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NYC Plans to Remove Old, Misleading Fallout Shelter Signs


Signs that were posted during the Cold War are still up in places around New York City. These signs are old and no longer reflect the city's emergency plan. For the safety and well-being of a community it is necessary to have correct and effective wayfinding.


A corroding metal traffic bollard and graffiti scribbles mark the entrance to Auster Rubber Co. While the old brick entrance may seem abandoned and neglected, inside is a bustling company that regularly operates from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Various worn signage hangs to remind vehicles to not block warehouse doors and to instruct visitors to ring a bell for service. However, another almost historic message from the 1960s still calls out from the Brooklyn business that should have been taken down about 30 years ago: a nuclear fallout shelter sign. This rusted and peeling orange and black safety communication tool was used during the Cold War era to mark the building as a place for residents to gather during an emergency event. City officials are in talks to remove the misleading signage because, though the threat of nuclear warfare has not gone away, the fallout shelters have.

"I love seeing the signs, but, as a disaster planner, they have to come down," the deputy director of Columbia University's National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, Jeff Schlegelmilch, told Reuters. "At best, they are ignored, at worst, they're misleading and are going to cost people's lives."

Importance of Sign Change

Somehow, the responsibility of who should remove these signs and why they are still posted around the city-most of them outside schools-have become an entangled policy mess. For facilities, it generally is a safety manager's responsibility to remove or replace old signs. The job can sometimes get overlooked with the "I'll do it later" type mentality. Should chemical bombs explode in New York City, residents and workers in the area might look to Auster Rubber for some sort of protection or shelter. There are even a few schools in New York City that still have old, tarnished fallout shelter signs above their entrance. These facilities may not know that maintenance of the city's shelter system ended decades ago, according to Reuters.

Older signs can distract from current safety messagesEarlier this month, Hawaii's emergency plan was tested with a missile warning mistakenly sent out to the public. Hawaiian officials said they do not have fallout shelter signs, nor shelters themselves because the state's population has boomed since the 1980s and there are not enough shelters for public gathering. (In an actual nuclear attack, residents are advised to go inside a cement or underground shelter and remain there at least 14 days or until given an all clear).

The dangers in procrastination with the removal of these old fallout signs show the importance of keeping visual communication current, bold, and clear. Old signs can blur current and important information, which can cloud attention to safety. In modern times, it only takes a few internet clicks to replace worn or old signs with new, clear messages of safety. Safety managers can also use industrial-grade tools and resources to create the signs and labels they need on the spot without delay.

Clean Up Old Sign Clutter

For the safety and well-being of a community, it is necessary to have effective wayfinding. Signs and other markers for clear and current messages are an important investment for businesses, governments, and facilities. Proper planning and careful selection of signage products is money well spent. Duralabel' free Guide to OSHA Safety Signs covers best practices for labeling in accordance with OSHA requirements and standards. The guide breaks down relevant requirements, provides an outline for how (and where) to post signs, and offers resources for getting started. Duralabel' DuraLabel line of printers and supplies provide a flexible solution for most asset labeling and facility maintenance program needs.