Houston landmarks doubled as Cold War fallout shelters

The rising tensions with North Korea are reviving memories for many of the Cold War. In Houston, there are still remnants of that nuclear age: former fallout shelters hidden in plain sight.

HOUSTON - The rising tensions with North Korea are reviving memories for many of the Cold War. In Houston, there are still remnants of that nuclear age: former fallout shelters hidden in plain sight.

For anyone growing up in America during the 1950s or 1960s, televised public service announcements and ‘duck-and-cover’ drills were a fact of life because the threat of a nuclear attack was too.

"This room we're standing in right now was designated as a fallout shelter,” said Michael Walter of the City of Houston’s Office of Emergency Management, standing in the basement level of City Hall on Friday afternoon.

Walter says City Hall's basement was just one of hundreds across the city converted into fallout shelters seen on a map of downtown Houston from 1968 pulled from city archives.

"(The shelters were in) places you went all the time,” said Walter. “The old Foley's building downtown, Houston's First Baptist Church when it was downtown."

Walter says those shelters were marked by a distinctive “fallout shelter” logo so Houstonians could easily find the nearest shelter if unexpectedly faced with a life-or-death situation.

And every year, the Houston Post published a ‘shelter plan’, which had a complete list of shelter locations so that everyone would have a copy.

"They would install devices and they would have food and water ready to go in the event there was fallout from a nuclear disaster here in the city,” said Walter.

However, Walter says all of those shelters are currently decommissioned.

The former Doomsday bunker at City Hall now holds offices, and the warning sirens on the roof have been taken down. 

With a quick search on the internet, it’s easy to find videos showing of some of the old spaces still around, the same types of places the Office of Emergency Management still recommends people go to during many types of emergencies.

"Some of the same things that they said then are things that we still say today, which is, ‘Find an interior place, seal yourself off,’” said Walter. “That works for radiological emergencies, but chemical emergencies, too."

It’s the same advice from 50 years ago even though technology has changed how that information is spread.

In 2017, Walter says Houston has what’s called an "all-hazards" plan: one that ensures the city can respond to natural, technological, or man-made dangers and reach out to other levels of government to get the resources they need.

© 2017 KHOU-TV


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