By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters)

New York City has quietly begun removing some of the corroding yellow nuclear fallout shelter signs that were appended to thousands of buildings in the 1960s, saying many are misleading Cold War relics that no longer denote functional shelters

The small metal signs are a remnant of the anxieties over the nuclear arms race between the United States and the former Soviet Union, which prompted U.S. President John F. Kennedy to create the shelter programme in 1961 in cities across the nation. The signs, with their simple design of three joined triangles inside a circle, became an emblem of the era.

While some New Yorkers may barely notice them today, to others they can be an uneasy reminder that the threat may have altered and diminished, but it has not vanished.

 

Eliot Calhoun, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Planner for NYC Emergency Management, poses in the operations center at the Emergency Management Headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York
Eliot Calhoun, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosives (CBRNE) Planner for NYC Emergency Management, poses in the operations center at the Emergency Management Headquarters in the Brooklyn borough of New York, U.S., December 7, 2017. Picture taken December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

 

Although the Cold War era has long ended, North Korea continues working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States amid bellicose rhetoric from Washington and Pyongyang.

A nuclear explosion is now seen as even less likely than during the Cold War. But should catastrophe ever strike, the signs, which still linger in their thousands, would be best ignored, city officials and disaster preparedness experts say.

In the aftermath of a nearby nuclear explosion, any survivors counting on the signs to lead them to safety from radioactive fallout after needlessly dashing outside would likely find themselves rattling locked doors or perhaps breaking into what is now a building’s laundry room or bike-storage area.

 

Maintenance of the shelter system, which once entailed federal funding to stock shelters with food and water, ended decades ago

The removal of some of the signs from public school buildings, which has not previously been reported, is intended to partly reduce this potential confusion, according to the city’s Department of Education.

 

 

Michael Aciman, a department spokesman, confirmed that any designated fallout shelters created in the city’s schools are no longer active and said that the department is aiming to finish unscrewing the signs from school walls by roughly Jan. 1.

Although some of the tens of thousands of fallout shelter signs placed around the city by the federal government’s Office of Civil Defense have vanished as old buildings have been renovated or demolished, city officials say this is the first coordinated effort to remove them.

The Office of Civil Defense was eventually abolished in the 1970s, subsumed into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Aciman declined to say whether, given the signs are technically federal property, the U.S. government was consulted.

 

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