Bombs away

Ace: I was tooling around on Water Street the other day when I noticed a sign for a fallout shelter on the back of the Bank of America building. What’s up with that? Part of our homeland security strategy?—Ducken Cover

Ducken: Wait, we have a homeland security strategy? Ace thought the government was just engaged in random acts of eavesdropping and pork barreling. Ace had no idea there was a plan. Ace feels more secure now, just knowing that.

   But, seriously, Ducken, Ace too has noticed the fallout shelter signage of which you ask, and last week Ace got his Maxwell Smart on to do a little surveillance. Alas, neither his shoe phone nor his fountain pen camera were needed to get to the bottom of the fallout question. Encountering a sign at the back of Bank of America that warned “Employees Only” and “No Exit,” Ace ignored caution and simply walked right in, past the unused Diebold safe in the basement and the 27 wooden file drawers that spoke of gentler times when clerks filed paper receipts and dowagers stored their jewels in safe- deposit boxes.

   Going further, Ace came to two dusty rooms that don’t seem to have gotten much use lately. Nothing much distinguished this fallout shelter, capacity 168 souls, except for peeling paint and a dusty IBM Selectric typewriter. Oh good, Ace thought, come the radioactive rain, Ace could always type his memoirs to pass the hours.

   Which brings us to…provisions. There was a time, according to Chief Julian Taliaferro, a 43-year veteran of Char-lottesville’s fire-fighting force who retired last summer, when Uncle Sam would stock the fallout shelters in the area with rations and water. But about five years ago, the last time he checked, Tom Hatch, the technology coordinator for the regional Emergency Communications Center, learned that the feds had ceased to stock the shelters. No water, no batteries, no nothing. Not even typing paper.

   All of which probably answers your question, Ducken. Ace certainly hopes that these dusty, empty basements are not part of the homeland security strategy (Ace couldn’t obtain the exact number or location of all the fallout shelters in the city, but Chief Taliaferro suggested there were at least another half-dozen around here). Indeed, Hatch confirmed that while “sheltering a small number of people for a short period of time is a big part of emergency services,” come the big boom we won’t be huddling in fallout shelters.

   Hatch said that local schools are designated as shelters these days, “if we need to move people.”

   Hmm, schools? Ace reckons they’re probably well stocked for emergencies. Paper, pencils, erasers, Tater Tots and frozen milk. Yup, that’s all you need. Now Ace feels really secure.

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