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Your Chance to Survive!
October 27, 2009 8:28 AM   Subscribe

Duck and Cover! There are many aspects of the Civil Defense program that may seem funny today, but the period after World War II was a very scary time. Civil defense officials and volunteers during that time were very serious about their work and I believe they deserve respect for their efforts. They rendered emergency services after natural and man-made disasters and would have had an impossible task had there ever been a nuclear war. This virtual museum is dedicated to the Civil Defense and emergency workers of the United States who worked to protect the public from nuclear attack.
posted by Ruthless Bunny (44 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Notice I didn't mention Mad Men?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:31 AM on October 27, 2009


For those interested in the topic, Conelrad is pretty interesting too...
posted by LakesideOrion at 8:42 AM on October 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Duck and Cover, indeed. Also, a timely reminder about the dangers of home drycleaning . Ah, 1950s sexism.
posted by LD Feral at 8:43 AM on October 27, 2009


Survive-All Fallout Shelter Radio Ads

I feel certain that they would have advertised on The Glenn Beck Show had it been around then.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:51 AM on October 27, 2009


As long as we have web design like this out on the tubes, Geo-Cities lives on.
posted by Caduceus at 8:55 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I bring this up whenever folks start reminiscing about how wonderful and simple and care-free the past was, what with no worries from terrorism and AIDS and swine flu. I mean, just about every school I went to had a basement fallout shelter, right? My church had one, even.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:05 AM on October 27, 2009


Wow, most of those posters are pretty grim.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:05 AM on October 27, 2009


MrMoonPie: "just about every school I went to had a basement fallout shelter"

Lewis Black
posted by Joe Beese at 9:11 AM on October 27, 2009


This reminds me of some urban exploration I did of the Reynolds Metal Company building in Louisville. I got some photos of a storage cage which had some Civil Defense supplies in it. Pictures are here, if anyone is interested.
posted by lholladay at 9:14 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


In Lexington, they're planning to renovate several old distilleries in a project called the Distillery District. One of the big old buildings still has the fallout shelter sign on the side. I so hope they leave that when it's all done. Don't know about the condition of the shelter itself, only the sign.
posted by dilettante at 9:24 AM on October 27, 2009


I've often wondered: In my hometown, sirens sounded whenever a tornado warning was issued. Was this just re-purposing obsolete Cold War systems?
posted by jefficator at 9:30 AM on October 27, 2009


> I've often wondered: In my hometown, sirens sounded whenever a tornado warning was issued. Was this just re-purposing obsolete Cold War systems?

I'm guessing they were used during (or even before) the Cold War. "Ducking and Covering" works for blast waves of any origin.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 9:36 AM on October 27, 2009


"you have no chance to survive make your time"
— CATS, CATS video game
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:57 AM on October 27, 2009


There was an air raid siren on the same block as my school, which was tested about once a month. Yeah, we all did the duck and cover routine. Being in Los Angeles, it sort of evolved into "earthquake drills", even though went through them when the air raid siren did it's monthly test.

We also took a field trip to the McDonald's across the street once, to find that they had a real life fallout shelter/basement!
posted by 2N2222 at 10:01 AM on October 27, 2009


I mean, just about every school I went to had a basement fallout shelter, right? My church had one, even.

In the mid-90's a dear friend of mine from Ireland came to visit. As I was showing her around New York, I noticed that sometimes she'd do a take at some of the buildings -- finally she explained that she'd been noticing all of the "fallout shelter in basement" signs on all the public spaces we were in, and she asked me about whether they were real. I had been so accustomed to just how ubiquitous they were I hadn't been noticing them. Another friend of mine was also playing "tour guide" with us and explained that no, they weren't just for the municipal buildings -- they were indeed everywhere. "This was a really scary country during the Cold War," he said.

It certainly was.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:17 AM on October 27, 2009


The only fallout shelter sign I can remember in my home town was on the Post Office. What's worse: waiting out a nuclear winter with postal employees or surviving a nuclear attack only to die in the crossfire of mailmen having a shootout over the last can of potted meat?
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:17 AM on October 27, 2009


jefficator: in St Louis in the 70s they still called them "civil defense drills" though it was mostly about tornadoes -- they never really mentioned anything else from the sky that might harm us. My kids know them just as tornado sirens, so the switch got flipped somewhere in between.
posted by cgk at 10:19 AM on October 27, 2009


A superb documentary (sans narration) on the era: The Atomic Cafe.
posted by QuietDesperation at 10:29 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't see why we would not want to have stockpiles of supplies in case of a natural disaster or some designated fall out shelters in case of a rogue nuke or dirty bomb today. Did the end of the cold war signal that no one would ever use a nuke again? If our government had not abdicated responsibility for public safety we would not have had that clusterfuck after Katrina.
posted by Tashtego at 10:41 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you live in my neighborhood, you know when it's noon on Saturday--that's when they test the nearby prison-escape siren. Always fun to explain that newcomers.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:41 AM on October 27, 2009


was a really scary country during the Cold War," he said.

