Estonia's shopping mall parking lots to become public shelters

The Tabasalu Center parking lot to serve as an official public shelter.
The Tabasalu Center parking lot to serve as an official public shelter. Source: Sergei Zjuganov/press release

Even though there are no shelters in Estonia the population is not any less protected, Sten-Patrick Kreek, a shelter adviser at the Estonian Rescue Board (Päästeamet), said. At the same time, there are many public places in Estonia, where people can seek refuge in the event of an emergency.

There are 94 public refuge places in Estonia, mostly in larger cities but also in smaller boroughs like Orissaare and Tabasalu.

However, there are no operational shelters in Estonia.

"Shelters are designed primarily for longer-term use, are located below ground, and are meant to protect people from the shockwave of explosions, whereas public refuge areas protect against flying debris and litter, which are the most common causes of injury," Sten-Patrick Kreek, a shelter adviser at the Rescue Board, said, explaining the difference between shelters and public refuge places.

Even though shelters are stronger structures, they "do not provide protect against direct hits," Kreek said, adding that a lack of shelters does not make people in Estonia less protected.

However, he added, a working group has been formed within the Ministry of the Interior to develop a plan for whether old shelters will be restored or new ones built in Estonia during this administration. "This working group studied the issue of shelters in 2017. Their job now is also to analyze how much they would cost," Kreek said.

Kreeg explained that the existing shelters are few in numbers; during the Soviet era, they were only built for party leaders and employees of nationally significant factories, a total of five percent of the population.

The Rescue Board and local governments have mapped and marked buildings suitable for public refuge places. "We are also looking to the private sector because many shopping malls have underground parking lots that could be used as public refuge places," Kreek says.

However, Kreek continued, such designated refuge areas are for people who are in public places at the time of the threat, whereas those who are at home should remain there. "The moment of danger arrives quickly and so do the arms that could strike. The first piece of advice is to stay at home, either in a windowless room in a stone house or in the basement of a residential building."

He also drew a comparison to Finland, where 80 percent of the population is guaranteed shelter. Unlike Finland, we are not required to construct a shelter or place for refuge within a building. In Finland, any building larger than a certain size is required to include a shelter, both for public buildings and apartment blocks," Kreek said, adding that such a solution is also a discussion topic for Estonia.

The Rescue Board (Päästeamet), in collaboration with the Land Board (Maa-amet), is developing a map application that marks public shelters. This will provide a better overview of where to seek refuge in the event of an emergency.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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