Doctors for Disaster Preparedness


Although many civil defense shelters have been built, most people have not made the substantial commitments of money and time required to provide proper civil defense shelters for their families. Those who have the book Nuclear War Survival Skills could construct some expedient protection.

Expedient shelters are, however, perishable. They are constructed of materials, including wood, which would be generally available in an emergency. Most shelters of this type become unsafe for occupancy within a few months after construction. Also, expedient shelters require significant time for construction and therefore might not be available in a very rapidly developing crisis.

In addition to our standardized designs, there are numerous "do-it-yourself" solutions that can provide protection on a permanent basis, but most people are deterred from undertaking such projects which may require substantial skill.

We have been experimenting with a protective shelter that would provide worthwhile protection on a permanent basis at low cost and with a minimum in comfort and habitability.

This shelter was constructed by a local steel fabricator entirely of new materials and coated with asphalt for burial for a price of $900. This included about $300 for materials (primarily steel) and about $600 for labor (primarily welding) and shop expenses and profit.

It can be buried in a small space by an average family with shovels during their spare time. This would require about the same amount of digging as does a comparable expedient shelter. If your family does not want to dig the hole, a small backhoe can do the job in less than an hour. The shelter weighs about 1000 pounds, so a vehicle might be needed to drag it into place, although several people can roll and slide it without difficulty.

This shelter would afford fairly good nuclear protection for a cost of about $150 per person. The shelter stay would be very unpleasant, but the occupants would probably survive. It is not at all comparable to a proper civil defense shelter, but it could save the lives of many Americans in a nuclear emergency.

It does not have air filters for removal of chemical or biological agents. If a shelter of this type is equipped with the smallest Swiss shelter ventilation system which includes blast valves, blower, dust filter, and chemical and biological air filters, then the cost rises to about $400 per person. This would keep the cost per person at a low level for groups of 10 to 15 occupants by placing them in a very small, uncomfortable shelter. room. It is preferable to build a proper shelter for larger numbers of people if this amount of money per person is available.

The shelter room is a cylinder 46 inches in diameter and 12 feet long, which is fabricated from two 6 by 12-foot sheets of 10-gauge cold-rolled steel. The ends of the cylinder are closed by flat plates of the same steel. Six inches from each end, cylinders 24 inches in diameter and 3 feet lon~ are attached at ninety degree angles to the shelter room to form two entryways and ventIlation ducts. All seams are welded completely, and the assembled structure is sprayed with an asphalt coating. An attachment bracket is provided on one outer end for a protective anode for further corrosion protection.

The family should paint the inside of their shelter with primer and then gloss white paint. This requires about one-half gallon per coat. Arrange a household fan to suck air out of one entryway and then paint while backing away from that end. In this way I painted our test shelter without danger from paint fumes.

A similar structure could be built from corrugated and galvanized pipe, but it would be much more expensive to fabricate in a water-tight configuration unless mass-produced with proper tooling. In the case of large scale manufacture, corrugated and galvanized construction would be preferable.

The shelter doors consist of two circular 1/4-inch steel plates 25 1/2 inches in diameter. Each plate has a rolled rim made from a 1/4 inch thick steel strip 2 inches wide and 80 inches long. This rim must be welded to the plate inside and out. These caps, when properly installed and used, provide simple blast doors and valves suitable for blast overpressures up to 50 psi.

Miniature Shelter (With Normal Building Door in Background for Comparison)

Two small steel loops are welded to the inner surface of each door 6 inches in from the rim to serve as hinge supports. Four similar loops are welded at 90 degree positions and two inches down inside each of the 25 l/2-inch entryways. These are positioned at 45 degree angles to the longitudinal axis of the shelter room. The four loops permit water bottles to be raised into the entryways for additional radiation protection.

The shelter is buried with three feet of earth over the top of the shelter room and the 25 1/2 inch entryways extending two inches above the ground surface to avoid rain run-off into the shelter. Then a 6-inch by 6-inch concrete collar is poured in a trough in the earth around the entryway such that the rim of the door rests on the concrete and the door is about 1/2 inch above the entryway rim when closed. This collar transfers blast load from the door to the soil and helps prevent crushing of the entryway pipe. The shelter should be located as far as is convenient away from burnable structures and on the side toward any expected nuclear targets so that the buildings will fall away from the shelter .

Finally, a protective ring of concrete or lo~s (such as railroad ties) is positioned around and above the closed door such that the door IS recessed by about 6 inches. A berm of earth is Elaced around this ring. The "blast protector logs" described in Nuclear War Survival Skills are suitable for this, or the family may wish to make this structure with concrete. If concrete is used, a suitable drainage hole must be provided to prevent accumulation of rainwater in the ring with consequent leakage into the shelter.

