Civil Defense, Historical Musings
See also: Civil Defense Fire and Rescue
Originally published as Living Hell, Volume #1,
Issue #13, subtitled Special All Nukes Edition!
- Civil Defense
- Selected Sources
- Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
- Cast of Characters
- We'll Meet Again
Reporting from Kill Devil Hills, N.C., AKA "The Outer
Banks," AKA the place made famous by some guys named Wilbur and
Orville Wright, where a gusty, off-shore Nor'easter over the weekend
made [last weekend's] Saturday-overnight beach trip blow. We're talkin'
gusts of 20 to 30 mph-- not knots-- which rendered sand-sitting a
non-option, much less any shore-based activity attempted without
a wet suit. (You could say the ocean-churning sight was... swell.
Sorry.) Cotton fields in full, snowy bloom at least added some scenery
both getting there and back. As did the numerous volunteer fire stations
located oh-so-conveniently alongside the highway. (Soap written on the
back of one firefighter's personally owned vehicle: Buck Fin-Laden. With
the "B" and "F" underlined.) Best-est, tho, was
Saturday afternoon's climbing of the Currituck Beach lighthouse, all 214
leg rubber-turning steps of it. Straight to the top and, as it turned
out, moments before the 158 foot parapet was closed due to 35 mph-- not
knots-- gusts. (You must be over eighty pounds to ride that ride, or so
said the staff.) Snapped some pics, viewed some exhibits, and trawled
the museum shop. Yup, you might say it blew, but it certainly didn't
|Station #23 lofts, 3529 Hennepin Avenue South in
Minneapolis, MN-- a quartet of townhouses converted from a 1906
fire station turned Civil Defense office for the Twin Cities city.
'Tis the latter the author remembers as an Uptown-exploring youth,
during those longer reconnaissance missions performed while
hanging out at the Rainbow. (As said building was a good six
blocks-- long, Minneapolis-style blocks-- from the family
restaurant, foot-carried visits were in- frequent. Unless I was
biking between the Rainbow and Grammie's, whose house wasn't
terribly far in the opposite direction. (See photo.) Though the
townhouses were completed almost a decade ago, and which I've
since seen during visiting drive-bys, 'tis the former fire
station's use as a Civil Defense office that I remember. The
blandly interesting, white-painted facade, with three sets of
second-story windows over three arched apparatus exits; those
impossibly high ceilings on the first-floor that undoubtedly held
horses 'n' "steamers" in the old days and, in the late
Seventies, housed a couple of Civil Defense emergency vehicles.
(See photo of present building)
3750 Zenith Ave. So.
Station #23 Lofts Today
|I remember an enormous, armored car-shaped, GMC (?)
rescue truck that seemed fifty-feet high. Believe it was red, with
M.F.D. lettering; perhaps a retired rescue company. Another of the
quartered units was a van, a step van, maybe mobile command post
or medical- rescue unit and painted in the tradition light
blue-and-white Civil Defense colors. ('Twas a paint scheme common
to federally funded emergency vehicles in both the post-War and
Cold War eras. See photo.) There may have been a third truck
housed in the former fire station, though, as I recall, the long
apparatus floor was also occupied by blackboards and other,
non-vehicular items. The barely lit wooden floor was also whisper
quiet; whatever Civil Defense employees worked upstairs and I
don't recall encountering a single person during the sundry poke-arounds
where I'd wander among the trucks, touching everything in
propelled curiosity and hushed awe.
Civil Defense Colors
|Same for the back of the building, in the old
station's old kitchen used, by then, as a modest library. 'Twas
there I first learned of "Firehouse" magazine to my
squealing glee. (An even more excited discovery of
"Fire Apparatus Journal" occurred years late in a hobby
shop in North Carolina.) Alas, despite extensive present-day Web
searching, I don't know the dates that the former fire station was
active. Station #23 Lofts has a home page, http://www.landergroup.com/station23.html,
but the station as operated by the Minneapolis Fire Department
doesn't. In fact, the "Lake and Hennepin" area didn't
get another fire station till Station #28 on W. Lake Street was
opened in the Nineties. (Did find this bit o' text in The Extra
Alarm Association of the Twin Cities' book "Minneapolis and
St. Paul Fire Apparatus 2000 - A Millennium View," authors
Jack Mersereau and Ron Pearson: "By the turn of the
[century], Minneapolis [encompassed] 54.5 square miles with a
population of 202,718. It's horse-drawn fire department [included]
19 Engine companies with 18 companion Hose/Chemical companies, two
Hose companies, six Hook and Ladder companies, seven Chemical
Engine companies, and one Water Tower housed in 24 stations."
