Cinema History from the Cold War!

A Day in September

Office of Civil Defense
United States Department of Agriculture
1968

From the Nation's bustling capitol to the gulf plains of Texas to the rugged mountains of Montana, facilities owned and operated by the federal government dot the American landscape.  Employing millions of citizens, each of these buildings serves a specialized function and, as this film explains, many have also been constructed to provide shelter from radioactive fallout.  A Day in September visits eight federal properties across the United States on a typical Monday morning and examines how their emergency management plans and procedures will aid in the aftermath of an enemy nuclear attack.  The Social Security Administration Building just outside Washington D.C. offers fallout shelter to the civil servants who maintain its vast database.  Additionally, a fire drill at the building highlights the cooperation between federal security personnel and local firemen.  In a similar fashion, the specialized rescue crews at Dulles International Airport, shown fighting flames on a crashed jetliner, will offer their services in times of emergency.  The airport itself contains a massive shelter in its parking garages.  At the Pentagon, military and civilians inspect supplies for the 40,000 shelter spaces which will ensure continuity of the Department of Defense.

                          

Released in 1968 by the Office of Civil Defense and the United States Department of Agriculture, A Day in September offers a colorfully vibrant tour of unconventional structures used as fallout shelters.  The film's depiction of mundane government operations alongside emergency preparations, coupled with a calming narrator and relaxed musical score, gives it a fantastically serene quality. 
When the United States first implemented a system of public fallout shelters in late 1961, officials within the Office of Civil Defense began the arduous task of finding, marking, and stocking buildings which met standards outlined by the Department of Defense.  Because architectural requirements often called for ample space and solid construction materials like granite and masonry, many of the first fallout shelters were located in government buildings.  Obtaining a building owner's permission was also a requirement before a public shelter location could be finalized.  The ease of instating a federal program in federal buildings also likely contributed to this trend.  The underground shooting range in the Memphis, Tennessee federal building is the largest shelter in the city.  It also has the capacity to be the temporary headquarters of sixteen federal agencies.  In peacetime, the Waterloo, Iowa post office conducts all of the normal duties of the postal service and also acts as a civil defense education center.  Post-attack, it will provide registration forms and shelter for displaced populations.  Likewise, the Veteran's Affairs Hospital in Houston, Texas sees many patients on an average day.  If needed, however, the 12,000 shelters spaces in the service tunnels and in-patient towers can function as a disaster hospital with a forty day supply of medicines and equipment to treat casualties.

                             

The interior corridors of the massive Hungry Horse Dam in Kallisbelle County, Montana allow for technicians to service the hydro-electric components while staying safe from radioactive fallout along with forest rangers and tourists who may happen to be in the area.  At the end of the day, an attack warning drill at Plattsburgh New York Strategic Air Command Base sends women, children and non-essential personnel into nearby fallout shelters.  Teams of radiological monitors will conduct surveys in the surrounding county after a strike.  The day winds down with a spectacular sunset over the base.  A setting sun in an apt comparison to the state of the National Fallout Shelter Program in 1968.  Just as the program began with federal buildings, by 1968, with enthusiasm and funding shrinking, federal buildings were some of the only properties still actively marked and stocked as shelters.  With its high quality footage, A Day in September tries very hard to portray the shelter program as an expanding component of national defense.  A similar effort would be made in 1971 with Environment for Education, a civil defense film showing how innovative architecture offers aesthetics and fallout shelters in new schools.  Ultimately, history would show that, despite the optimistic outlook of these films, the public fallout shelter program was in an irreversible decline.  Interestingly, though the shelter program would, for all practical purposes, cease to exist in the 1970's, A Day in September would last for many years.  Whereas nearly every civil defense motion picture from the 1950's and 1960's would be declared obsolete and pulled from circulation, A Day in September, along with another film, About Fallout, would remain available to rent or purchase from official government catalogs until as recently as 1986. 

A Day in September can be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.