Bulgaria reviews its bomb shelters

Bulgaria has reviewed its bomb shelters and plans to have a digital repository of safe locations for the population in case of emergency. As bomb shelters are in the spotlight given the war in Ukraine, authorities claim a timing coincidence as there are no threats on the country.

Bomb shelter in Bulgaria
A bomb shelter in Bulgaria, or how it should look like | Bulgarian Ministry of Interior

Bulgaria has 734 public and private bomb shelters throughout the country, according to the most recent inspection carried out by authorities in an Interior Ministry statement dated March 11.

Many of these facilities are located under schools, kindergartens and public buildings,” Nikolay Nikolov, Director of Fire Safety and Civil Protection Directorate General, said in a discussion with media.

But only 40% (292) are in working conditions. To be considered adequate, a shelter needs to have a working ventilation system, drinking water supply and separate medical and sanitary facilities.

Between 200,000 and 400,000 people could fit in the 292 sites, 3% to 6% of the 6.5 million people of Bulgaria. In Sofia, the subway could offer protection to another 900,000 people on top of the 500 shelters the capital city has.

Bomb shelters have not really been taken care of and many are abandoned or completely unusable. However, they can be of use sometimes, but not for their original purpose. According to the Telegraph Bulgaria, a bomb shelter in Ruse, a northern city at the border of Romania with approximately 150,000 people, was used as a cannabis factory between March and June 2021 until police dismantled it. Another one used to be a nightspot in the 1990s in the small city of Veliko Tarnovo.

Clean the access to shelters

An inspection of underground facilities carried out in 2018 showed the shelters were already in poor condition. But with the war in Ukraine, they came back into the spotlight. Some bomb shelters also offer protection from radioactivity; the Bulgarian border is 700 km (435 mi) from Zaporizhzhia and Europe’s largest nuclear plant momentarily on fire last week.

Authorities announced in early March that an online repository of bomb shelters would be soon available and updated every other week so that people can find the safest spot in case of danger. Bulgaria civil protection also published a first list on March 10.

But it rejects any links with the recent invasion of Ukraine. Nikolov told the media that bomb shelters are inspected twice a year and that timing of this year’s inspections was a coincidence with the situation in Ukraine.

A new mobile app for signaling hazardous situations like floods or car accidents would also be developed.

Nikolov said there was no threat or danger in the country.

Regarding the bomb shelters, the idea has never been to hide 8 million people in such places on the long term, the chief commissioner said. The priority is to offer temporary shelter to people in danger, after which they would be brought to safer places. “The first move is evacuation, and the second is to protect citizens who remain to protect the city and keep it alive.”

And he pointed out the biggest challenge would be food supply rather than how to hide people.

Moreover, temporary shelters should also exist in every residential building built after the 1960s.

Nevertheless, Nikolov took the opportunity to urge people to clean and secure the ground floor and basement access of those buildings in case it needs to be used for shelter.

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