [from the World Trade Center] had been radioactive, there would be many thousands, maybe millions of people dying slow, agonizing deaths from radiation sickness that could have been prevented had people had access to shelter.”

If she had it her way, the U.S. would be more like the Russians, Chinese or Swiss. The Moscow subways double as shelters, equipped with blast doors. Much of the population of Beijing could be evacuated underground in about 10 minutes. And Switzerland has shelter for 110 percent of its population in private homes and public buildings.

In starkest contrast, companies such as Boeing that have contracts with the government are proscribed from preparing shelter space for emergency occupancy.

It all comes full circle and back to the dollars and cents. There are plans for basement shelters that cost as little as several thousand dollars. However, for really effective protection against biological, nuclear and chemical threats, prices jump to $40,000 and higher. The deluxe shelters are equipped with air filtration systems and hand-pump toilets, allowing people to hold out from 30 days to several months.

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According to Commander Michael Dobbs, a policy planner on the Joint Staff, an effective shelter program would cost $60 billion, 30 times the cost of implementing a crisis relocation strategy in large cities. Evacuation is still the primary protective measure in the...
Thursday, 14 February 2002 12:00 AM
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