The Options of Sheltering for the Civilian Population from the Dangers Occurring During Combat*
The threat of military attack against Estonia is currently low but we must nevertheless not discard the possibility that Russia might decide to attack the Baltic region. The civilian population still often bears the brunt of military conflicts, falling victim to attacks either directly or indirectly, and suffering the consequences of the damage to the infrastructure.
The article gives a brief overview of the development of military material which has led to increasingly dramatic consequences for the civilian population. The indirect fire which has caused a military revolution (and has been a hot topic during the ongoing war in Ukraine) means attacking a target outside one’s line of sight, mainly with the use of artillery systems. Indirect fire includes mortars, artillery, rocket launchers, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, mortar being the first and the most modest indirect fire system among these.
It is impossible to predict the damage inflicted by indirect fire, as it depends on the warhead and fuse used, the point of impact, etc. Russia has used indirect fire systems in wars more as a rule than an exception ever since the 19th century, attacking both civilian targets as well as the population. Since the start of Russia’s so-called special operation on 24 February this year, the history will remember the artillery barrage on Mariupol, Kharkiv, and other Ukrainian cities, which has caused massive damage and civilian casualties. Russia has used guided missiles at the start of the current war in Ukraine. Their use has decreased over the course of the war because Russia is, in all likelihood, trying to save these for cases when the other means of indirect fire are not producing the desired effect.
The collateral damage from using state-of-the-art weapons and involving the population in warfare has created the need for defence measures, especially in light of warfare increasingly shifting to densely populated areas or urban centres. This is a topic that needs to be discussed in Estonia today. Our key protection measures are evacuation and sheltering. In case of a military threat, it would be impossible to evacuate the whole Ida-Viru County, and 57 percent of the residents would need to remain put. There would be no evacuations carried out among the populations of Narva, Narva-Jõesuu, and Sillamäe, which means that sheltering would remain their only option. As of today, Estonia is lacking special shelters or any kind of sheltering options in general.
There are no sites earmarked or prepared as long-term shelters. In this situation it makes sense to take shelter in basements of apartment buildings, which can be considered home shelters and as such are not publicly accessible. Consequently, the focus is put on public buildings that are in daily use and that can be utilised as public shelters in case of danger.
* The article is based on the master’s thesis defended by the author in the Estonian Academy of Security Sciences in 2021.