March 1991 Vol. VIII, No. 2




by Stephen Alley


The mobile steel shelter display attracted thousands of visitors at the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts.


``Awesome!'' ``Radical!'' ``Neat!'' the children said.

All along the 3400-mile tour route through the northeastern United States, children were seen taking their parents by the hand to visit the shelter.

Neither the children nor their parents-with few exceptions-had ever seen a bomb shelter before. But in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a number of passers-by recognized this particular structure immediately:

``Hey, what a great use for all those fuel tanks I've been digging up!''

In Iraq, the idea of using a buried steel tank as a shelter would not have seemed foreign. The Iraqis have field fortifications that look very much like the shelter display and are equipped with the same state-of-the-art ventilation-filtration system (imported from Switzerland). Deployed along with earth-moving equipment, their shelters were used to protect personnel during poison gas attacks on Iran.

In Switzerland, the ventilation-filtration system is standard equipment at home, as well as in army fortifications. All Swiss citizens have shelters for protection against weapons of mass destruction─chemical, biological, and nuclear. Civil defense is as important as a basic life insurance plan to them. This fact was so amazing to Americans that many visitors stopped to read it aloud while they were waiting to enter the shelter.

The steel shelter is designed to be buried 9 feet below grade, utilizing earth arching to provide 200 psi blast protection. When installed, the entryway is closed by a 200-pound blast door mounted with a cantilevered hinge. (The blast door display-which the children could open easily-is not shown in the photograph.)

In addition to blast and fire protection, this type of structure has a radiation protection factor of 10,000.

At the Topsfield Fair in Massachusetts, people frequently asked why shelters had not been offered as an alternative to evacuation for the Seabrook nuclear power plant.

The Seabrook plant was delayed for years due to the lack of an acceptable evacuation plan. (It still doesn't have one.) The cost of a two-year delay caused by ``intervenors''─estimated to be $419 million1-could have built more than one million blast shelter spaces at a cost of about $400 per space. Unlike expensive, redundant safety measures, which can only reduce the (extremely low) probability of a significant radiation release, shelter protects people if an accident actually occurs.

Other display items include a year's supply of food for one person (vacuum-packed wheat, corn, and beans); water storage-sanitation kits; a solar panel for recharging the battery; a self-rescue device for raising the blast door if covered by rubble; and hammocks (convertible into chairs) that increase the shock isolation for shelter occupants. The hammocks were tested (and pronounced comfortable) by hundreds of children.

Some were skeptical about the stated maximum occupancy of 40. A submariner had an answer: ``Forty, no problem. We could get 60 in here, easy.''

This steel shelter was designed and built by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine for the state of Pennsylvania. DDP helped to finance the construction. The shelter's first public appearance was at the annual meeting of DDP in Washington, DC, in October, 1989.

The shelter tour was conducted under auspices of American Legion Post 50 of Unity, Maine, with the support of several civil defense organizations, including DDP. Stops were made at the Bangor State Fair, the Skowhegan State Fair, and the Lincoln Fair in Maine; the Allentown Fair in Pennsylvania; and schools and shopping centers. The Waldo County Emergency Management Agency, under the direction of Rick Farris, cosponsored two exhibitions, one in Wiscassett, ME, near the Maine Yankee nuclear power station. In Topsfield, the last stop, the shelter received a particularly enthusiastic reception (despite proximity to the birthplace of Physicians for Social Responsibility).

Unfortunately, those who wished to borrow the shelter for the Veterans Day Parade were disappointed. The shelter had to be returned to Pennsylvania. But my hope is that the Maine American Legion will become the first to provide a mobile display for all Legion posts within the state.


1Bernard Cohen, Before It's Too Late: A Scientist's Case for Nuclear Energy, NY, Plenum Press, 1983.


Acknowledgements: The shelter display had the support of the national, state, and local American Legion, especially Post 50 of Unity, ME. Legionnaires Silas Reynolds, the truckdriver, and Charles Michaud, the Adjutant for the Department of Maine, were especially helpful. In Pennsylvania, Tim Allbaugh, RN; Del Mutimer; Robert Platt; Walter Kile; and William, James, and Jane Orient also helped.



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