Presence of Prague shelters reassuring, though fingers crossed we never need them

The shelter in Prague's metro, photo: CTK

There was an interesting piece in Mlada fronta the other day about the number of people who could be housed in shelters here in Prague in the event, heaven forbid, of some terrorist attack or other disaster. The city's shelters have room for an impressive (or at least to my mind impressive) 500,000 of a population of almost 1.2 million.

The shelter in Prague's metro, photo: CTK
You can see what can become metal doors at the entrances to some of Prague's metro stations, such as Mustek, and the metro is where most would find shelter in the case of a catastrophe. It is rather hard to conceive, but the metro system could hold a whopping 325 thousand of the city's citizens.

The thousands who use Strahov road tunnel every day might be surprised to learn that it too could be used to provide temporary sanctuary, for 15 thousand people.

However, most of the shelters in the city are far, far smaller. They are in the basements of schools, public buildings and factories and underground garages, and there are lots of of them - 800 in total.

Where you live in the Czech capital could have a bearing if you ever need to go underground in a hurry, with some districts having far greater capacity than others. Prague 10ers can rest easiest - its shelters have a capacity of 30,000. The outlying Prague 22, by contrast, has none at all.

The most luxurious bunker is said to be under Prague Castle. Communist president Klement Gottwald had it built at the start of the 1950s to ensure he survived any nuclear war. (But given how he died Soudruh Gottwald might have been better off taking more precautions to survive Stalin's funeral.)

New shelters are not being built today, Prague deputy mayor Rudolf Blazek told Mlada fronta. The emphasis is very much on maintaining the existing network, with around 10 million crowns spent on just that every year.

Perhaps surprisingly, some of the city's bunkers are rented out and used as storage space. Lease agreements stipulate that tenants have to clear them out within 24 hours if the authorities order them to.

Prague City Hall is working on an improved system of communication between the city's shelters, with a new computer system to be connected to a crisis centre. It is the duty of district town halls to inform the public if they need to take shelter in a hurry. To do that they could use Prague's 413 alarm sirens which, like the underground communication system, have their own source of power.

It is rather reassuring to know that the city is looking after all of this, and that there are so many bunkers around. But knowing they are there is more than enough for me - I sincerely hope I never need to see the inside of one.