Fallout Shelters Past And Present

Fallout 4, unlike its predecessors, starts with a war and a fallout shelter. The mobile app, Fallout Shelter, is being released in conjunction with the game. While public knowledge of fallout shelters has largely faded away, there was a time when it was far more commonplace. Let’s take a look back at the fallout shelter of old.

Before fallout shelters existed, there were bomb shelters. World War II and the increase of aerial warfare and bombing raids caused bomb shelters to be constructed all over the United Kingdom. Designs for fallout shelters appeared shortly after the Cold War began, but it was in 1961, when the Community Fallout Shelter Program began, that fallout shelters started to commonly appear in the US. The now famous yellow and black trefoil sign that indicates a fallout shelter in a building was developed that year. Most public shelters were given stores of food and other supplies. The minimum protection factor for a public fallout shelter was 40; only one out of 40 radioactive particles would penetrate it. This was only the minimum requirement, and shelters were built with as much as 1,000 as a protective factor. Schools were common locations for shelters: if you see a school building constructed in the Fifties or Sixties on a slope, the school was once intended to double as a fallout shelter. Guides were published for how to build a fallout shelter in or near your home. However, when the Cuban Missile Crisis passed without attack, interest in the shelters waned. In the late ’60s the funding for public shelters was removed. Many of the shelters built then still exist, and some even still have the old supplies in them.

Cresson Kearny’s Nuclear War Survival Skills, possibly the most well known of fallout shelter guides, was published long after the initial push for shelters, in 1979, but is still in print. The author released the book into the public domain shortly after publication to make sure it could be available to all.

Switzerland remains the one place where fallout shelters are still common. Due to a law that states the Swiss government must provide shelter space for all citizens, there are almost a quarter of a million shelters in the country. Some are small family shelters, but the largest fallout shelter in the country (and indeed in the world), the Sonnenberg, was built to hold 20,000 people. While this later proved unsustainable, it can still hold two thousand people. Some have suggested dismantling all or most of the fallout shelters due to the lesser risk, while others have said they can be used for a variety of disasters, not just for fallout shelter.

(Photo from Wikipedia/public domain.)