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What Is a Fallout Shelter? Everything You Need to Know About Fallout Shelters

In today’s day and age, most of us have either heard of fallout shelters or have seen their indicator signs with three triangles inside a circle. No, they’re not some kind of hippy sign from the sixties and seventies. They’re actually fallout shelter signs. However, now that you know what the signs mean, you’re probably asking yourself, “What is a fallout shelter?”

What is a fallout shelter?

You’ve come to the right place if you fall into this category and want to know more about fallout shelters. We’ll delve into the history of fallout shelters, where they originated from, and whether or not they have a place in the modern world.

What Is a Fallout Shelter?

“What is a fallout shelter?” is a great question. A fallout shelter is an underground bunker or building capable of withstanding a nuclear explosion and the ensuing radioactive fallout, hence, the name of a fallout shelter. The Federal Civil Defense Administration originally built them during the Cold War to mitigate the casualties and risks of a nuclear war with Russia.

There are three basic types of fallout shelters: public, government, and personal.

What Is a Fallout Shelter for Public Use?

Public fallout shelters were built by the government or the city you resided in during the Cold War. The city of Boston, for example, is reported to have somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 fallout shelters that are still standing. They were strategically placed throughout the city so that people would have enough time to get to them if there was an unexpected nuclear attack.

What Is a Fallout Shelter for Government Use?

While plenty of fallout shelters were built for civilian use, the government had its own fallout shelters. These shelters were built for high-ranking government officials, vital military bases, and similar entities.

What Is a Fallout Shelter for Personal Purposes?

While government and official fallout shelters were the most securely built, there was no shortage of personal fallout shelters. These shelters were usually located in the basements of concerned citizens and were stocked with enough food and water to last the duration of a nuclear war. Unfortunately, most of these shelters were thrown together, and they wouldn’t have been able to keep radiation outside of them.

History of Fallout Shelters

The history of fallout shelters isn’t as clear-cut as the question of what is a fallout shelter. We don’t know when the first fallout shelter was built, but we know that they were created at the start of the Cold War. The threat of nuclear war was at an all-time high between the United States and Russia, and both countries started building fallout shelters as a last line of defense for their citizens and government officials.

The most likely origin of fallout shelters came at the end of the 1950s and the start of the 1960s. Around this time in 1961, the first official presidential recommendation for fallout shelters came during the Kennedy administration. Soon after that, home fallout shelters and public ones shot to all-time highs.

Another example of a fallout shelter

For the most part, public fallout shelters were located in the basements or lower levels of concrete or brick buildings.

In addition to Russia and the United States, most European countries that could afford fallout shelters started building them during the Cold War. Switzerland, Austria, Finland, and Sweden had the most fallout shelters out of any European country, with Switzerland being the only country with enough shelters to protect its entire population.

What Is a Fallout Shelter Supposed to Protect Against?

Fallout shelters are designed to protect against three types of radiation: alpha, beta, and gamma.

  • Alpha

While deadly in large doses, Alpha radiation presents the least amount of danger of the three radiations. It can’t penetrate through skin or objects, and the only real danger is if you make direct contact with something that has alpha on it.

  • Beta

Beta radiation is more dangerous than alpha radiation, but not as much as gamma. Beta is at its deadliest when you inhale it, but it has trouble getting through skin or buildings unless you make direct contact with it.

  • Gamma

Gamma is the most dangerous form of radiation and is the main reason why fallout shelters were necessary. Gamma rays can fight their way through barriers and obstacles, and it’s likely that most homemade and public fallout shelters couldn’t have provided complete protection against them.

Fallout Shelter Requirements

Since it would have been too time-consuming and expensive to build fallout shelters from scratch, existing buildings that met the necessary criteria were deemed fallout shelters. There were three criteria that they had to meet and that your fallout shelter should meet if you decide to build one for yourself.

  • Personal Protection

The first and most important requirement for a fallout shelter was whether or not it could actually protect against radiation. Buildings were required to have a protection rating of at least 40, which meant that you would only get hit with 1/40th of the radiation inside the building as you would outside. Essentially, the building had to be 40 times safer than open exposure.

