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Baltimore Prepares Fallout Shelter

November 15, 2001

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BALTIMORE (AP) _ A poster on the wall of the underground bunker reads: ``Are you ready for the next disaster? Civil Defense for you, your family and America.″

What’s old is becoming new again as Baltimore rapidly modernizes a relic of the Cold War days _ a fallout shelter 5 miles north of downtown that will serve as the city government’s emergency operations center. Other cities are doing the same in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the threat of bioterrorism.

``During a potential attack, we need a center of command with redundant modes of communication and a secure flow of information,″ Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley said. ``The bunker is a perfect fit.″

The fallout shelters, built under federal guidance during the Cold War, became the responsibility of state and local officials when the Federal Emergency Management Agency was formed in 1979 with an eye toward natural disasters.

A FEMA spokesman said the agency does not know how many cities are converting old fallout shelters, but many may be reviewing their plans after considering New York’s experience. Its emergency control center, located on 23rd floor of 7 World Trade Center, was destroyed on Sept. 11.

``There are a bunch of bunkers that are just there, many of which can be resurrected,″ said Milton Copulos, president of the National Defense Council Foundation, an Alexandria, Va.-based think tank. ``I know an awful lot of (cities) are looking at what they have in place and looking at what the next level of preparedness needs to be.″

Several cities and states already have subterranean centers.

Los Angeles’ Emergency Operations Center is located four floors underground. New York’s State Emergency Management Office operates from a bunker below state police headquarters in Albany.

If there were a disaster in Iowa, state agencies would operate out of the STARC (State Area Command) Armory at Camp Dodge in Johnston, an underground bunker with a high-tech communications system and reinforced concrete walls a foot thick.

Massachusetts is giving consideration to modernizing its Emergency Operations Center in Framingham, an underground bunker commissioned by President Kennedy.

Renovating the nuclear-bomb-proof shelter will cost Baltimore about $400,000, part of $17.6 million in security enhancements ordered since Sept. 11 that are stretching out an already strained city budget.

The underground bunker, located beneath a fire station, was first built in 1952 as a Civil Defense Control Center. The 22-inch thick concrete walls were intended to withstand the blast from a nuclear explosion.

With food reserves and an air recirculating system, those inside could survive for two weeks.

William C. Codd II, a former city emergency management director, said the only time he recalls the center being used was during the 1968 riots that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Fourteen new fiber optic telephone lines and three computers have since been added. Antennas were erected on the roof so that pagers and cell phones will work underground.

There’s now room for about 50 people in the shelter _ with 18 able to sit at small cubicles facing each other in the main room, which is equipped with city maps stretching from the floor to the ceiling.

The nonperishable food stash has to be restocked and there’s no room for those inside to sleep, save a few old canvas cots, said Richard McKoy, the city’s Director of Emergency Management.

``They’d have to find a spot where they can,″ Codd said. ``But it’s a lot better being in here than being out there.″


On the Net:

Federal Emergency Management Agency: http://www.fema.gov/

National Defense Council Foundation: http://www.ndcf.org/

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