(What is a "water tower?" See photo.)
|During those same years, before moving
down south at age 14, that curious, Cold War entity Civil Defense
was also encountered as a weekly-meeting cadet in the Civil Air
Patrol, AKA United States Auxiliary Air Force. In between drill
formations, phonetic alphabetic quizzes, aviation education, and
search-and-rescue training, we were taught the finer points of
fallout particles, radiation shielding, and Geiger counter use.
(And what more-modern, digital- display device can possibly
compete with the spine-tingling ticking of those wonderfully
menacing Geiger counters?) Warning siren signals were also
studied, those swelling, goose bump-inducing mechanical screams
all too common to severe weather-sensitive Midwesterners. Alarmist
information was also resplendent in the various disaster
preparedness books that I devoured in elementary and junior high
school. (No wonder, eh?, that the author was tormented by
"tornado dreams" as a kid.) Thus, the late Seventies saw
a delirious buffet of Cold War leftovers; Civil Defense
initiatives born back before Pearl Harbor, when the federal Office
of Civilian Defense was formed and subsequently headed by New York
Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. (Trivia: fire protection at New York's
La Guardia airport, like all New York airports, is provided by the
NY/NJ Port Authority's police department.)
|No, I don't have ready recollections of "duck
and cover" shorts or air-raid drills. Those were before my
time. As was the construction and stocking of fallout shelters.
But the oft-spotted, triangle-shaped Civil Defense logo is still
spotted on the sundry warning siren or vintage fire pumper.
(During the 1950's, federal Civil Defense legislation was amended
to provide 50/50 fund-matching for fire and rescue equipment.) In
fact, just this summer, at the Firehouse Fire and Emergency
Services Expo in Baltimore, during the Sunday morning "firematic
flea market," a Civil Defense warning siren control box was
for sale. And, as I've since discovered, similar memorabilia is
consistently available on eBay, such as the once-ubiquitous
fallout shelter sign. Remember those? Yellow over black, a circle
above three triangles? Seen on countless public and private
buildings, notably those with deeper basements? And, in the wake
of the events of September 11, one can't help but wonder if we'll
see such signs again. Civil Defense for The New Millennium? With
cheesy PSAs narrated by pop singers instead of cartoon characters
like "Burt the Turtle?" Britney Fox be-bopping through
gas-mask instruction? Or our worst, weapons of mass-destruction
fears come to life with signs stating "biological
shelter?" Let's hope not...
Here's a nationwide history of Civil Defense, as best I've pieced
together from fourteen days of Web searches and library browsing:
- 1916, Council of National Defense directs Civil Defense program
during World War I until 1918.
- 1939, September 1, Germany invades Poland; World War II begins.
- 1941, May 20, Office of Civilian Defense (OCD)
created. Director and New York City Mayor Fiorello La Guardia
challenges Americans to "give an hour a day for the
U.S.A." Agency coordinates federal, state, and local defense
programs for protection of civilians during air raids and other
wartime emergencies. Efforts notably concentrated in all coastal
cities and towns.
Facilitates civilian participation in war programs. Provides
instruction in first-aid administration, firefighting,
Civil Defense Arm Bands From WWII
- 1941, December 7, Pearl Harbor attacked.
- 1943, June, OCD volunteers number over ten-million.
- 1945, August 6, atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
- 1945, August 9, atomic bomb dropped on Nagaskai.
- 1945, August 14, Japan surrenders to United States and World War
- 1947, National Security Resources Board (NSRB)
assumes Civil Defense planning duties until 1949.
- 1949, March 3, National Security Resources Board, Executive
Office of the President (EOP) assumes Civil Defense
planning duties until 1950.
- 1949, August 29, USSR explodes first atomic bomb.
- 1950, July, NSRB publishes "U.S. Civil Defense." Book
proposes passage of CD legislation, establishment of CD
administration outside NSRB, and appointment of CD administrator.
