Relics of the Cold War

Stefanie Buhrman

At the height of a tumultuous period in the Cold War, the possibility of a nuclear attack occupied minds of America. For the safety of Iowa State, a survival plan committee developed a shelter plan for campus.

“Because of the tension between Russia and the U.S., people feared a [nuclear] attack,” said Warren Madden, vice president for business and finance. “A plan was coordinated by the civil defense people, who came from Des Moines. Today, that is probably Homeland Security.”

Madden was on campus during the Cold War and although only a small threat of an attack fell over central Iowa, it was prudent for everyone to have a plan for safety and survival.

“There was a period of time when the federal government designated public buildings as civil defense shelters,” Madden said. “[The government] picked buildings on the Iowa State campus because they were well constructed.”

Designated fallout shelters existed across the entire campus. Designers of the plan, finished in 1963, named six larger shelters: Friley Hall, Linden Hall, the ISU Dairy Farm Classroom Building, Parks Library, Curtiss Hall and sections of the Memorial Union.

“These buildings were full of rations and supplies,” Madden said. “There were barrels of drinking water and dried food products [C-Rations].”

Other locations on campus included Helser Hall, East Hall, Marston Hall, Beardshear Hall and Science I and II. The Veterinary Medicine and Agronomy buildings were also included. With all these buildings on campus, it was predicted that campus shelters could house up to 11,000 students, staff members and other civilians.

“In case of an attack, [it was planned that] people from Des Moines and other parts of central Iowa would come to Ames for shelter,” Madden said.

With people coming from different areas of the state of Iowa to the campus for protection, the plan needed precision, practice and perfection from every angle.

“There was never a whole campus drill for practice,” Madden said. “However, certain administrators went through training.”

Since no nuclear attack occurred, the need for so many shelters dwindled down.

“At the end of the Cold War, the federal government stopped aiding the shelters and eventually supplies were removed and sent to other countries since we never had to utilize the shelters,” Madden said.

As time passed and the Cold War came to an end, the shelters became less of an everyday concern. Slowly, the prevalence of the shelters disappeared.

“I know we have [the shelters],” said Austin Brown, freshman in pre-business. “They’re not really shelters, so much as designated areas in buildings with stickers that say ‘Fallout Shelter.'”

Even with more countries experimenting with nuclear weapons today, Brown felt unsure about the future of these shelters.

“I don’t think we will ever need to use them again,” Brown said. “I don’t find Iowa to be a primary target to an attack that would necessitate or require utilization of a shelter.”

Even with the absence of supplies, support and need, the designated shelters did not disappear. These shelters still serve purpose, without the fear of nuclear attacks.

“Today, they function as tornado shelters, but many of the buildings still have the symbols outside their doors,” Madden said.

What type of food was in a C-Ration? Here is a sample of one meal out of three found in the rations stored in fallout shelters.

Meat choices (in small cans):

  • Beef steak
  • Ham and eggs, chopped
  • Ham slices
  • Turkey loaf
  • Fruit:
    • Applesauce
    • Fruit cocktail
    • Peaches
    • Pears
  • Crackers (7)
  • Peanut butter
  • Candy disc, chocolate
    • Solid chocolate
    • Cream
    • Coconut

– Information courtesy of