Did You Know: Maricopa County Emergency Management Facility Was Originally A Fall-Out Shelter

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, May 15, 2015 - 3:30pm
Updated: Monday, May 18, 2015 - 8:44am
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
The main entrance of the Maricopa County Emergency Management Center at the Papago Park Military Reservation on 52nd Street and McDowell Road in east Phoenix.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
The Maricopa County Emergency Management Center decon quarters is located between the walls of the facility and the hill. The doors lead to washrooms.
(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
Among the items still in the building are radiation detectors and sealed cans of emergency water.

Remember the big storms we had last fall? Those are examples of emergency situations where our local government works around the clock to ensure safety.  Well, most often those problems aren’t handled in government office buildings — they're handled underground.

The Maricopa County Department of Emergency Management Center is a command facility located in the Papago Park Military Reservation in east Phoenix. Did you know the Emergency Management facility was built during the Cold War?

“Building was initially put up in 1956 built by the Army Corps of Engineers," Richard Langevin, a tech analyst for the center. “It was originally built as a fall-out shelter for County Board of Supervisors.”

Langevin said the bunker was built so if any major emergency were to happen, county supervisors would come to the facility to command and control the area safely.  The building was constructed about 15 feet underground, nestled between two hills.

As Langevin opens the security door to decend the stairs, a burst of air shoots out.

The bunker is equipped with generators and air filtration system.

“It was set-up for contaminated air, and air burst, any type of fall-out that was going on in here that it wouldn’t actually get into the building. That’s why when you come in the front door you felt the blast of air come out, that’s my positive pressure. That’s how much pressure I got inside the building, pushing air out.”

The concrete roof is a feet thick with two feet of dirt on top of it. The walls and floor are also a foot thick.

It’s a small place. From here county leaders would gather and manage response and recovery efforts.

“And we’re here to take care of the citizens of unincorporated Maricopa County and support the cities if they need equipment or resources.”

The room is filled with desks, computers and telephones and televisions on the walls. This is a modern version of the original room.

“We actually had to go through an upgrade electrical system several times and the lighting in here because there were only two outlets when it was initially built.”

The bunker is also equipped with a decontamination area. Between the facility walls and the hill there’s a path — the decon quarters. It’s like walking in a cave. People would walk through here toward washrooms, remove their clothes, step inside a shower and get decontaminated.

“It was hardcore Cold War, the Russians are going to attack and we need to plan for everything," said Langevin.

Among the items still in the building are radiation detectors and sealed cans of emergency water.

Langevin said some one here tasted it and was told it tasted — like water. 

The same room inside the faciity in 2015 and in the 1950s. (Photo courtesy of Arizona Republic)

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