- 1951, January 12, Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA)
created as part of Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950.
Latter provides for bomb-proof shelters; medical treatment for mass
casualties; control of massive fires and debris clearance; mass
evacuation and dispersal of essential industries; post-attack
economic, financial, and industrial rehabilitation; and ensuring
continuous operation of federal government in event of attack on
States retain basic responsibility for CD duties; FCDA assigned such
tasks as publishing educational materials and forming interstate CD
plans. Civil defense classes become standard in public schools.
Students learn about radiation and basic survival techniques.
"Do you know exactly what your family would do if an attack
came?" begins the typical lesson.
Warning sirens installed in cities and towns. For families not
living within range of siren, National Emergency Alarm Repeaters
(NEAR) planned-devices plugged into ordinary household outlets
producing distinctive tone when activated by Civil Defense
- 1951, FCC develops CONELRAD system. CONtrol of ELectronic RADation
designed both to confuse radio direction-finding technology used by
USSR and to disseminate information to citizen. In event of nuclear
attack, all radio stations in country broadcast alert and either
cease broadcasting until emergency is over or begin broadcasting on
one of two official frequencies, 640 AM or 1240 AM.
(Hoping that all radio stations broadcasting the same information at
the same time and on the same two frequencies, enemy
direction-finding equipment would be useless, making it harder for
Russian bombers to target specific cities and landmarks.)
- 1952, President Eisenhower authorizes first funding of interstate
highway system, impressed by German autobahns and their capacity for
military movement during World War II.
- 1953, USSR tests first thermonuclear weapon. Much-higher yield of
the weapons necessitates changes in CD planning. Short-distance
evacuations and modest "blast shelters" in cities are
ineffective for protecting people.
H-bombs also raise specter of radioactive fallout blanketing large
areas of country. Previously, CD conceptualized as moving people out
of target cities, with rest of country remaining unscathed.
Advent of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) necessitates
further change, precluding evacuations due to drastically reduced
- 1953, all AM radios produced after 1953 marked with triangles at
640 and 1240, to make finding CONELRAD frequencies easier.
- 1954, FCDA initiates nationwide exercise Operation Alert, similar
to fire drills and requiring citizens of "target areas" to
take for fifteen minutes. Even President Eisenhower departs White
House for tent city outside Washington, DC.
In later years, newspapers routinely publish next-day reports on the
fictitious attacks, noting number of bombs dropped, cities hit, etc.
- 1955, New York State makes failure to take cover during Operation
Alert exercises punishable with fine up to $500 and one year in
jail. Small protest subsequent staged in Manhattan's City Hall Park.
Similar protests staged during.
- 1956, Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 sets nationwide interstate
design standards, increases overall length to 41,000 miles, and
creates official name "National System of Interstate and
Design standards include: minimum of two lanes in each direction, 12
foot lane width, 10 foot paved shoulder on right, 4 foot paved
shoulder on left, for speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour.
- 1957, novel "On the Beach" portrays destruction of
Northern hemisphere by nuclear attack.
- 1957, Federal Civil Defense Act amended to assign joint state and
federal responsibility for CD.
- 1957, October 4, USSR launches Sputnik.
- 1958, July 1, Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (ODCM)
assumes CD duties.
- 1958, April 24, Federal Civil Defense Act amended to provide
federal matching funds (50/50) for personnel and administrative
expenditures for civil defense preparedness.
- 1958, August 26, Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (ODCM)
re-designated Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM).
- 1960, May 3, group of young mothers draws hundred of protesters on
day of Operation Alert.
- 1961, October 18-29, Cuban Missile Crisis.
- 1961, same group of young mothers draws 2,500 protestors on day of
Operation Alert. Other protests take place in other states during
year, including demonstrations by hundreds of college students at
several East Coast campuses.
- 1961, July 20, Office of Civil Defense (OCD), part
of the Department of Defense, assumes civil defense duties until
- 1961, OCD initiates public fallout shelter program, to identify--
and stock with supplies-- buildings and underground areas to protect
people from fallout particles of nuclear explosion. Such areas are
designated as "fallout shelters."
Per-person provisions: 700 calories per day, one quart of water
daily, various sanitation items, along with medical and radiation
- 1962, Operation Alert permanently canceled.
