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Book Uncovers History of Spokane Bomb Shelters

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A new book takes a look at the history of bomb shelters in Spokane. Like many metropolitan areas of the U-S, Spokane was once considered to be one a major target during the cold war with the Soviet Union. That’s because of the city's proximity to Fairchild Air Force Base, as well as strategic missile silos located nearby.

Lee O'Connor: “General CurtissLemay estimated it would take ten to fifteen missiles to take out a hardened missile site, and Spokane had a dozen semi hardened missile sites, plus the strategic air command base with B52 bombers, so the soviets were going send a lot of missiles our way.”

Lee O’ Connor is author of 'Take Cover Spokane', which details the history of backyard bunkers, basement hideaways, and fallout shelters of the Cold War.  Spokane’s history of such shelters begins with several public shelters w=that were put into place during WWII in the event of a Japanese air raid, but really took off after 1949, when the Russians exploded their first atomic bomb.

(audio of bomb in story is PSA from the Department of Civil Defense in 1954)

But in the 1950’s the guidelines for surviving a nuclear attack were vague at best. O'Connor says “and the government gave them contradictory ideas, one was build a shelter, the other was don’t build a shelter run out of town, and that kind of shelter /evacuate policy flipped flopped in the 1950’s."

In 1954, an exercise was held in which over ten thousand people left the downtown city core while a plane from Fairchild dropped leaflets that said this could have been a nuclear attack.

O'Connor: "In the event of an real attack they were supposed to get on buses ,and go out to the countryside and hide behind the brows of hills in wasn’t any more sophisticated than that.”

Following a call by President Kennedy for families to prepare their own fallout shelters, several companies went into business selling preparedness items, but most of those folded within a year or so. Oddly enough by the 1980’s the old evacuate the city plans had again resurfaced as the best way to survive a Soviet attack.

O'Connor: “Spokane’s plan was formed in 1979 ,and called for 220,000 people to flee and seek refuge in communities in the area.”

Following the end of the Cold War in 1989, those official national plans were phased out, and O'Connor says the current known plans focus on natural disasters, rather than nuclear attack.

Extra links:

Song from end of story: Al Rex Hydrogen Bomb

Video: 1954 Spokane Civil Defense Air Raid Drill

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