Setting up bomb shelters in Latvia still at discussion level

Next week, January 9, the government plans to discuss further action on bomb shelters, including agreeing on basic principles – what and how much they are needed, Latvian Radio reported January 2.

For example, Riga has 355 special buildings – bomb shelters, as well as there are shelters in some already existing buildings, said Gints Reinsons, head of Riga Municipal Civil Protection and Operational Information Administration. They were built both during Latvia's first free state and during the Soviet years. Of these, several have been eliminated and several more have to be followed up.

Then there's a separate list of shelter-adjustable rooms. Reinsons said 38 underground car parks and 16 tunnels had been identified.

When asked how many people could get shelter in Rīga, Reinsons said that taking into account calculations made in 2008, which were still based on the Soviet time methodology, 90 thousand residents could take refuge in Rīga. According to 2019 census there are over 630,000 residents in the capital.

Currently, the goal is to ensure shelters for 50% of the population of Latvia. Reinsons said it should be a goal to ensure shelters for all, albeit in a 50-year perspective.

“Of the 355 sites [in Rīga], only 18 belong to the municipality, clearly we as a municipality will not be able to offer shelter to the whole population. The co-responsibility of each citizen is to strengthen the state – it would be better if each owner takes care of his or her protective structure,” Reinsons said.

Deputy Chief of the State Fire and Rescue Service (VUGD) Ivars Nakurts explained that two types of shelters need to be distinguished: one is specially built so that if a building collapses, nothing happens to people, and the other way is to adapt existing basements so residents can hide and protect themselves from shootings, but there is no guarantee that the building won't collapse.

The government will have to decide exactly what Latvia's needs will be, then criteria will be laid down so that shelters can be adapted and registered accordingly, as well as maintained. “It depends on how much to invest and what the accents should be put on - in ventilation, protective doors, sanitary conditions, and the like,” Nakurts noted.

The next step is the assessment of buildings (Rīga has done this in part), in which homeowners, house managers, building authority, VUGD, State Construction Control Bureau, and construction specialists must participate.

“We have about 18-19 thousand buildings that are public buildings, state, municipal buildings [...] It could take a year and a half to get through these buildings,” conceded Nakurts.

Speaking about funding to create shelters, State Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Igors Rajevs acknowledged that there is no 100% clarity of who will fund them.

Experts interviewed agreed that there should be state and local government support measures for the establishment of shelters. For example, property tax credits for homeowners who install them, or permission to build “higher and more” if a shelter is installed in the building. Subsidies similar to those available for solar panels could also help, or a long-term support programme should be established.

“Most important – change of mind, we need to invest and adapt to contemporary requirements,” the deputy chief of VUGD summarized, adding that the Soviet way of thinking that a communal administration will do everything instead of homeowners must be dropped.

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