HIST 3770, Spring 2016: Nuclear West: Fallout Shelters
The concern over nuclear fallout resulted in governments and private businesses issuing printed resources that encouraged citizens to construct fallout shelters in their spare time. These publications encouraged fallout shelters to be built in private residents, schools, and farms.
This public fallout preparedness movement was directed in three primary ways. The first was to inform the public of the dangers of fallout and how to protect oneself from it. The second was to inform the public of survival methods and the need for supplies. Finally, the government provided the public with designs for shelters.
Frequently, these publications addressed each one of these three topics. Generally, they would follow a set plan of informing the public of the need for fallout shelters, and explaining the nature of radiation. Other uses for fallout shelters would be mentioned in these texts. This would include such things as using fallout shelters as a means of surviving natural disasters, and as extra rooms that could be used as spare bedrooms or game rooms. Stored food would often be compared to a form of "savings", and the added home value from building a fallout shelter was a commonly mentioned benefit. Peace of mind and preparedness were main reasons that were put forward for building fallout shelters.
The descriptions of radiation usually highlighted the silent dangers of it, and explained that fallout was much different than bomb blasts. Frequently, these publications would attempt to dispel myths about fallout shelters. A common myth was that fallout could be spread from person to person much like a disease. Charts explaining the level of protection offered by different building materials, and fallout shelter designs were given a percentage rating that related to the amount of radiation they could keep out. The amount of time it took for radiation to begin to lessen was explained through charts, and many publications listed a two week period as being the amount of time needed to stay in a fallout shelter. This prompted lists of medical supplies and foodstuffs required to survive for that amount of time.
The designs for fallout shelters ranged from detailed to general descriptions. The most commonly mentioned fallout shelter design was a converted basement room. However, more complicated designs were readily available, and DIY fallout shelter kits were available. Average people could send away for blueprints of fallout shelter designs. Designs for schools and community shelters were made in detail with these designs distributed to the public generally in the form of architectural drawings.
Bomb shelters are structures that are designed to protect the occupants from the blast and flying debris that result from both conventional and nuclear bombs.
Fallout shelters are not necessarily designed to survive blasts, but are instead designed to protect the occupants from radiation. Frequently, fallout shelters are designed to shelter persons for a longer period of time than bomb shelters, and so they include stocks of food, water, and other survival supplies.
As the public and government became more aware of the dangers of fallout, the need for shelters designed to protect from fallout became more important. An added benefit to building fallout shelters was that these structures did not need to be as hardened against attack, and so they could be built much cheaper. They prompted the building of fallout shelters inside of homes. The graphic shows a family being protected from radiation by the walls of their home. A major selling point of fallout shelters was that they did not necessarily need to look like buried bomb shelters, and so families could simply designate and alter a room in their home to be a fallout shelter.
What is fallout?
1: The often radioactive particles stirred up by or resulting from a nuclear explosion and descending through the atmosphere; also : other polluting particles (as volcanic ash) descending likewise
b : descent (as of fallout) through the atmosphere
- 2: a secondary and often lingering effect, result, or set of consequences
These publications presented a mixed view of fallout with some publications downplaying the dangers of fallout. Other publications highlighted fallout as a major danger, and detailed the suffering and lingering diseases that can result from exposure to radiation. The graphic shows a more alarmist view of fallout with the person gathering small spheres of radiation.
These publications attempted to inform the public of the dangers of fallout by assigning statistics, safe dosage levels, and periods of danger to fallout. Because the amount of radiation caused by an atomic blast varied, these publications generally dealt with multiple variables with the use of charts.
The chart depicted in the graphic details the dosage that a person could receive, and the likelihood of them dying after a set amount of time. The graphic shows that the chances of dying from a high dosage of radiation lessened over time. This information was meant to be alarming, and would prompt the public to build shelters that would lower the amount ofradiation they would initially receive.
The government and private businesses provided the public with lists of items to put in fallout shelters, and what survival skills they should practice. These survival skills mostly related to basic first aid and how to stay calm in an emergency.
Many of these publications promoted the benefits of fallout shelters as a way to prepare for other disasters. Lists of needed items were common, and numerous publications showed an assortment of items that a fallout shelter should have. These publications would either simply tell individuals to have food, water, and medical supplies. Other publications would detail the amount of specific types of food, bandages, and common medications that were needed for a well-stocked fallout shelter.
The use of pictures showing an assortment of food and medical supplies were a common way of telling the public to gather these items. In addition to a list of supplies, these publications would also detail the training that one should receive. This would include things such as basic first aid. Other publications would inform the public to receive more advanced medical training that would include setting broken bones and delivering babies. Other publications would show how to set bones and deliver babies.
