(April 29) -- Before we knew about nuclear weapons in north Korea most Americans had lost their fear of nuclear attack.. But there are still fallout shelters here in the valley -- leftovers from the cold war of the 1960's.
Southern Nevadans know a thing or two about the power of a nuclear explosion. While hundreds watched nuclear testing just miles from the valley, others created ways to protect residents from attacks.
Fallout shelters were the last resort if something was to happen. Many local hotels were even listed as shelters, including the Royal Hotel which still has a fallout sign right out front.
For nearly two decades, Ken Ryckman was Clark County's emergency manager. This fallout shelter in southwest Las Vegas was built in the early 1960's to protect county leaders.
"This shower was put here so you could take a shower in the event that you got radioactive dust on you when you were outside," said Ryckman. While modest in its appearance, this was the best the county could afford and it could hold up to 50 people for two weeks.
Original tables still sit and old maps hang in what would have been the main control center. "Public works, the health people, the police, the fire department would all have representatives here to provide the coordination out in the shelters."
Beds still rest in the room where people would have slept. "There aren't enough beds for all the people who would be here, they would have to sleep in shifts," adds Ryckman. There is even a phone with a hotline. "Kinda dead. It isn't hot anymore," said Ryckman, adding, "You could get the call if a nuclear attack was imminent or in progress from that telephone.
A chalk board still lists all the fallout shelters in the valley, including a number of hotels such as the Las Vegas Hilton, which all by itself could house more than 52,000 people. But even still many valley residents chose to build bomb shelters of their own.
Walter Pinjuv built a 1,200 square foot shelter under his house. It only has one kitchen and one bathroom, but the Civil Defense Department said it could protect up to 100 people. But building the shelter never made Pinjuv feel any safer.
"Damn fools use it, what chance have you got? It gave me a place to put the kids, a place to have parties, a place to have meetings," said Pinjuv.
County Emergency Manager Jim O'Brien says today authorities have a more well-rounded plan designed to handle several scenarios. Now instead of running to shelters, citizens shelter in place.
"Sheltering in place makes sense when it would be more harmful to put people out into a hostile environment," said O'Brien. Nonetheless, Ryckman says the old county fallout shelter is in good shape.
"Yeah it's amazing it's still here. And it could still be used," said Ryckman. And he has faith, if put to the test, it could still save lives. Ryckman says hotels were listed as fallout shelters because most of them have basements or areas deep inside the building that could shield people from most threats outside