Exploring the Cold War shelters meant to protect Lubbock County from nuclear war

Exploring the Cold War shelters meant to protect Lubbock County from nuclear war

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - Today, President Trump called North Korea's dictator, Kim Jong Un, a "worldwide threat that requires worldwide action."

Trump urged the North Korean leader to "come to the table and make a deal that's good for the people of North Korea and the people of the world."

But this isn't the first time the threat of nuclear war has been on the minds of Americans and dominated the international conversation.

During the Cold War, tensions were high between the former Soviet Union and the United States, and nuclear war seemed imminent.

After the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, federal agencies looked for ways to protect citizens if the Soviet Union leveled an attack on the U.S. They knew the best way to protect the most citizens was to shield them from radioactive fallout. So the Office of Civil Defense and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers started the National Fallout Shelter Program.

"The Corps of Engineers went to cities all over the United States and they surveyed all the buildings they thought would provide a high level or some protection factor from radiation as a result of fallout," said Jim Bertram, former Senior Planner for the City of Lubbock.

That survey included Lubbock. Once local buildings were surveyed and chosen as fallout shelter sites, the City sent out plans to the community detailing the strategy in case of a nuclear attack.

Bertram worked on those reports that went out in late 1968.

"There were two reports. One was a very detailed technical report that went to the Corps of Engineers, showing how we developed the plan, what the results were. There was a much simpler one that went out to the public, which showed where they lived, where their shelter was, and which shelter they were allocated to," said Bertram.

According to the plan, the City had enough space in buildings, basements, and local tunnels to shelter more than the population of Lubbock County. Most of those shelter sites were on the Texas Tech campus and in downtown Lubbock.

According to the report, the population of Lubbock and southern Hale Counties in 1968 was nearly 208,737. The plan states the City designated enough shelter space throughout these areas to accommodate up to 222,000 people.

Those accommodations, according to former Lubbock Mayor Tom Martin, included more than just fallout shelter space.

"The government made emergency rations: food, medicine, containers for water that could be stored in these basements and buildings that if the war started people could come to these locations and hopefully survive for a couple of weeks until the fallout danger reduced," said Martin.

Though it seemed like a great idea, parts of the fallout shelter plan weren't completely feasible.

"The idea we could have all of these fallout shelters was a program that was doomed to fail because once you have the original stocking of it there were no provision or budget or people or anything to maintain it," said Martin.

Though the plan might have been flawed, the intent was good.

"The concept was a good concept.It was flawed because of all the changes that could and would be made in the time it was printed to the time it may have to be implemented. The threat is still there and the concept is still probably the best that we still have. Any plan is better than no plan." said Bertram.

Though the spaces once designated as fallout shelters are still around, they are no longer stocked with provisions, and many have been repurposed into storage or office space.

Here is the link to the 1968 Community Fallout Shelter Plan. It's a downloadable PDF.

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