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North Korea threatens to launch a nuclear attack. What happened to Fresno’s fallout shelters?

Old fallout shelters have been getting renewed interest lately due to North Korea’s missile tests. But can those shelters be used?

The T.W. Patterson Building is one of several Fresno sites on the public list for fallout shelters. This is what we found.
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The T.W. Patterson Building is one of several Fresno sites on the public list for fallout shelters. This is what we found.

Faded yellow-and-black Cold War-era fallout shelter signs can still be seen around Fresno, but do any of the safe rooms still exist?

Mounting tension between President Donald Trump and North Korea over threats of a nuclear attack brought back memories of duck-and-cover drills, air raid sirens and emergency fallout shelters to those old enough to remember them.

The sirens, which still stand in various areas of town, were silenced years ago, Fresno city and fire emergency personnel said. But no one seems to know much about the old fallout shelters – basements, upper floors of high-rise buildings, dams and tunnels designated by the federal government in the 1960s to protect people from radiation.

The Caltrans building on Olive Avenue near Highway 99 had a shelter, but has since converted the basement space into offices, said Fresno Fire Capt. Daniel Vasquez, who didn’t know of any other public shelters in Fresno.

Bitwise Industries co-founder Jake Soberal said he was told that the basement in the Bitwise building on Van Ness Avenue in downtown Fresno was a designated shelter. It’s since been converted into a gym and the home of Geekwise Academy.

The Fresno Downtown Library had one in the basement that now houses the building’s air conditioning, a librarian said. Upstairs in the history and genealogy room, a 1975 Fresno city and county map shows a long list of fallout shelter locations in schools, hospitals, churches, wineries, dams, Fresno State buildings, Fashion Fair and several spots along the Fulton Mall.

Do you have a fallout shelter? Share your story with blee@fresnobee.com

It’s not surprising to see schools on the list. Schools and other community spaces are typically used as shelters in an emergency, said Ken Austin, emergency manager for the Fresno County Office of Emergency Services.

A search for information about fallout shelters at the public health department uncovered documents from 1968 that deal with legal liabilities of property owners who signed fallout license forms, Austin said. Beyond that, there’s nothing else.

What Austin knows is “the state of California went through and identified potential (fallout) sites  there were supplies put in many of these sites.”

The nation’s fallout shelter program began in the 1950s during the Eisenhower administration, amid increasing American fears of a nuclear attack from the former Soviet Union. Many shelters were stocked with two weeks’ worth of rations including water, crackers and biscuits, sanitation supplies and medical kits.

Fresno fallout shelters included: Fresno High School; U.S. Veteran Administration Hospital; the old Valley Children’s Hospital on Millbrook; Fresno State buildings; Fashion Fair’s J.C. Penney’s; Wilson Theater (now Cornerstone Church); Hotel Fresno.

In 2001, Fulton Street property owner Ron Allison, who owned the Guarantee Savings Building, found more than a ton of unsalted crackers vacuum-sealed in an original 1962 steel container while renovating the building. He also discovered emergency portable toilets, surgical kits and water containers that were part of the 1960s civil defense supplies, according to a Fresno Bee story.

The T.W. Patterson Building, on Fulton and Tulare streets, is on the shelter list. Carol Roush, whose son Rick owns the building, remembers a small room in the basement had a 55-gallon drum of chemicals that could be used to purify water in emergency situations, said Jamie Oakland, marketing coordinator for the building.

“It also had stacks of dried food (that kind of looked like Army rations),” Oakland said.

BoNhia Lee: 559-441-6495, @bonhialee

How to prepare for a nuclear blast

1. Put distance between you and radiation particles. Find a basement or get to the center of a tall building. Shield yourself with heavy, dense materials like thick walls, concrete, bricks, books and earth.

2. Fallout radiation is the greatest threat during the first two weeks, then loses intensity quickly. Give it time.

3. Make a family emergency plan and build an emergency supply kit with food and water to last at least three days, a battery-operated or hand crank radio, flashlight, first aid kit, whistle, dust mask, moist towelettes, garbage bags for personal sanitation, wrench or pliers, maps, cell phone with chargers and backup batteries.

4. Listen for instructions from emergency response personnel. The emergency alert system would be activated and a large broadcast through television and radio stations would let people know what’s happened and what to do. Alerts could also go out through email, social media and text messages.

Source: Ready.gov and Fresno Fire Capt. Daniel Vasquez

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