- 1962, October 25, Defense Department report states "over
112,000 fallout shelters provide possible protection for
approximately 60 million civilians in U.S."
- 1963, Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) replaces CONELRAD as
official emergency notification method.
- 1964, movie "Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop
Worrying and Love the Bomb" released.
- 1971, February 20, false EBS alert transmitted at 9:33 AM EST.
Many radio stations, including some key "primary stations"
either ignore the alert or their employees don't know what to do.
EBS subsequently "upgraded," with procedural changes and
dual-tone alert signal to reduce false alarms.
- 1972, May 5, Defensive Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA),
part of Defense Department, assumes civil defense duties until 1979.
Early 1970's, Civil Defense programs broadened to include peacetime
preparedness as well as wartime disasters.
Decade also sees emphasis on operational capabilities of all
available CD assets, including warning systems, shelters,
radiological detection instruments and trained personnel, police and
firefighting forces, doctors and hospitals, and emergency
management. Program is titled On-Site Assistance.
- In the mid-1970's, contingency planning initiated to evacuate
cities and other high-risk populations during periods of severe
- 1979, newly created Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
assumes CD duties until end of Cold War.
- 1989, November 9, Berlin Wall falls.
- 1991, December 25, Soviet Union ceases to exist.
- 1992, FEMA discontinues funding of fallout shelter identification
- 1994, November, EAS (Emergency Alert System) approved by FCC.
Using digital signaling, EAS enables sending, printing, and
re-broadcasting on command of both alert messages and accompanying
- 1997, January 1, EAS replaces EBS.
- "Annie's 'Be Prepared' Information Page: A Christian
Perspective about Y2K and Natural Disasters," no date, http://www.annieshomepage.com/bepreparedinformation.html,
- "Civil Defense," City of Fort Collins, no date, http://www.ci.fort-collins.co.us/oem/civildefense.php,
- Coleman, Penny, "Rosie the Riveter, Women Working on the Home
Front in World War II" (juvenile), Crown Publishers, New York,
- Fleetwood, Richard A., "Civil Defense Now! U.S. Civil Defense
History," May 2001,
- Geerhart, Bill, Ed., "CONELRAD: All Things Atomic," no
- Green, Eric, "The Civil Defense Museum," no date, http://members.home.net/cdmuseum/,
- Hubbard, Bryan, "Civil Defense: More than Duck and
Cover," no date, http://www.military.com/Content/MoreContent1/?file=cw_cd_story,
- Kallen, Stuart A., "The War at Home" (juvenile), Lucent
Books, San Diego, 2000
- L., Chloe, "Civil Defense in a Time of Fear," no date, http://www.marlborough.la.ca.us/depts/soc.sci/bravman/chloe
webpages/, accessed 07OCT01
- Plumbee, Chris, "A Brief History of CONELRAD," no date, http://journalnow.koz.com/servlet/wsj_ProcServ/DBPAGE=page&
- "Chronology of San Francisco War Events," Museum of the
City of San Francisco, no date, http://www.sfmuseum.org/1906/ww2.html,
- Weingroff, Richard F., "Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956:
Creating the Interstate System," no date, http://www.tfhrc.gov/pubrds/summer96/p96su10.htm,
- Whiteman, Sylvia, "V is For Victory, The American Home Front
during World War II" (juvenile), Lerner Publishing,
Memories of nuclear preparedness expectedly led to a library visit
and the subsequent skimming of the splendid "Hiroshima in America:
Fifty Years of Denial" by Robert Jay Lifton and Gregg Mitchell.
Published in 1995 by G.P. Putnam's Sons, the 454-page, all-text text
traces the domestic effects of the atomic bombings, both mental
and moral, and how those bombings came about. (More than a few pages
probe President Truman and the psychology behind his decisions.) Though
scarce on grisly, ground-zero detail, the exceedingly well-referenced
reader is still fascinatingly disturbing in areas ranging from the
rationale for choosing civilian over military targets to Japan and the
rest of the world's non-knowledge about nuclear fallout and the deadly
dangers therein. Also explained are the feel-better U.S. estimates of
"casualties spared" and their later transformation into
"lives saved." And, for you conspiracy theorists, tales of the
government contaminating its own soil, be they bomb making
sites-turned-plutonium dumps or intentional exposure of unsuspecting
citizens. Such as the residents of a Massachusetts state school for boys
and men considered mentally retarded given radioactive tracers in milk
in the early 1950's... Some eight-hundred pregnant women given
radioactive iron in the late 1940's, to observe the effects on fetal
development... Prisons in Oregon and Washington and the exposure of
inmates' testicles to X-rays... And that's not counting the estimated
"250,000 to 300,000" servicemen also exposed in that era.
