GREENVILLE – International tensions over North Korean nuclear tests echo the fears of previous decades, when numerous public buildings throughout the Greenville area were equipped as nuclear fallout shelters.
Readers may have noticed distinctive gray and yellow signs, like the one pictured, in various locations throughout Greenville, including outside the basement entrance to the county courthouse, in back of the Maid Rite Sandwich Shoppe, or on the side of the building currently housing Ann’s Gifts and Antiques, right next to The Daily Advocate itself, on South Broadway St.
Most of these signs were installed during the height of the Cold War, amid far-reaching fears of impending nuclear attack. Nancy Stump, a board member and librarian at Garst Museum, remembered a time when almost any public building, including most churches, with “a good, solid basement” could be expected to be pressed into service as a fallout shelter.
And other precautions were taken, as well. It was mandated, for instance, that everyone in Greenville cover their windows with green blinds backed by heavy drapes at night. Stump was only a child at the time, but she remembers the warden who would walk through neighborhoods in the area, looking for any signs of light peeking out from behind the curtains. If he saw light coming from your windows, he’d knock on the door and tell you to adjust them.
“They always said we’d be hit first, then they’d take out Wright Pat,” Stump said. “They said they’d get us on the outskirts, then hit Dayton full-force.” The heavy blinds and drapes, supposedly, would prevent houses from being visible from the air, so as not to provide foreign invaders with a tempting target.
Bob Nickson, a local retiree, once discovered one of the old bomb shelters in the basement of a bank where he worked. He said the space was equipped with chairs, first aid supplies, and sealed metal canisters full of crackers that had to be opened with a can opener. Nickson also remembered being subjected to drills at East Elementary School, where students were told to “duck and cover” beneath their desks in the event of a nuclear attack.
“The building didn’t have a basement,” Nickson said, “so they told us to get under our desks, and to stay away from the windows, of course.”
Fears of a nuclear attack have experienced a resurgence recently in light of tensions between the U.S. and North Korea. United Nations Under-Secretary-General Jeffrey Feltman, a Greenville native, recently addressed the president’s Security Council regarding North Korean nuclear tests, saying that, according to data from UN member states, the bomb most recently tested by North Korea could have an explosive yield of between 50 and 100 kilotons, which – while fairly unimpressive by modern standards – is still more than five times as powerful as the weapon detonated over Hiroshima at the end of WWII.
So what would happen if the bomb dropped today?
Jay Carey, External Affairs Chief for the Ohio Emergency Management Agency, said that the state’s Emergency Operations Plan provides guidance for state and local authorities on how to deal with any number of catastrophic incidents, including release of radioactive material and use of weapons of mass destruction. Carey also stressed the importance of individual preparedness, including making plans for how to reconnect with loved ones in the event that cell phone networks and other communication tools are no longer functioning, and keeping a supply kit stocked with essential items in the event you become isolated in your home.
“Your basic disaster supplies kit should have enough food, water, medicine and other supplies to sustain everyone in your home for at least three days,” Carey said, emphasizing that individual households may have to survive on their own for a period of time before help from authorities can arrive.
Darke County Emergency Management Specialist Josh Haney offered similar advice, while also elaborating on the nature of local government response to an incident involving hazardous material. Haney said the general response to such an incident would involve dividing the area into three zones – Hot Zone (contaminated area), Warm Zone (area where responders are decontaminated after leaving the Hot Zone), and Cold Zone (safe area outside that has not been contaminated) – as well as consulting with state and federal authorities.
Such things may remind one of Doomsday Preppers and science fiction movies today, but these old Civil Defense signs linger as a reminder of a time, not so very long ago, when the fear of nuclear attack was a part of everyday life.
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