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NYS Civil Defense Communications Center Bunker: Overview

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The Oneonta Civil Defense Communication Center, completed in 1968, could have served as an emergency New York State capitol in case of military or natural disaster.  According to the Oneonta Star, July 31, 1967, it was to have a regular staff of 12 and an emergency stand-by staff of up to 100 persons. The completely self-sustaining bunker, built to withstand fallout from an atomic attack, included an emergency power supply, an independent water supply, medical supplies, and food to sustain the occupants. Vacant for many years, the structure currently serves as a storage facility for SUNY-Oneonta. Special thanks to Library Director Chuck O'Bryan and Phil Bidwell from SUNY-Oneonta facilities for their support on this project.

The story of the bunker may have another chapter.  "SUNY Start-up New York" lists the bunker as a potential site.

Nancy Cannon, Milne Library, SUNY-Oneonta

Emergency Operations Centers

This 1967 film outlines the functions of the Emergency Operations Centers.

Oneonta Civil Defense Communications Center

This article by Oneonta City Historian Mark Simonson originally appeared in the Daily Star, February 24, 2003.  Reprinted with permission.

Area on Top of Civil Defense

Buy duct tape, plastic sheeting and be prepared to seal up your windows in a "safe room" just in case. Plus, stock up on bottled water and non-perishable food items. Gently explain the terrorist situation to the children.

The Department of Homeland Security recently issued these bits of advice after the elevation from "code yellow" to "orange," the high alert for a terrorist attack. As scary as this might seem, our region is no stranger to such alerts. During the 1950s and through the '80s, we were subject to a "Red Scare;" that of the elevating Cold War with the Soviet Union. If there was ever the "unthinkable" event of nuclear war, Oneonta was planned as a place of safety for "essential" officials of New York state, on the grounds of the former Homer Folks Hospital; today's Job Corps.

In 1967, an underground civil defense center was built for $425,000 with the intention of protecting the lives and safety of more than a million people during a nuclear attack. But the center held only 100, and it was for civil defense officials, as well as those in high ranks in the state government. It went into use in June 1968. State University College at Oneonta students nicknamed the center "Rocky's Hideaway," after then-Gov. Nelson Rockefeller.

One entered the complex through a long tunnel that lead to a few rooms. There was a main operations room, where a staff could coordinate rescue operations, food distribution and other vital services. A radiological defense center had equipment to compute technical data regarding the effects of any nuclear attack in a 10-county region generally covering the Albany to Binghamton corridor. A communications center had sophisticated radio and telephone equipment, to maintain communications with all the counties.

While the center opened in 1968, it was closed in 1971 because of budget cuts, and would only be used in case of emergencies. It was re-opened in 1973 for several more years. Today, it is storage space for SUCO. The site never got any serious use as a disaster preparedness center, because the "unthinkable" never happened. Once the Cold War ended in the late 1980s, the state had nearly 9,200 square feet of underground space to use.

Disaster preparedness in the earlier years, much like we face these days, was more than advising the purchase of duct tape, plastic sheeting, and stocking up on food and water supplies. In February 1960, Gov. Rockefeller released a controversial plan to require all property owners in the state to build fallout shelters. The late Oneonta Star editor Frank Perretta asked several people in the area about such a plan, and got an earful about Rockefeller's idea. One citizen responded "why worry about it if it does come? Even if I spend two weeks in the shelter when I come out all the food and supplies will be contaminated anyway." Since homeowners were required to construct these shelters at their own expense, the plan didn't get very far.

However, a few did build shelters. In 1962, an Oneonta Star reporter toured a fallout shelter in a home near Walnut and Dietz Streets, built in a basement for $1,200. The homeowner built it for 6 people in his family. The resident hoped it would never be used, saying "if I don't have to use it...I can always use it for an office, study, or just a cool place to relax in the summer."

Young people were adequately informed about the possibility of a nuclear attack. The Oneonta schools conducted air raid drills as early as January 1951. Communities such as Sidney, Binghamton, and Utica/Rome conducted mock nuclear bomb attacks in 1956 and '57, and treated them as the real thing. These three sites were likely prime targets for attack, since they were area centers for the defense industry. In July 1957, Otsego County cared for the 44,000 mock victims of the attack on the Utica/Rome area, most of whom were transported to Cooperstown by bus for radiation treatments. For Binghamton, more than 1,450 were evacuated to nearby Deposit.

In each community, it was only a 15 minute drill, but civil defense officials took it all very seriously. So did area residents, as during those 15 minutes, they rushed to take cover. Commercial radio and TV went off the air, replaced by something called Conelrad, where residents were asked to tune in for civil defense communications.