The public was provided with a variety of fallout shelter designs that were designed for different needs. This included fallout shelters that were very simple and cheap such as a converted basement room, and more complex shelters that were their own special use structures. Three major categories of fallout shelters were those for homes, schools, and farms.
The pictures of people building fallout shelters would show that this act was a family oriented activity. Wives and children would often be shown helping with the process of building a fallout shelter. Other pictures would show an entire family relaxing in the fallout shelter. Pictures of young children playing with pets and toys were common in these publications. The purpose of such pictures was to show that the construction of a fallout shelter was what a responsible family member would do, and that it would be appreciated by others.
Manuals that gave instructions on how to create fallout shelters for schools were published to protect school children and staff in case of a nuclear attack.
If a nuclear attack were to occur during school hours, children and staff can get into these shelters for protection. This was a way to teach school children about the threat and dangers of fallout and nuclear explosions.
Some of the designs included classrooms that were placed underground so that classes can be taught in an environment that is safe from fallout. Other school designs employed the use of thick concrete walls and small windows that would be able to protect the occupants from fallout.
Some schools designed specifically to protect people from fallout were in fact built. These built structures included schools that were entirely underground. The biggest impact from this community fallout preparedness movement was that it resulted in architects to include fallout minded designs in public buildings. This includes such things as the inclusion of basements, or special underground areas that could serve as fallout shelters. The employment of thick concrete walls became common after the fallout shelter movement.
The bottom picture shows one of the most common fallout shelter designs. This was to simply have part of the school that was partially buried. This would protect the occupants from fallout both as the result of the surrounding earth and because of the structure on top of it. This design was promoted as a way of saving outdoor space as well.
The U.S. government issued many manuals that were published for families, giving instructions on how to create fallout shelters in the home or in a residential backyard.
The government and many American families thought it was very important to have a shelter in a backyard or in a home. Having a home fallout shelter was meant for families to immediately get to protection from fallout. Many different shelter designs were created for families to build.Some of the family shelter designs were placed underground and they were used as additional living space in the event of dangerous levels of fallout. Other shelter designs were placed above ground but they were meant to protect individuals from fallout levels that have damaging effects on the body.
Some of the above-ground designs were also covered in earth to provide higher protection. These designs could be ordered in the form of kits. These kits generally included the steel components that could be bolted together. Other designs were meant to be constructed with the use of readily available building materials such as bricks and wood.
These fallout shelter designs are much different than the converted basement designs, and the designs for community shelters, in that they were detached structures that could only be used to protect against bomb blasts and fallout.
A common feature of these designs were that they would resemble a mound of earth once they were completed. This allowed homeowners to discreetly place a fallout shelter somewhere in their garden without it being readily noticeable.
Manuals for rural families and farmers were also created because fallout was a possible hazard to rural areas, crops and, livestock. There were manuals that included designs on how to convert livestock barns into fallout shelters as a way to protect livestock from getting exposure to fallout.
Designs for farms were important because rural areas are main sources for food production and there were shelters designed to protect farms from getting radiation exposure. Shelters for rural areas were designed as a way for farmers and rural families to prevent main sources of meat from getting contaminated from fallout. Livestock getting fallout exposure would cause meat to get tainted.
Some of the shelter designs for rural areas were meant to protect both livestock and families. These types of shelters included a section for livestock to stay in during an event when dangerous levels of fallout are present and another section that was meant for families.
A common feature of these rural fallout shelter designs was that they were meant to be useful in the event of fallout, but also to be constantly used for day-to-day utilitarian functions. This was an important feature as farmers likely could not give up the money, time, and land to build a specific structure for fallout. One notable design is an open pole barn that was simply designed to protect against falling dust. This design is nearly the same as standard pole barns with the only difference being small walls meant to protect from the wind.
Some rural fallout shelters were designed to allow a family to live right next to their livestock. A fallout shelter in a barn would allow a family to continue to take care of their livestock without them having to travel outdoors to reach the barn. This would offer them access to food, and would allow them to retain their animals once the danger from fallout was over.
Courtesy of Utah State Special Collections
Documents titled: Do-It-YourSelf Fallout Shelters, You Can Protect Your Family Against Fallout, Your One Defense Against Fallout, Fallout Shelter Series.
Utah State University Special Collections, Collection#342 Box#152 Folder# 6
Farm and Livestock Fallout Shelter
Utah State University Special Collections, Box#19.5 Folder#321-330