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Ferro: A sign of the times at Noorda Engineering

By David Ferro - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Sep 28, 2022

Photo supplied, Wikimedia/Geraldshields11

Robert Blakeley died on Oct. 25, 2017, in a senior living community in Florida. Born in Ogden, Blakeley designed the yellow and black fallout shelter sign.

On Oct. 7, Weber State University will host a ribbon-cutting for its new Noorda Engineering, Applied Science & Technology Building on the Ogden campus. To make room for the Noorda project, nothing remains of the original Technical Education building built on that same site in 1957, including an interesting artifact of that era: a fallout shelter marked by a ubiquitous sign designed by the college’s own Robert Blakeley. The new building and the old sign remind us of the importance of technological progress made possible by the college’s graduates for the purpose of vigilance.

What exactly did the shelter look like under the old building? I saw the southern end a few years ago during an escorted tour and I could see only columns embedded into a rock shelf holding up the building. Also, interestingly, the original blueprint shows no underground location at all. According to a 1968 Standard-Examiner article, the shelters at Weber had food, water, medicine and radiological equipment.

A colleague, who shall remain nameless — for they note their “spelunking” trip wasn’t official — indicated that 30-plus years ago there were large drums for water, now empty, and no food, Geiger counters, radios, board games or weapons, but there were many boxes of women’s sanitary napkins. Why so many sanitary napkins? Well, they have great liquid absorption properties and, among other things, could serve in treating wounds.

Fallout shelters are not the same as bomb shelters. Their use is intended to prevent or lessen the effects of radioactive material as it falls to the ground after a nuclear explosion, principally the kicked-up irradiated soil that has absorbed alpha and beta particles. In addition, it is meant to protect against the explosion’s gamma rays by utilizing certain thicknesses of lead, concrete or earth. Obviously, you need to be in the shelter already to protect against those rays, and survivors should stay in the shelter until the dust has settled.

A nuclear explosion would likely be an air burst designed to create the most damage and thus not create as much radioactive dust as if the bomb had gone off at ground level. Of course, anyone in the blast range has little hope for survival. Survival is possible outside that range but avoiding and managing contaminated material would prove difficult and an all-out nuclear war would offer few uncontaminated locations.

Photo supplied

David Ferro

Many countries have created shelter guidelines. In 1961, the United States chose to use existing buildings to shelter the population. To mark these locations, Robert W. Blakeley, United States Army Corps of Engineers director of administrative logistics support, created a shelter sign with three yellow triangles in a black circle on a yellow background.

Born in Ogden in 1922, Blakeley studied at WSU before joining the Marines during World War II. The Tech Ed shelter might have been one of the first 60 in Weber County created in 1963. So, Blakeley made the signs that were affixed to the building that then housed his college. The U.S. government produced over 1.4 million of those signs.

While the signs became iconic, Blakeley considered it just another job and got on with the business of the Army Corps of Engineers. Likewise, while excited to celebrate the opening of the building during next week’s ribbon-cutting with games, food and speeches, the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology is already getting on with the business of education.

Students arrived in the building four weeks ago on the first day of class. High school students from Northern Utah Academy of Math, Engineering & Science, better known as NUAMES, who co-occupy the building, had arrived the week before. Students found their classes and professors switched rooms or made do with unconnected technology as the building continued through the inevitable shakedown cruise period and construction managers dealt with delayed materials and labor shortages as they finished the work.

These students represent the future workforce of Northern Utah. Each engineering job creates many ancillary supporting jobs. The work at Hill Air Force Base and associated aerospace companies focused on defense have thousands of jobs that need filling and many more still predicted. For example, the Sentinel project, which replaces the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile, led by Northrop Grumman, needs more engineers and computer scientists than Utah currently produces each year.

While most of the fallout shelter signs and supplied shelters have disappeared, the need to prove our readiness to defend the nation has not. It’s through that demonstrated readiness, built by the next generation of engineers and scientists taught at Weber State, that, hopefully, we never create the catastrophic results of using those defensive weapons.

Dr. David Ferro is dean of the College of Engineering, Applied Science & Technology at Weber State University. Twitter: DavidFerro9

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