It certainly was.


This is what I don't get about the 80's/Reagan nostalgia one sees in pop culture and the media, in my mind you can't separate the early 80's from the Cold War and it was a scary time to be alive.

I remember the air raid sirens two blocks from my school, and talk about fallout and nuclear winter. I remember the US cruise missile testing in the Northern part of my province, and my city declaring itself a "nuclear weapons free zone" in the hopes that it might somehow save us from instant death.

I live in Saskatchewan, a few hundred kilometers from North Dakota and the missile silos (less as the crow flies) - I didn't have a prayer in the nuclear war, and politically there wasn't a damn thing I or my parents could do about it because it was all US-controlled and I was a Canadian just on the other side of the border. Those US-Soviet summits between Reagan and Gorbachev always made it look like that dick-swinging, fucking movie cowboy who "stood up to the Soviets" was just putting ME in the nuclear crossfire. I will never understand how for one minute that man is considered a hero, I always thought he was dangerously unstable, gambling, war monger - the first politician I ever cheered for was Walter Mondale.

I didn't live through the First or Second World War, or the Korean War, and the Vietnam War was over a few months before I was born and I know other generations had it worse, but virtually all the kids in my schoolyard thought our future was to die in a nuclear war and our chances of seeing our thirties were fuck all and since that ball game was between the Americans and the Soviets and as Canadians we couldn’t do a thing about it. I am glad kids today don't have to worry about this as much.
posted by Deep Dish at 10:50 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Did somebody say funny Duck and Cover video?
posted by StarmanDXE at 10:55 AM on October 27, 2009


I don't see why we would not want to have stockpiles of supplies in case of a natural disaster or some designated fall out shelters in case of a rogue nuke or dirty bomb today. Did the end of the cold war signal that no one would ever use a nuke again? If our government had not abdicated responsibility for public safety we would not have had that clusterfuck after Katrina

Oh we absolutely want stockpiles of supplies. Did you see the stuff that was in fallout shelters? Biscuits and carbohydrate rations. 700 calories per day, per person for 14 days. Presumably enough time for the radioactivity to die down enough to crawl out of the basement and into the sunlight. Not really the kind of thing you'd want to hand out at the Superdome.

We don't have the expectation that any one event will cripple the country as a whole. Stockpiles of supplies are located in strategic places throughout the country, ready for deployment to disaster areas.

What you had during Katrina was a guy at the head of FEMA who couldn't organize his sock drawer, let alone a region-wide response to a catastrophe. There were supplies, but the National Guard was overseas and unavailable to assist in distibuting them.

I was a liasion between the local phone company and the Red Cross during Katrina, and they too, are incredibly disorganized (seriously, I could write a book.)

Our perception is that anyone who might have a nuke, couldn't get to come as far as the US. I sure hope that's right. Either that, or someone actually fixes FEMA and DHS.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:12 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


when my folks bought a house in the mid/late 1970's, it came with not just furniture but stuff in it. one of the things i found in the basement was an old civil defense booklet on nuclear war prep, including things like making a home fallout shelter.

i found it simultaneously awesome and also kind of scary.

then again, i also read survivalist magazines in the very early 1980's.
posted by rmd1023 at 11:14 AM on October 27, 2009


all of the "fallout shelter in basement" signs on all the public spaces we were in, and she asked me about whether they were real.

My father gave over a portion of the basement of his warehouse to one of these. He received some kind of stipend for storing all these boxes of supplies, and hanging the Bomb Shelter sign outside. When I asked how people were supposed to get access if he wasn't there, he said people were expected to break in, in case of emergency.

We had a food and water stocked lead-lined bomb shelter at home, complete with a pistol in a locked box to repel mutant zombies, or starving neighbors who hadn't made the proper precautions themselves.

We timed ourselves practicing the run home from school if the alarms sounded. Run to one telephone pole, walk to the next, etc.

Eventually, the kids raided the government bomb shelter supplies. It was mostly giant tubs of hard candy and water barrels, but there was a Geiger counter and a single gas mask. The water barrels were all empty, and we would supposedly be told to fill them if tensions heightened.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:19 AM on October 27, 2009




About 28 years ago, one of Minneapolis newsweeklies -- City Pages, maybe -- did a tour of the various civil defense shelters that had been built in the city. You could still find signs for them everywhere (they're pretty much all gone now), but, when the author checked, all of the shelters were being used for storage, or had been repurposed or neglected in some way. The author also contacted the local civil defense representative for information on what to do in case of a bomb; all of the info was 20-plus years old.

