- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 5, 2001

A curious cachet lingers like a dark cloud over fallout shelters those old concrete hidey-holes sunk in the earth and meant to protect good Americans from the Red Menace decades ago.
"One Nation Underground," a new book by Kenneth Rose, calls the nuclear bunkers "an icon of pop culture," the eerie remnants of Yankee response to Soviet threat, complete with survival biscuits and a first aid kit.
Fascination with Cold War chic is not new, however. Historian Thomas Hine equated fallout shelters with "Populuxe" back in 1986 the Atomic-era style that includes tail fins, TV dinners and Barbie dolls.
The Smithsonian Institution includes a fully equipped shelter in one of its collections, and there are at least four Cold War-themed museums around the country. Vintage yellow-and-black "Fallout Shelter" signs and other civil defense paraphernalia have become consummate boomer collectibles, and several communities now offer tours of their funky old bunkers of yore.
One select Kansas-based real estate agency features shelters with decommissioned missile silos as "Historic Collectible Underground Properties," and trusting homeowners convert their shelters into wine cellars, mushroom gardens, rumpus rooms, home offices and storage areas.
Not everyone is so trusting, however.
The market for new fallout shelters is bustling, indeed, boosted also by the disquieting notion that Armageddon may be just around the corner.
Virginia-based Harden Structures, for example, offers "Apocalypse House," a design that follows guidelines for blastproof shelters from both the U.S. and Swiss governments and is meant for "long-term survivability."
"We neither offer nor express any beliefs concerning future events, weather patterns, religious prophecies or sociological transformation," the company advises at its Web site (www.hardenstructures.com). "We are professional engineers, architects and construction managers."
The F-5 Storm Shelter Co. in Baskin, La., features 10-gauge steel underground fallout shelters up to 20 feet long, and Utah Shelter Systems offers ready-made units up to 50 feet.
Fallout shelters are a favorite among do-it-yourselfers, as well. More than 100,000 Americans built their own in the early 1960s. These days, the Internet is abuzz with complex plans, kits, books, supplies and guides to "nuclear war survival skills."
One group's step-by-step instructions for "six expedient" fallout shelters "have enabled untrained families to build even the most difficult of these shelters in less than two days," according to the on-line source.
Many cite old American Society of Civil Engineers or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) plans, such as the 1979 "Standards for Fallout Shelters." Such blueprints are no longer included in the agency's public outreach programs or at the FEMA Web site (www.fema.gov).
"Fallout shelters are not part of the FEMA message," said spokesman Don Jacks. "We do encourage people to have a safe room with three days of supplies, though, primarily for weather emergencies and natural disasters. We still offer plans for tornado shelters, as well."
"The idea of hunkering down underground for weeks on end is not in most people's thoughts," Mr. Jacks said, "but it is never a bad idea to be prepared."
Survivalists and others, however, still look to FEMA as a prime resource.
"It's most likely because three of our regional centers are situated underground," Mr. Jacks said, "in Denton, Texas; Denver, Colo., and Bothell, Wash."
Indeed, FEMA still acknowledges the bunker heritage of these sites, noting at its Web site that the Denver Federal Center was intended "as a self-contained base of government in the event of a disaster or conflict."
"People just don't forget those things," Mr. Jacks said.

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