Pocket Alert Chart
OBEY these official
||Civil Defense AIR RAID instructions
3 minute wailing siren
or short blasts
3 one-minute blasts
2 minutes silence between
Quickly but Calmly
with NO WARNING
Drop to floor. Get
under bed or heavy table.
Go to prepared
shelter. Turn off all appliances.
Drop to floor. Get
under desk or workbench.
Obey Wardens. Go to
Drop to floor out of
of windows. Bury
face in arms.
Obey your teacher.
Go to assigned
in the OPEN
Drop to ground or
dive for cover. Bury face
Go to nearest OK'd
building or shelter.
Drop to floor. Bury
face in arms.
Get out. Go to
nearest OK'd building or shelter.
stay put until the
all clear and obey instructions
Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb
The Cold War may be over, but Stanley Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove is
still damn funny.
The essential quotes, not necessarily in strict chronological order:
- "Now I've been to one world fair, a picnic, and a rodeo and
that's the stupidest thing I've heard come over a set of
- "I'm coming through fine, too, eh?" (mm)
- "Well, boys, I reckon this is it-- nuclear combat toe-to- toe
with the Rooskies." (tj)
- "Well, then, as you say, we're both coming through
- "Shoot! A fella could have a pretty good weekend in Vegas
with all that stuff." (tj)
- "All right, you're sorrier than I am, but I am as sorry as
- "Do you realize that fluoridation is the most monstrously
conceived and dangerous Communist plot we have ever had to
- "I am as sorry as you are, Dmitri!" (mm)
- "Well, if you'll excuse me saying so, sir, that would be, to
my way of thinking, rather-- well, rather an odd way of looking at
- "Don't say that you're the more sorry than I am, because I'm
capable of being just as sorry as you are." (mm)
- "Colonel, can you possibly imagine what is going to happen to
you, your frame outlook way of life on everything, when they learn
that you have obstructed a telephone call to the President of the
United States? Can you imagine? Shoot it off! Shoot, with the gun!
That's what the bullets are for you twit!" (lm)
- "But if you don't get the President of the United States on
that phone, you know what's gonna happen to you?" [ pause for
answer ] "You're gonna have to answer to the Coca-Cola
- "I don't think it's quite fair to condemn a whole program
because of a single slip-up." (bt)
- "Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War
- "He'll see the big board!" (bt, exasperated)
- "Hi There," "Dear John" (bomb graffiti)
- "Wohoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!" (tj)
- "Mr. President, we must not allow a mine-shaft gap" (bt)
- "Mein Fuhrer, I can walk! (ds)
Cast of Characters
- Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, Peter Sellars (lm)
- President Merkin Muffley, Peter Sellars (mm)
- Dr. Strangelove, Peter Sellers (ds)
- General "Buck" Turgidson, George C. Scott (bt)
- Major T.J. "King" Kong, Slim Pickens (tj)
- General Jack D. Ripper, Sterling Hayden (jr)
- Ambassador de Sadesky, Peter Bull
- Colonial "Bat" Guano, Keenan Wynn (bg)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Produced by Stanley Kubrick
Screenplay by Peter George, Stanley Kubrick, and Terry Southern,
based on the novel "Red Alert" by Peter George
Cinematography by Gilbert Taylor
Production design by Ken Adams
Music by Laurie Johnson
- Dr. Strangelove Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The
We'll Meet Again
[ Music by Albert R. Parker, lyrics by Hugh Charles ]
We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Keep smilin' through,
Just like you always do,
Till the blue skies drive the dark clouds far away
So will you please say hello,
To the folks that I know?
Tell them I won't be long.
They'll be happy to know,
That as you saw me go,
I was singing this song
We'll meet again,
Don't know where,
Don't know when,
But I know we'll meet again some sunny day
Copyright 2001 by Michael J. Legeros