Close to each end of the bottom of the shelter room, a 1 inch threaded hole is provided with threaded plugs which may be removed from inside. During burial, a few Inches of gravel is placed in a recess under and around these holes. They permit drainage if water should leak into or be spilled in the shelter. A narrow floorboard may be placed loosely on the shelter bottom in order to keep the occupants dry if moisture is draining down the bottom.

Theoretically, this shelter has a fallout protection factor of about 10,000, an initial nuclear radiation protection factor of about 1,000, and a blast protection capability of about 50 psi. These are sufficient for most American locations even in a large-scale nuclear war .In use, given the uncertainties inherent in these severe conditions, it might degrade to a fallout protection factor of 1000 and blast protection of 25 psi which is still quIte good. This shelter offers its occupants a good chance of survival of airburst explosions of most currently deployed nuclear weapons from a horizontal distance of one to two miles, and it offers good protection from radioactive fallout.

Unlike those in a proper shelter, in case of a near airburst approximately directly overhead the occupants of this shelter would be killed by initial nuclear radiation. If the explosion were off toward the horizon, then the initial nuclear radiation protection factor would be operable.

In use, the shelter must be equipped with 15 one-gallon containers filled with water for each shelter occupant. A few of these should have handles, because, after the shelter is occupied, they are to be drawn up into the entryways with cords placed through the four steel loops. The entryways are thereby partially filled with water for additional radiation protection.

Expedient ventilation equipment as described in Nuclear War Survival Skills must be provided. This can be a small Keamy air pump mounted in the rectangular opening of a cylindrical wooden frame built into the room, or simple expedient fans. The doors are propped open about 6 inches during shelter occupancy to allow expedient ventilation.

If the direction of an anticipated blast threat is known, then the doors are opened away from this threat. They may be propped open with small sticks. These sticks would be crushed and the doors slammed shut by a blast wave. The door is attached to the entryways by at least one chain connected to its inner loops to serve as a hinge. If the blast wave approaches from the open side, it might tear the door off. The blast protector ridge shields the door assembly from flying objects.

An alternate procedure is to prop the doors open with long sticks that extend to the bottom of the shelter. A shelter occupant is assigned to each stick. When the reflected light from outside indicates that a nuclear explosion has taken place, the occupant moves the stick and allows the door to fall shut. The door is then reopened when the blast wave has passed. The negative pressure wave may already have opened it, but this wave is not life- threatening. With rings welded to the bottom of the shelter under the doors, one might even arrange to bind the doors down with a load binder and chain before the blast wave arrives.

The shelter equipment must include heavy plastic sheeting and the other supplies and tools required to build tents over the doors as is described for expedient shelters in Nuclear War Survival Skills. These reduce the amount of fallout which may drift into the entryways. Spare supplies should be stocked to replace the tents if they are carried away by blast winds or other causes.

Plastic bags for waste disposal (you throw them out the doors after use ), a homemade Kearny fallout meter, several flashlights with spare batteries (you will be able to see during the daytime by reflected outside light), and a copy of Nuclear War Survival Skills complete the shelter equipment. Store the radiation meter in a sealed bottle with drying agent as described in Nuclear War Survival Skills.

If this design does not appeal to your desire for a "high-tech" life-saving device, remember that a few days inside this pipe with your family and only water to drink (no food is recommended) is going to be very low-tech indeed. However, even if the quality of life is very low for a few days, you will probably survive the very horrible fate that awaits the unprotected victims of nuclear explosions.

There are many impediments to the installation of a proper family civil defense shelter - cost, motivation, distractions, fear, etc. We all have many things to do in life besides preparing fancy holes underground. Nevertheless, should the worst actually happen, you do not want to have the experience of realizing that your inaction has just condemned your family to a horrible and unnecessary death.

This shelter provides minimum nuclear survival requirements with high (but survivable) discomfort for an exceptionally low price in money and time. It is designed to lower the threshold of inaction for those knowledgeable people who have not yet obtained nuclear age insurance for themselves and those for whom they are responsible. If you subsequently acquire a proper shelter, this small unit will make an excellent storage place and also a backup shelter for other people whom you may decide to help.

There are thousands of metal:fabricators throughout the United States who can manufacture this shelter for less than $1000. It is, therefore,not necessary to pay shipping costs from a distant location. If you want one of these shelters, we suggest that you have it fabricated nearby.

This shelter was made by Oak Street Tank and Steel in Ashland, Oregon. Their telephone number is (503) 482-1536. Remember, however, the essence of this device is low cost and simplicity. If you add freight costs and also start making improvements in shelter habitability, your expenses may become a significant fraction of those required for a proper shelter, which would be much more protective and afar more desirable alternative to this design.