Civil protection in Finland: bunker – even under the swimming pool

Status: 04.05.2022 1:35 p.m.

Finnish civil protection is considered exemplary. There are secret camps all over the country where people could be treated in an emergency. There are also many bunkers – even under the pools.

By Sofie Donges, ARD-Studio Stockholm

A swimming pool in Helsinki: children splash around in the water, adults swim with ambition. The bathroom is underground, there are no windows, the walls are stone. It’s noisy in the lobby.

Sofie Donges

“We can empty the pool in a day or two, then 4,000 people can sleep in the pool,” says Oleg Jauhonen, the manager of the pool – which also serves as a bunker.

Pool manager Oleg Jauhonen says: The pool can be transformed in four days.

Photo: ARD-Studio Stockholm

Thick doors against pressure and gases

Beneath the pool, one floor below, there are two thick doors: the first protects against bomb blast waves, the second against a gas attack – and behind it is a branching tunnel system. “It’s a clever building concept: we need a swimming pool anyway. So why not build one here and use it as a bunker as well?”

There are lots of places that are both sports fields and bunkers, says Jauhonen. Here are beds, a gigantic ventilation system and toilet buckets. In Helsinki alone there is room in bunkers and shelters for 650,000 people – that is, for everyone who lives here.

Jari Markkanen works for civil protection in the Finnish capital. It tells about the first shelters built in Finland at the end of the Second World War. “During the Cold War, we then built more shelters because we were afraid of being exposed to radiation and strong vibrations,” he explains. “It was built again and again – until today.”

Conscription never abolished

Finland has continuously invested in its own defence. Unlike Sweden, conscription was never abolished here. And although Finland has half the population of Sweden, the country has four times the military strength of its neighbour.

Sweden, on the other hand, has cut its own military spending over the decades and only invested one percent of its gross domestic product a few years ago. Now they want to double that value, the government announced after the attack on Ukraine.

Pulling corridors in times of peace, installing beds in times of war: the Helsinki swimming pool can be used several times.

Photo: ARD-Studio Stockholm

Robert Dalsjö, a scientist at the Swedish Defense Agency, explains these differences between the two countries not only by the fact that Finland has a 1300 kilometer border with Russia:

Sweden has an idyllic history. We have not fought any wars for the past 200 years. Finland, on the other hand, is a young country and has experienced four wars for its independence. Finns have a different awareness that something can be dangerous and you have to act quickly.

Majority for NATO membership

These different speeds are also reflected in the debate about possible NATO membership: in Finland, more people are convinced that joining the defense alliance is the right thing to do.

In Sweden, too, there is now a slight majority in the population for this. And the formation of political opinions seems to go faster in Finland than in Sweden. The country could decide as early as next week. At least President Sauli Niinistö wants to make a statement on May 12 and then – according to Finnish media – things could go very quickly.

Nation “Prepper” Finland

Sofie Donges, ARD Stockholm, 3.5.2022 21:09

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