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Monday, July 15, 2024

A look at the fantastic Finnish bunkers designed to save citizens from air raids

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During a stop at the Malmi Comprehensive School on Talveltie Street in Helsinki, I saw Finland’s magnificent and comprehensive education system on display. Elsewhere, I explored a portion of the country’s vast “magical” forests, savored memorable moments in a sauna (Finland’s iconic traditional steam bath chamber) and soaked in one of the Nordic country’s 188,000 lakes.

After all this in two days, I came to the conclusion that nothing else could surpass my imagination in the remaining days I was going to spend in Helsinki, the capital of this immensely forested country in northern Europe. What remained to be seen in the capital of more than 670,000 inhabitants, I imagined, would be what is usually expected in an advanced democracy and an economy at the forefront of technology.

Carpentry author at Malmi Comprehensive School, Helsinki

As we got off our bus in Merihaka, a residential area in central Helsinki, on Thursday (May 23), my eyes quickly caught a man with an expressionless face and a woman smiling generously at us. They were both resplendently dressed in their dark uniforms, with the man placing his glasses on his forehead.

Entry point from the street.

After two days, Tuesday and Wednesday (May 21 and 22), in Helsinki, I was already beyond the first three citizens.

I asked Mr. Rask if he knew of anything that compared to Finland’s extensive underground bunkers to protect a mass of citizens in other countries.

He sighed and said, “Every country in the world has some form of protection like this for the first two or three citizens to ensure continuity of government. But in Finland we think that our country is our people.”

The bunkers are an example of how the subway has been put to surprising use in a nation that doesn’t like skyscrapers. “It takes less energy to heat a building that extends horizontally than ones that extend vertically upward,” Rask said.

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What Finns miss in the fascinating skyscrapers of New York, for example, they make up for underground.

How to take shelter in bunkers

Inside the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki

The Finnish government hopes to have three days to prepare public and private bunkers to house citizens before major attacks.

It also foresees that people would only have to take shelter for between hours and three days.

There is no free food or hotel treatment during the shelter.

People are advised to go to shelters with the food and medicine they would theoretically need for three days. There may be an extension of the shelter in place beyond three days depending on the nature of the circumstances.

The shelter population is divided into three, and each receives three eight-hour shifts. While one group sleeps, another works and the third has its free time.

Pets, alcohol, smoking and firearms are not permitted in the shelters.

Refuge in times of war, recreational center in times of peace

The beauty of bunkers is that they are not useless in peacetime.

READ ALSO: TRAVEL DIARY: Ode to Serowe, a world-famous town in the oasis of peace in southern Africa

Mr. Rask showed us gyms, mini soccer fields, children’s paradises and tents set up in different shelter spaces by businessmen who rented different parts of the facilities in peacetime. A huge shelter space at the facility currently serves as paid parking.

I also learned that the Finnish subway, built deep in the rock of Finland, was designed to serve as bunkers during times of war.

Inside the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki

Some private bunkers are also used for storage.

These borrowed uses must be relinquished within three days to serve as civil defense shelters in times of war.

Our visit to the Merihaka civil defense shelter on Thursday coincided with a maintenance session being carried out at the facility.

We saw humming machines used to clean ventilation systems. That is why the Finns do not wait to hear the drums of war before carrying out the necessary maintenance on the shelters.

When asked how much he made from rentals, Rask said he wasn’t interested in the money. But he believes the rentals are enough to keep the facility clean and ready for use within 72 hours.

He said everything tenants bring to the facility is light.

Tomi Rask during the tour of the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki

He also showed us a section with carefully arranged chairs where Finnish decision-makers, including legislators, are periodically guided through the civil defense system available in the country.

I come from a country struggling to manage its tarp camps for thousands of internally displaced people in Boko Haram’s war-torn areas of northeastern Nigeria.

A nation that still cannot keep its schoolchildren safe from the kidnappers who regularly abduct them and that cannot keep farmers and the rest of the citizenry safe from terrorists. It has yet to find a solution to the floods that wipe out human lives and fortunes almost every year. So the shelter I saw was wonderful.

It demonstrates the extent to which a government, when functioning efficiently, can help its citizens. It goes beyond the bunkers. It is rather about how Finland learned from its history, cultivated the culture of inventing practical solutions to its peculiar problems, judiciously used its resources, and ultimately made people the main center of governance.

More images:

Author with a Finnish guide about the nation and nature, Ritva Naumanen, in Nuuksio National Park, Finland

Yellow squares for makeshift positions in the bathroom during the shelter Inside the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki A group of journalists, including the author (in a gray cardigan) with officials from the Helsinki Rescue Department, Mr. Tomi Rask and Mrs. Järvenkylä, at the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki Inside the Merihaka Civil Defense Shelter, Helsinki

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