It’s worth noting that most of these buildings wouldn’t have protected against a direct nuclear strike. They were meant to protect you if a neighboring city or area was struck.

  • Internal Space

The second requirement was that the building had to be capable of holding at least forty to fifty people in the protected part of the building. There also had to be a minimum of ten square feet per person, and you couldn’t have more people than the amount of food and water available in the shelter.

One example of a fallout shelter
  • Proximity to Possible Fallout

Finally, the fallout shelter had to be a safe distance away from any possible nuclear strikes. However, because it was unknown where the enemy would strike, every major city in the United States had fallout shelters. Washington DC had them if New York City was hit and vice versa.

How to Build a Fallout Shelter

If you’re interested in taking the next step in personal protection and want to build a safeguard against a potential nuclear war, this is the section for you.

What is a Fallout Shelter Building Permit?

If you want to build a fallout shelter the right way and that will protect you against a serious nuclear strike, you’re going to want to build it as a separate structure rather than convert your basement into a shelter. Depending on where you live, you’ll have to get building permits, grading permits, and electrical, plumbing, and sewer permits.

You’ll have to get the proper permits and paperwork from your local building inspector or department. Permits ensure that your shelter isn’t just legal but that it’s also up to code and safe.

Make a Plan

The biggest component of making a plan is choosing the right location for your fallout shelter. The main things to consider in terms of location are secrecy and your proximity to water, trees, and other obstacles. If secrecy is important, you’ll have a harder time building your fallout shelter unless you live on a large piece of land away from prying eyes.

You also want to avoid building your shelter in lowlands or near bodies of water that are prone to flooding. While your shelter might be able to protect you from radiation and fallout, it probably won’t be 100% airtight and floodproof. Once you have the location in mind, your next step in the planning process is to develop a floor plan and a blueprint.

Choose the Right Materials

In terms of what is a fallout shelter and what should it be made of, brick and concrete are your two best options. They make excellent insulators, and radiation has trouble penetrating through them. Additionally, brick and concrete are long-lasting, resistant to corrosion and the elements, and will make for a solid fallout shelter.

Building a nuclear fallout shelter

Concrete is preferred in most cases because it’s slightly cheaper than bricks, and you can tailor its thickness and consistency to your liking. You should use concrete for your walls, ceiling, roof, floor, and other surface areas.

Install the Necessary Components

When it comes to what is a fallout shelter and its necessary components, there are four of them. Any good fallout shelter needs ventilation, electricity, running water, and a waste disposal system. You want to have a constant supply of clean, fresh air but never allow radiation to enter with it. If you can’t get electricity from a city hookup, you’ll have to invest in a generator, preferably one that uses renewable energy.

Your running water and waste disposal systems will be more complicated, but possible with the right engineering and materials.

What Should a Fallout Shelter Include?

In addition to plumbing, electricity, ventilation, running water, and sewage, you also need enough food and water to survive for a minimum of two weeks, which is when most of the radiation from a nuclear bomb will dissipate. You should have plenty of canned goods, dried goods, protein supplements, one gallon of water per person per day, and the necessary cooking equipment to prepare meals.

A well-stocked fallout shelter

You should also remember to include games and other activities to stay busy while waiting for the fallout to dissipate.

Are Fallout Shelters Still Needed Today?

Although you might disagree, fallout shelters are as necessary today as during the Cold War because you never know when something dangerous could happen. Unfortunately, public fallout shelters aren’t guaranteed to have enough food, space, or protection for you and your family, you would be wise to invest in your own.

Wrapping Up “What is a Fallout Shelter?”

While fallout shelters were invented over half a century ago, they’re as important today as ever. Because the public and government interest in fallout shelters has waned, many are no longer equipped or provisioned properly. One of the best ways to ensure the safety of yourself and your loved ones is by building your own fallout shelter and equipping it with everything you need to survive and thrive.

Now you know the answer to the question, “What is a fallout shelter?” However, there’s more to it. Stocking that fallout shelter is another thing entirely. Check out the Complete Guide to Long-Term Food Storage and How to Make an Off-Grid Water System for more survival preparedness ideas.