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Posted: Monday, July 10, 2006 10:00 pm

With the possibility of nuclear threats to the United States from North Korea and even Iran, it starting to almost feel more like 1956 than 2006.

As an elementary school student in 1959, Steve Mann recalls filing into the school's bomb shelter for drills.

"I remember as a kid going to Washington School, and we would do bomb shelter drills," said Mann, the information systems manager for the city of Lodi and an author of books on local history. "And they were kind of worthless, 'cause they just herded us into the cafeteria."

Even during the Cold War, few bomb shelters, if any, existed in Lodi.

"Lodi didn't go too deep into it, I don't think," said local historian Ralph Lea, although the city once designated the basement of the old Public Safety building, now Fire Station No. 1, as a bomb shelter.

But currently, no bomb shelters exist in Lodi. If the worst happens, county emergency officials won't direct the public to one particular place for safety. Instead, several large locations like the Grape Festival grounds will be designated for people to gather at, and organizations such as the Red Cross will usher in the necessities.

"It's hard to pre-decide where the problem would be, so rather than have many, many shelters all over the place it's better to have the equipment ready to go," said Michael Cockrell, the assistant coordinator for emergency services for the San Joaquin County. He said organizing a disaster response in such a fashion also cuts costs.

Still, in the event of a nuclear attack, some locals may not want to venture farther than their backyard. Private shelters are no longer restricted to '50s bomb shelters filled with SPAM and Saltine crackers. Locals who'd rather rely on a private shelter can order one from Radius Engineering International, a 29-year-old company in Texas.

The fiberglass shelters are installed 18 feet underground, and they're not exactly the dark, dank shelters of yesteryear. A 12-volt light keeps it bright, an air-blower keeps air circulating, and each shelter is equipped with a shower, toilet, a sleeping area and storage space. Families can live in the shelter for up to 30 days, well protected from a nuclear attack.

Walton McCarthy, the company's president, said that business has doubled every year since 9/11. But it isn't cheap - the most popular unit, an underground shelter about the size of a single-car garage, costs $91,000.

Lodi contractors say digging the requisite 18-foot hole would cost about $3,000, although they haven't had any requests for that yet.

"Sure, I'd come over and do it. It's legal so I wouldn't worry about it," said Barry Thall, the owner of Lodi Backhoe and Dump Truck Service. "And then I'd know who to go to for a bomb shelter."

Contact reporter Melissa Dahl at intern@lodinews.com.

Bombshelters.com at a glance

Radius Engineering International is based in Texas, but it will deliver and install shelters anywhere in the United States. Its most popular unit, the P10 Underground Shelter houses 10 adults for 30 days, and costs $91,000.
To install, customers must hire a contractor to dig a 24 by 12 feet hole, with a depth of 18 feet. The company then installs the shelter.
For more information, or to order an underground shelter, visit http://www.bombshelters.com.

First published: Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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