Signs used to be posted all over the city pointing the way to fallout shelters in the case of a nuclear attack.
Problem is, they were probably use less, according to David Krugler, historian and author of the book This is only a test: How Washington, D.C, Prepared for Nuclear War.
“I don’t think that had the United States and the Soviet Union gone to all out nuclear war that any fallout shelters in Washington, D.C. would have been usable.”
A shelter in the basement of Adams Morgan school was recently rediscovered. Others were in apartment complexes, homes and church basements.
Historians don’t have an exact number, but hundreds of buildings were designated in the city, with space for tens of thousands of people.
But Krugler said the nuclear strike had to be at least as far away as Baltimore for any of those buildings to be left standing.
“Even if it had worked like it was supposed to, what was going to happen after a couple of weeks, no way to resupply, people are going to have to go outside… and the fallout’s just as deadly.”
And very few of them were stocked with supplies.
They were created at the outbreak of war with Korea in 1950. They were expanded during the Cuban missile crisis, when people’s fears were at their highest.
But people viewed the idea of publicly funding the shelters as too communist.
So what was their purpose?
“Image management," said Krugler. “To give the appearance that something is being done to keep people safe, even though there was a recognition that very little could be done.”
Now they are relics of the D.C. history. Historians think as little as five percent of the signs are still around.