Revitalized Civil Defense Program in Huntsville, Alabama, in Madison County

By Kirk Paradise, Plans Coordinator

Huntsville in Madison County, Alabama, is revitalizing its Fallout Shelter Program. The program consists of three parts: shelters; plans and training and monitoring equipment. Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency has identified Fallout Shelters for both the general public and selected hospitals and clinics under the DHS Metropolitan Medical Response System (MMRS) program. The program requires the 124 MMRS cities in the nation to prepare against the effects of a Radiological Dispersion Device (RDD) and a postulated 10 kiloton detonation of either an Improvised Nuclear Device or a nuclear warhead. Preparedness levels are based on population; in the case of Huntsville, it is 7,500 fatalities, 25,000 casualties and 100,000 displaced persons. The medical community can manage the fatalities and casualties but a sheltering program for displaced persons is beyond the scope of hospitals and clinics. Pacing displaced persons in Red Cross-type shelters with no or unknown radiation protection from radiation would leave them vulnerable to high level radiation exposures. Starting in 2005, Huntsville devised and followed a two-prong solution. First, five MMRS medical facilities were identified which were judged to afford protection from radiation. At the same time, based on fallout shelter survey records kept locally on file since the 1960s and federal records which have not been updated since 1992, over 100 previously surveyed public shelters were identified for the general public. Over time, many of the previously surveyed shelters have been razed, burned or otherwise no longer exist. To counter this loss, thirty buildings in the county also judged to afford protection from radiation were identified and added to the list of the five MMRS medical facilities. Permission to survey all these facilities was sought and obtained and a Civil Engineer was contracted to perform the surveys. The engineer used FEMA formulas and procedures to calculate the “Fallout Protection Factor” in the different areas of each building. Once surveyed, the thirty public Fallout Shelters were added to the existing list; the list totals about 150 usable shelters with an aggregate capacity of about 300,000 persons. Madison County’s population is just shy of 300,000 persons. Permission has been sought from the previously surveyed buildings and about 60% have granted permission so far.

The life-savings qualities of a Fallout Shelter are useless unless people know how to use them. For this purpose, the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency developed a Fallout Shelter Guide, a brief plan with checklists to enable a Shelter Manager to quickly select and train a Shelter Management Team to accommodate the needs of the shelter population and enable them to survive in the shelter until they are either rescued/evacuated or it is safe to emerge. Two Fallout Shelter Management Courses were developed and presented. One was for the MMRS medical facilities and was presented in August, 2006. The second was for Public Fallout Shelters. Four sessions of the 8-hour course were held in January, 2007. All MMRS medical facilities and about half the public shelters now have trained shelter staff. In addition, personnel from the Army’s Redstone Arsenal (adjoins Huntsville in Madison County) attended the training. The Arsenal and its major tenant, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, each have several dozen previously surveyed Fallout Shelters with an aggregate capacity of 60,000+ persons. None of the shelters are stocked with any survival supplies or equipment other than what might happen to be there. If activated, the public will be instructed to bring essential supplies: at least one gallon of water per person; personal needs; clothing; bedding and food for an expected shelter stay of perhaps a few days up to two weeks. Purposeful leadership is essential in shelters to organize and motivate people – perhaps entering a shelter bringing nothing but a few supplies but lots of anxiety and fear – into a community capable of group survival.

To provide a radiological monitoring capacity for all the shelters, the Huntsville-Madison County Emergency Management Agency stores a supply of the Civil Defense Radiological Monitoring kits from the 1960s. These kits are still maintained and calibrated by the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. Alabama is one of a few states that has an active maintenance and calibration program for its radiological monitoring instruments. For the MMRS Medical facilities, new, specialized equipment is being procured.

The Fallout Shelter program in Huntsville, which is currently the only jurisdiction in the United States known to be revitalizing its program, will allow MMRS medical facilities to continue medial operations in a high radiation environment and provides for the protection of the general public. The MMRS medical facilities can move operations and patients/staff/families to areas that offer excellent quality protection from high level radiation. The public can go to public Fallout Shelters that will greatly reduce their exposures and where their needs can be met. With protection from radiation and purposeful leadership, people in both types of shelters would emerge as survivors, ready to be part of a national recovery and not be left as just helpless victims of a terror attack. Efforts will continue to gain permission from owners of additional shelters and to schedule more training courses in the future.

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A Fallout Shelter Program for the 21st Century-Huntsville, AL

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