The Rescue Board has started to designate public shelters

Uwe Gnadenteich
, ajakirjanik
Public shelter under Freedom Square.
Public shelter under Freedom Square. Photo: Sander Ilvest
  • There are presently 23 shelters in Tallinn.
  • Mayor of Tallinn is already talking about building shelters.
  • Next step will be developing a public warning system.

The pedestrian tunnel and parking space under the Freedom Square in Tallinn received public shelter designations on June 13. There are 23 such sites in Tallinn and they will all receive the corresponding signs in the near future.

The blue triangle on orange background and the text “shelter” will from now on mark the places where people moving around in the city can hide from sudden threats, be it a tornado, an enemy bomb raid or something else.

The Rescue Board marks places suitable for shelter in other major cities in the similar way. The Board is working closely with local authorities to find them. Only the city or rural municipality governments can find suitable places for shelter, because the Estonian laws do not permit forcing private owners to do so.

“The Rescue Board was tasked by the Ministry of the Interior with determining all possible shelter spaces in Estonia. The government and the Riigikogu have decided to allocate an additional 90 million euros to internal security this year so that the population can live in a safe environment and that Estonia would be protected,” said Minister of Defense Kalle Laanet, acting Minister of the Interior.

According to Kuno Tammearu, Director General of the Rescue Board, the institution plans to designate shelters in four Estonian cities in June – Tallinn, Tartu, Narva and Pärnu – all of which will receive the same markings.

"These places are intended for providing immediate protection to people in public spaces in the event of a sudden danger. These are the first and small steps in the practical work of civil protection, but we have to start somewhere. And these shelters are the first steps towards the possible development of more serious shelters in the future. At the same time, both the Ministry of the Interior and the Rescue Board are also developing danger alerts so that the people can be informed of threats either via SMS or sirens. It will all form an integrated system,” Tammearu said.

Mayor of Tallinn Mihhail Kõlvart said that in order to better protect people, it is necessary to think in advance. “We already had to decide that the Tallinn Hospital should have two underground floors, but again this is only one step. In fact, we should think about an overall strategy. Should we have prepared not only provisional shelters but also bomb-proof ones? I think we should. We can never tell what kind of crisis might come because crises always come unexpectedly. But now we have been taught a lesson and we must learn from it and think about the future,” said Kõlvart.

The doors leading underground at Freedom Square will be closed from 10 p.m. according to the current procedure. A system is being set up so that the owner of the facility would be alerted in case of threats when people might need shelter and an advance agreement determines who and how will open the doors.

“We have to think about the logistics of how people get here, how they have to behave here, etc. – it all needs preparation and there are many such questions. Now we have taken the first step,” Kõlvart said.

Former Soviet-era shelters near the Fat Margaret tower have also been chosen as places to take cover in central Tallinn. One of them used to house a bar called Bunker, but it is now empty. The other was used as a gun shop but now houses a non-profit organization which organizes book club activities and other cultural events.

These are underground structures built specifically as air raid shelters in the Soviet period with one of them having almost completely preserved ventilation system and other fittings of a typical bomb shelter.

The number of shelters in other Tallinn districts differs but the district administration building has been designated as a shelter in all of them with the exception of Tallinn city center.