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PHOTOS: The nuclear engineer who built last week's fallout shelter

by John Rabe | Off-Ramp

Deb Kaufman sits on the lid of the fallout shelter her dad, nuclear engineer Alvin B. Kaufman, built in their back yard in Woodland Hills. John Rabe

Last week on Off-Ramp, we told you about a "pristine" 1960's backyard fallout shelter in Woodland Hills. Turns out, it wasn't quite as pristine as we advertised. Yes, it was full of many of the items its builder stocked it with, from tranquilizers to toilet paper to army blankets.

But last week, I got this email:

That house in Woodland Hills was my childhood home. I grew up in that house and my father built the bomb shelter. We used to have Bomb drills when I was a kid. I just sold my childhood home to the Otcasek's about six months ago. If you want the real story on that bomb shelter, I'm the one who's got it.

How could I resist?!

I met Debra Kaufman at the house Wednesday and interviewed her in the dining room. She brought a bag of stuff she understandably cleared out of the shelter, which I photographed. But more importantly, she brought the story of the man who built the shelter, her father Alvin B. Kaufman.

Kaufman (1917-2004), was a man of many parts. Debra describes her dad as an autodidact who held his own as a nuclear engineer with men with far more formal training. One of his areas of expertise as a nuclear engineer for Litton Industries was to determine the effect of a nuclear blast on equipment. Of course this means he well knew its effect on humans, so it's no wonder he built a shelter in the backyard of his home.

But in an interesting twist on what we had previously speculated about the shelter and its potential effect on the neighborhood in case of nuclear war, it turns out Alvin proposed to his neighbors in the cul-de-sac that they build a shelter big enough for the whole neighborhood. Deb says he was rejected, so he made one for the family.

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