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The yellow and black signs were scattered here and there in The T&D Region. Now they’re relics of the Cold War, marking old fallout shelters where residents could hide in the event of nuclear war.

Those old shelters would not suffice today in the event of nuclear fallout, Orangeburg County Emergency Services Director Billy Staley said.

"None of these shelters are active anymore and none of them are in service," he said.

For instance, Orangeburg's City Hall has sign indicating it can be used as a fallout shelter. The location is now used for storage.

The shelters were built underground during the Cold War to protect people from radioactive fallout that could follow a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

The Cold War is over but concerns still remain. Hawaiians were startled earlier this month when they received alerts about a possible ballistic missile attack. The alerts were sent by mistake.

Staley said he’s aware of a civil fallout shelter in the old Hotel Eutaw, located across from Dairy-O on Russell Street.

The local shelters were developed over 50 years ago. Staley said there have been advances since those early fallout shelters were built.

"The county transitioned into an all hazards-type planning years ago," he said. "That revolves around an approach for sheltering in place” instead of finding shelter at another shelter.

The county has an all-hazards plan for dealing with radiological fallout and does have shelters available at schools in the case of fallout.

"We have no underground shelters in the county," Staley said.

Staley said most of the county's radiological plans concern nuclear power plants.

Orangeburg County Administrator Harold Young said the county's emergency services department has the tools to handle the most likely hazardous incidents such as chemical spills.

"Certain things that we know when it comes to atomic bombs ... the trend of society is not to spend tax dollars in that direction as it was in the past," Young said. "We would have to follow the lead of the federal government and the military in case of an event like that for guidance."

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, nuclear fallout is a mass of bomb material, soil and debris that is vaporized, made radioactive, and sprinkled as dust and ash across the landscape by prevailing winds.

The basic design of a fallout shelter was intended to reduce gamma ray exposure.

Calhoun County Emergency Services Director Bill Minikiewicz said it would be difficult to say whether or not the shelters would protect people from nuclear fallout.

"They are probably not stocked," he said. "This has not been a real threat since the end of the Cold War.”

On the county level, Minikiewicz said there are no plans in place for a nuclear bomb attack.

"We have a plan for nuclear power plant but that is a different level of radiation," he said. "That is a shelter in place thing. A nuclear weapon type of thing is a whole different story."

Minikiewicz said the county does have access to potassium iodine tablets that help block radioactive iodine from being absorbed by the thyroid gland, protecting it from radiation injury.

The county also has radiation detectors which it uses for trucking shipments that come through the county on to the Savannah River Site.

Minikiewicz said the T&D Region will most likely not be the target of any nuclear attacks as rogue states typically seek out larger, urbanized areas.

Bamberg County Emergency Services Director Brittany M. Barnwell said she was not immediately aware of any fallout shelters in the county.

She said the county does not have a direct plan in place in the event of a nuclear bomb attack. She says the county is also considered outside the 10-mile radius from a nuclear site where exposure to radioactivity is considered the most dangerous.

"We are in the 50-mile epz (emergency planning zone) from a nuclear facility," Barnwell said. At that distance, ingestion of radioactive materials is possible.

Barnwell says the county does have radiation detectors, which are handled through the county's fire department.

A nuclear bomb attack, however, would be a much greater concern.

In this case, Barnwell said individuals would need to adhere to emergency response directions, which could include evacuating.

So what should one do locally in the event of a nuclear attack?

According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the best thing is to find a good place to hide — the more dense material between you and the outside world, the better.

The U.S. government recommends hiding in a nearby building, but not all of them provide much shelter from nuclear fallout.

Poor shelters, which include about 20 percent of houses, are constructed of lightweight materials and lack basements. The best shelters are thick brick or concrete and lack windows – like a bomb shelter.

If one is immediately next to or in a solid shelter when the bomb goes off, stay there until the rescuers come to evacuate people to less radioactive areas.

People who are not already in a bomb shelter, but know a good shelter less than five minutes away — maybe a large apartment building with a basement — should go there if time and safety allow.

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Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Check out Zaleski on Twitter at @ZaleskiTD.

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Staff Writer

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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