Despite North Korea Threats, Don't Expect A Bomb Shelter Comeback
The threat of a nuclear conflict with North Korea is a reminder of the Cold War. Americans built fallout shelters around the country following World War II and some are still around today.
North Korean President Kim Jong Un continues to threaten the United States with a nuclear attack, bringing back memories of the Cold War. Following World War II, the American government and its citizens started building fallout shelters, just in case the Soviet Union dropped an atomic bomb on the U.S. It's estimated that there were more than 200 fallout shelters built, including mines, throughout the Truckee Meadows. Many have been destroyed but some still exist. One of them is underneath Vaughn Middle School in Reno, stretching the length of the school, with smaller tunnels to some of the classrooms.
"I think for historical purposes, I think it's one of the most neat things," Jose Flores, Vaughn Middle School Music Teacher said. "So we can teach kids about our mistakes in the past and how not to recreate them."
Flores used to bring his students down to show what it would have been like, during a nuclear attack.
I'd bring everybody but I would remind them, 'You didn't make it. You made it,' and then we would turn the lights off and sit here and wait for the blast," Flores said.
Despite the threat from North Korea, it is unlikely any of the remaining shelters will be used.
"That's a relic of a bygone era, the idea that the government will stockpile food and water in a cave and that we'll all go below ground," Aaron Kenneston, Washoe County Emergency Manager said.
Kenneston says it is a better idea for people to have a 72-hour emergency kit, and a personal protection plan.
"That includes severe storms, earthquakes, flooding, wildland fire, not hunkering in bunkers for a perceived threat," Kenneston said.
The Civil Defense of the past, morphed into emergency management that we have, today. During the height of the Red Scare, the Civil Defense stocked shelters with water, food, blankets and sleeping bags. Some of those are still sitting in the fallout shelter, in the bottom of the Downtown Reno Library.
"Because of the way the bomb shelter is configured, it didn't make sense for us to haul the items out," Jena Molina, Library Assistant said. "We ended up leaving a lot of them in place."
The shelter is made of round concrete culverts, spanning five to seven feet in diameter. There is plenty of ventilation, creating a draft through the bunker.
"As we were down there, there was a stiff breeze, which means it's vented from the outside, which would not have saved anyone in a nuclear attack," Molina said.
Students at Vaughn Middle School are not allowed to go into the bomb shelter, anymore, for safety reasons, but evidence of the past 60 years is all over the walls and pipes, with countless signatures.
Flores says the long hallway was once stocked with essential items, including a generator and radios. The supplies were meant to keep 200 students alive for two weeks. That could have been a problem if there were more students than space, and the principal had the job of deciding their fate.
"That's the legend that there was a lottery system and they had to pick which classrooms got to go and which classrooms would stay, which is a terrible thing to think about," Flores said.
A lot has changed since the end of World War II, including bottled water. Kenneston says beer companies canned water when emergencies happened.
"When disasters occurred back in the 40s and 50s, they would stop the assembly line, quit brewing beer and start filling the cans just with water, and then they would take those to the disaster sites," Kenneston said.
Fallout shelters appear to be a thing of the past, and that's where many people would like them to stay.
"It's very peaceful," Molina said. "It's really calm. It wouldn't have been with 257 people in it with you but to go down there now, it's kind of like traveling back in time."
"I really hope they don't ever bring these back," Flores said. "They're kind of creepy. They're neat but they're creepy."