Mind you, this was in the 80s, when nuclear proliferation was still enormous and the US was still facing off against Russia, both stockpiling arms under a policy called, without irony, MAD, or Mutual Assured Destruction. I guess we had all come to the conclusion that if the bombs fell, no place was going to be safe, and had given up the pretense that nuclear war was survivable, as expressed by the civil defense program.

Now? Well, there's Emergency Preparedness, but it's mostly focused on natural disasters. There is no specific information of what to do if there is an atomic blast -- this despite the fact that one of the big concerns regarding terrorism was that a dirty bomb might be set off in a city. This despite the fact that one nuclear explosion above Minneapolis would kill about 120,000 people. This despite the fact that the Bush administration was crowing about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction. This despite the fact that we haven't exactly disarmed.

I guess, rather than pretending we can survive a nuclear attack, we have instead decided to pretend it's not something even worth thinking about, except when it becomes politcally useful to scare the public with it, and, even then, no money whatsoever is going to be spent making sure that the people who might survive such a thing know what to do.

Me, I'll duck, cover, and kiss my ass goodbye.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:26 AM on October 27, 2009


In the early 80s in Long Island we still did duck and cover drills when I was in elementary school, though we didn't really know what we were doing. We just did what the teacher told us to do.

The ferry from Long Island to Connecticut used to have "In case of Nuclear Attack" posters with instructions to the crew which really scared the hell out of me. What they were supposed to do was rig the fire hoses to shoot spray vertically to wash fallout off the ship. Crazy times.

Out east on Long Island, I really though we were going to be vaporized due to being downwind of NYC and the Groton Sub Base, or worse yet, survive and wait ala "On the Beach" for the cloud of radioactive crap to hit us.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:26 AM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oddly, Civil Defense sounds kind of chummy & populist compared to the vaguely-fascist sounding Homeland Security.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 11:42 AM on October 27, 2009


Out east on Long Island, I really though we were going to be vaporized due to being downwind of NYC and the Groton Sub Base, or worse yet, survive and wait ala "On the Beach" for the cloud of radioactive crap to hit us.

Before I was born, my father got a job at the Groton sub base. He was on the team that was actually designing subs; the most he's said about his actual job was that at the time, there were things he wasn't allowed to tell people.

When I was about three, he quit and took a job much closer to where we lived (it was about a ten minute drive from our house to his office -- it was even close enough for him to drive home and have lunch every day). He hinted that this closer proximity was the reason for his decision....now I'm starting to wonder.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:47 AM on October 27, 2009


"Yellow---and black--and rectangular"

"There, there , Miss er, Black"

"I see them everywhere"
posted by sourwookie at 11:49 AM on October 27, 2009


The university I went to was criss-crossed with steam tunnels that connected all the buildings. In the tunnels and basements were stockpiles of old CD materials. We would regularly haul-away a couple of cans of hard candy aka (carb supplies) and the dreaded Shelter Bisquits. Once, we found a stash of medical kits that included a highly-prized 1000-tab bottle of phenobarbital.

I have one of these sitting next to my desk as a memento. It's a great conversation starter.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:17 PM on October 27, 2009


Y' know, I was a kid in the forties and fifties after the war, and I don't remember war, or THE BOMB or air raids being scary at all. What was scary was this.
posted by carping demon at 12:40 PM on October 27, 2009


Y' know, I was a kid in the forties and fifties after the war, and I don't remember war, or THE BOMB or air raids being scary at all.

I had a whole personal pop-psych theory about why this may be the case, actually.

I assume that when you were a kid, people didn't really completely get the FULL degree of devastation a nuclear war would cause. They were bad, sure, but they were survivable. It wasn't until you had grown to adulthood that people started to realize, "oh, wait - this is worse than we thought. Wow, if we actually use this stuff, we're SCREWED."

Whereas, when I was a kid, the first I heard of nuclear was WAS the fact that "if we actually use this stuff, we're screwed."

Now-- you had already grown to adulthood when you found out that "if we use this stuff, we're screwed." You had a complete understanding of how global geopolitics worked, you understood that things were probably going to go through a lot of stages before it got to the point that anyone would be pushing the button. You understood that the world's leaders were generally not nuts enough to actually use the damn things unless things REALLY had gotten bad, and we'd have a lot of time to turn back once we started down the road.

