FELIKS BANEL

All Over The Map: Was Cold War scarier than COVID-19?

Mar 13, 2020, 11:24 AM | Updated: Mar 18, 2020, 10:24 am

As the Puget Sound area faces the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, these can feel like scary times. But it might have been even scarier back in 1955, when the Seattle and King County Civil Defense Departments published maps of evacuation routes for residents to use in the event of a nuclear attack.

The maps are packaged in a handsome little brochure called “EVACUATE: Don’t Sit Under the Mushroom.” Cover art shows a woman holding a baby and a man wearing what appears to be a sombrero. They are, in fact, sitting at the base of what appears to be a giant mushroom cloud.

Perhaps this pandemic edition of “All Over The Map” should be temporarily renamed “Things Could Be Much Worse.”

And maybe things were much worse, because in the 1950s, the United States and NATO were pitted against the Soviet Union. The world – and the region — was gripped by the Cold War, and it seemed like nuclear destruction was a foregone conclusion.

There were anti-aircraft Nike missile bases on hilltops around the region, including at what’s now Cougar Mountain Park on the Eastside, as well near Bothell, in Redmond, and on Vashon Island.

A giant “community fallout shelter” was even constructed as part of an I-5 overpass near Green Lake. And, because there were military bases and defense contractors here such as Boeing, the Puget Sound area was publicly identified as a target of the Soviets as early as 1954.

“EVACUATE” was published and distributed for free by Seattle and King County as a way to help the public prepare for a crisis, not unlike what’s going on right now online and over the airwaves regarding the pandemic. But, instead of washing your hands for 20 seconds, this was all about getting at least 13 miles away from downtown Seattle in less than two hours in the event a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb was dropped on the city.

What the map shows are routes for one-way traffic from populated areas of Seattle and King County to less-populated and rural areas of south Snohomish and east King County, including Everett, Monroe, Stillwater (near Carnation), and Fall City.

The official name for these destinations was “Reception Areas,” and plans called for “Reception Centers” to be built to house facilities and supplies so that people could live there for weeks after a nuclear attack, to wait for radiation levels to subside.

It’s unclear if any Reception Centers were ever built. However, if recent events are any indication, each center would have required a lot of toilet paper.

The only way these evacuation routes would work was if the Canadian and U.S. military detected Soviet bombers coming in from the north (this was a few years before NORAD – the North American Aerospace Defense Command – was created).

If a Soviet attack came circa 1955, local Civil Defense authorities figured we might have an hour or two before the bombs would fall. Word would be quickly sent to those local authorities at Seattle’s Civil Defense control center in the old Public Safety Building downtown and at King County’s control center in the old Nellie Goodhue School near Shoreline.

A three-minute long warning blast would then sound through a network of sirens alerting everyone that it was time to get moving.

For those residents in north end, south end, and on the Eastside, there were specific numbered routes to follow to drive to specific Reception Areas. In Seattle, Madison Street was the dividing line that determined whether you were to head north or south to get out of the city following similarly numbered routs.

Apparently, the numbered routes were marked with distinctive signage – similar to the tsunami warning signs nowadays seen in coastal areas.

What to do with school children if the attack came on a weekday was the toughest problem to solve, because authorities in Seattle had to convince parents who, say, worked on the south side of Madison Street to go to a different “Reception Area” than where their kids were headed (if their kids’ school was north of Madison, or vice versa).

Seattle’s Broadview neighborhood held a big drill in late May or early June of 1955 to test the evacuation routes shown on the map, but it’s unclear what the results were. Another drill held in 1957 included a Chinook helicopter dropping leaflets over Lake City to simulate nuclear fallout.

There was some controversy in December 1955 when a state official estimated it would actually take not two hours, but as many as six hours to evacuate everyone from Seattle. D.E Barbey, Washington State Director of Civil Defense, was the same official who had earlier pointed out that the city and county Civil Defense control centers were located within the 13-mile nuclear blast zone.

Seattle and King County got the message about control center locations; King County moved theirs to Kent, and Seattle’s was moved to an old fire station in Lake City. Post-nuclear war contingency plans were also made to create temporary headquarters for King County government in Enumclaw, and a temporary Seattle mayor’s office and city council chambers at Cedar Falls in the Snoqualmie foothills.

By the early 1960s, the difference between two hours and six hours to evacuate didn’t matter anymore. More powerful nuclear bombs meant far bigger blast zones, and faster intercontinental ballistic missiles meant far less, if any, warning time.

Special thanks to Benjamin Helle of the Washington State Archives for sharing this map with KIRO Radio.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

Feliks Banel

Fred McFalls (right) and Ben Bryson are considered the heart of the bluegrass community that once t...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Bluegrass festival in Toledo echoes with Northwest history

In Toledo, Washington, it’s time once again for the Mount Saint Helens Bluegrass Festival. Toledo is in Lewis County on the way to Washington’s most famous volcano. The town is named for an old steamboat that once plied the Cowlitz River, and it’s near where the “Cowlitz Convention” was held 1851 – when settlers north […]
1 day ago
nettie asberry...
Feliks Banel

Restoring the home – and the legacy – of Nettie Asberry

A longtime figure in the civic and cultural history of Tacoma – and, really, the entire state – is finally getting the recognition she deserves.
3 days ago
Mount Baker is visible from Baker Lake Road, not far from Koma Kulshan Guard Station, on the way to...
Feliks Banel

Destination HISTORY: Centuries of stories along Baker Lake Trail

The Upper Baker Dam, located in Whatcom County and within the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is from that earlier era.
5 days ago
Fred Beckey's three-volume "Cascade Alpine Guide" is a Northwest climber's bible. (Via Ebay)...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: ‘Old and bold’ climber and author Fred Beckey

Fred Beckey passed away five years ago at age 94 and he was climbing right to the end. He was much celebrated while he was alive
8 days ago
Vicky Cayetano, known at the time as Vicky Tiu, starred alongside Elvis Presley in a movie filmed a...
Feliks Banel

Elvis Presley’s Seattle movie co-star running for governor of Hawaii

In other election news not related to Washington’s August 2 primary, in the summer of 1962, the World’s Fair was underway at what’s now Seattle Center.
10 days ago
Marines burning an "enemy" shed at what's now Magnuson Park on August 3, 1952 as part of a dramatic...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Submarine, fighter planes and Marines attacked what’s now Magnuson Park

It was 70 years ago this week when a sleepy neighborhood along Lake Washington in Seattle became ground zero for a show-stopping Cold War military exercise.
15 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.
...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
All Over The Map: Was Cold War scarier than COVID-19?