The US government’s secret plan to save itself – while the rest of us die. So reads the subtitle of the recent book, Raven Rock, by Garrett Graff. This in-depth study reveals that the American government continues to spend tremendous sums preparing for nuclear war – not just for new and improved nuclear weapons, but also for the planning and infrastructure to ensure that top government and military leaders survive any nuclear attack. Civil defence plans to protect the general American population from a full-scale nuclear war may be a thing of the past, but out of sight, the government’s own “Doomsday Prepping” continues full-speed ahead. As Graff puts it, “Its entire shadow government is, in many ways, bigger, stronger, and more robust than it ever was during the cold war.”
These mutli-billion dollar plans and programs are buried inside innocuous-sounding entities like the Pentagon’s Center for National and Nuclear Leadership Command Capability, FEMA’s Special Programs Division, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Balanced Sustainability Assessment branch, or the Joint System Engineering and Integration Office (JSEIO at the Defence Information Systems Agency (DISA).
Just one of many such installations across the US (many of them remain secret), Raven Rock is virtually an underground town that has grown dramatically since 9/11. In 2001, the Defense department listed the site as consisting of fifty-nine underground buildings with 450,000 square feet. But a building boom hit the complex as the Continuity of Government (COG) machinery grew in the following years. By 2012, the faculty was composed of sixty-six buildings and 615,000 square feet of space. Just a year later, in 2013, it had grown to sixty-nine buildings and 639,000 square feet. There were huge jumps, too, in its fuel storage, as the underground city added twenty-seven new fuel tanks in 2012, each of which could hold 20,000 gallons.
As of 2016, another known underground bunker complex for government officials, Mount Weather, is in the midst of what FEMA calls “a significant infrastructure upgrade to replace old infrastructure, correct life/safety items, upgrade IT and develop a more resilient facility capable of supporting 21st century technology and current Federal departments and agencies requirements.”
Canada’s Secret Bunkers
The US isn’t the only government growing increasingly concerned about the risk if a nuclear attack. CBC News reported on November 29, 2017 that according to documents obtained through the access to information act, the Privy Council Office, the bureaucratic wing of the Prime Minister’s Office, drafted an agreement with National Defence in 2016 to open up bunkers on two military bases should the National Capital Region become “unviable.”
The location of the two bunkers is classified, and they are only referred to as “Alpha and Bravo sites.” The agreement, dated August 2, 2016, is part and parcel of a plan to assure “Continuity of Constitutional Government,” which aims to “ensure minimal or no interruption to the availability of critical services” in the event of a crisis such as nuclear war.
What about protection plans for the rest of us?
They did exist at one time. In early 1960s President Kennedy launched an ambitious effort to install community fallout shelters throughout the United States. These shelters would not protect against the blast and heat effects of nuclear weapons, but would provide protection against the radiation effects that would last for weeks and even affect areas distant from a nuclear detonation.
The United States ended federal funding for the shelter program in the 1970s. And in 2017, New York City began removing the iconic yellow signs since members of the public are unlikely to find viable food and medicine inside those rooms the city said.
However, in Russia, it’s a different story entirely. While the Russian economy has struggled in recent years and they have nothing like the financial resources of the US, the prospect of a nuclear war is real enough that they continue to invest in nuclear fallout measures to protecting their citizens. In 2016, representatives for the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry (EMERCOM) said that all bomb shelters and underground shelters in Moscow meant for the evacuation of people in case of a nuclear attack or other emergencies, “were prepared and will be able to accommodate the entire population of the capital.”
“As a result of the introduction of new approaches to civil defence, an inventory of underground facilities of the city was conducted. The Moscow underground facilities will be able to protect 100% of the population of the city,” the deputy head of EMERCOM, Andrei Mishchenko, told Pravda.
He also added that his department is taking urgent measures to enhance civil defence through such things as updates to the legal framework and modernization of control and alarm systems. “And we are also working to improve the public training system in the field of civil defence,” he said.
The push to revitalize Russian civil defence is actually coming from the top leadership in the country. Speaking after a meeting of Russia’s Security Council chaired by President Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister in charge the defence industry, said the United States was upsetting the nuclear balance by developing new weapons systems. This called for not only improvements in Russia’s strategic nuclear capability, but also other measures so that the population if “ subject to that kind of aggression, could avoid colossal losses. … Civil defence should be recreated,” he said. With this goal in mind, Russian civil defence drills were held in 2016 that reported involved 40 million people across the country.
Russia isn’t the only country that still takes the risk if nuclear attack seriously. Sweden has 65,000 nuclear fallout shelters, which would provide space for up to 7 million people, but that leaves an estimated 3 million inhabitants without protection. According to recent press reports, the Swedish government is now looking into expanding this network of shelters so the entire population can be protected.
And one European country takes the risk of a nuclear war even more seriously: Switzerland may have fewer people than Sweden, but it has built about four times as many nuclear shelters — easily enough for the country’s entire population and then some.
In Sweden and elsewhere, shelters are often located in publicly accessible buildings, such as schools or shopping centers. They can usually also be used as storage sites or garages and are funded with taxpayer money.
In contrast, in Switzerland, all houses above a certain size must include shelters in the basement, putting the financial burden on citizens themselves. That rule was abolished in 2011 by the Swiss parliament, but reintroduced months later after the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan.
The Canadian Story
Civil defence in Canada has never really managed the degree of public support officials once felt it deserved. As detailed in the book Give Me Shelter by historian Andrew Burtch, from 1947 until the 1970s, the federal government’s civil defence efforts to protect citizens from a nuclear attack were, in retrospect, a failure.
“Successive governments pursued and altered CD and drafted plans behind closed doors, but they never provided the public with the tools required to create a meaningful defence,” wrote Burtch. “Civil Defence Canada and its officials meanwhile limped by on a fraction of a percentage of the billions of dollars committed to the military defence of the country during the same period. This support was insufficient to provide the public with concrete evidence of the progress in implementing CD measures for their defence and made it an easy target for criticism and ridicule.”
However, much was actually done in the 1960s. Between 1965 and 1969, the federal Emergency Management Organization and Public Works completed a national survey of existing fallout protection that might be made available to the public. The Fallout Protection Survey of Canada included all categories of buildings and structures having a minimum protection factor of 10 and a minimum floor area of 1000 square feet.
Each building was inspected by a field survey team of engineers and technicians who recorded information such as floor space, floor and roof mass, and surroundings. Altogether some 70,000 structures were surveyed, data was stored in computers and the results printed up in booklets for each locality.
Today, this information is completely out of date, of course, that is even if it could be retrieved and use. Like the US, Canada now has no broad civil defence program in place to deal with an attack on the scale of nuclear war.
As David A. Shlapak. a senior defence researcher at the RAND Corp. noted recently, cities and regions have emergency preparedness plans, but they are scoped for natural disasters like hurricanes or earthquakes, or man-made ones like chemical spills. The US Departments of Defense and Homeland Security have examined the consequences of a terrorist nuclear attack, but these have focused on the ground-level explosion of a crude, improvised bomb. None are adequate to deal with an event like a nuclear attack of the kind and scale now in prospect.
He added, “The first step would be to make planners at the local, state and federal levels aware of what the effects of such an attack would likely be. While there are volumes of accumulated knowledge regarding the effects of nuclear weapons, that knowledge has largely faded from the awareness of officials even within the Department of Defense, let alone the other, largely civilian, decision-makers responsible for urban disaster preparedness. This expertise needs to be made available to the right people, in ways that highlight the key decisions that will need to be made in the immediate aftermath of an attack.”