However: I didn't know about how global geopolitics worked when I was eight. As far as I knew, the situation was that there were these really big bombs somewhere that could kill EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, and they could go off ANY MINUTE. that.....fucks with your head.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:02 PM on October 27, 2009


As far as I knew, the situation was that there were these really big bombs somewhere that could kill EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, and they could go off ANY MINUTE. that.....fucks with your head.

I can't help but think this helped drive consumerism and credit growth in the 80's.
posted by Deep Dish at 1:26 PM on October 27, 2009


one of the things i found in the basement was an old civil defense booklet on nuclear war prep, including things like making a home fallout shelter.

Here's a Nuclear War Survival Skills handbook from 1979, updated in 1987, published by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. It's fascinating, with tested instructors for making shelters and all sorts of things.

I also really like these Cold War calculators, with items like "RAF Nuclear Defence Damage & Casualty Slide Rule".

Also: Toxic legacy of the Cold War (LA Times article from last week), and Los Angeles Civil Defense Sirens, a Flickr pool cataloging the rusted remnants of hundreds of air raid sirens in the city.
posted by dreamyshade at 1:30 PM on October 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


EmpressCallipygos: As far as I knew, the situation was that there were these really big bombs somewhere that could kill EVERYONE IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, and they could go off ANY MINUTE.

I hadn't thought of it that way, that would be scary. And by the time you were 8, Salk had probably already come along .
posted by carping demon at 1:50 PM on October 27, 2009


When I was in elementary school I had a friend whose father worked for some sort of disaster preparedness company that had a lot to do with communication post-natural disaster. I remembered this not long ago when I was looking through some moving boxes and found the never-been-used fallout shelter sign that I got from a stack he had in the garage. I can't wait to hang it up in my basement.
posted by mikeh at 1:53 PM on October 27, 2009


Just lie back on the couch, sourwookie.
posted by greensweater at 2:05 PM on October 27, 2009


“…since that ball game was between the Americans and the Soviets and as Canadians we couldn’t do a thing about it. I am glad kids today don't have to worry about this as much.”
Actually, it’s much worse now. Not for the ICBMs or for folks who live near them, but the odds of being killed by a nuclear weapon then were offset by MAD. Now, only *some * people would be killed by a nuke (terrorist attack, limited exchange, etc.), which raises the odds any given individual would die that way.
Perverse really. But it’s akin to the odds of being called if you go ‘all in’ versus being called if you just raise a set amount.

“Oddly, Civil Defense sounds kind of chummy & populist compared to the vaguely-fascist sounding Homeland Security.”

Yeah, there’s this “Say, were all in it together, so let’s get going,” sort of thing going on with CD vs. “You fuckers better straighten out and watch your mouths or you’re gonna die. And go duct tape something” dichotomy.
And yet, that was exactly what was so valuable about the CD model – that it fostered cooperation and communication. At least before the fact.

Y’know what’s really perverse – I actually like the fact that you can’t really make any money off of the end of the world and people sort of recognized that. Sure, you can sell a variety of gimmicks and such in the hopes that it never happens, but banking on the actual end of the world – no returns on that.
Terrorism on the other hand… what scares me more than the threat of an immediate full scale nuclear exchange is that we could reach it by increments – because there’s money to be made (manifestly – plastic, duct tape, etc.) and political advantage to be taken (8 years of obvious) banking on terror.
Just kind of funky because there’s a deniability there – Joe NORAD lays it down, some politician goes “Oh… crap…. We have a certain limit.” Joe DevGru lays it down, some politicians go “Oh…wow, say this wouldn’t kill TOO many people…and they'll be scared...we could use that...”
And so the odds of the bad stuff both Joes are talking about, that are ultimately the same and only differ in the speed and paths taken to reach them, is actually is increased in the latter case.
It could be – given lack of a populist base and the oversight implicit there, made an inevitability that we don’t see coming because it’s taken in steps which, at the time and taken bit by bit, seem completely sound (at least financially/ politically/ strategically). Whereas Armageddon seems irrational from the outset no matter what’s at stake.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:11 PM on October 27, 2009


All that 80s nostalgia that I avoid - does it include music like this? Because that's kind of what I remember from being a kid in the 80s.
posted by dilettante at 2:43 PM on October 27, 2009


My favorite apocalyptic flick.
posted by pjern at 8:00 PM on October 27, 2009


Related (and equally grim and apocalyptic): Japanese gas attack posters.
posted by tellurian at 4:08 PM on October 28, 2009


One of the TED speakers last year talked about how to survive a nuclear attack.
posted by Wild_Eep at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2009


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