Cinema History from the Cold War!

Civil Defense in Schools
Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization
1958

Faced with the reality that an attack could come at any time of the day, civil defense planners within the United States began working with education officials to develop emergency plans should enemy bombs drop while school was in session.  As early as 1950, representatives from school districts across the country began consulting the government on how to best approach the subject of atomic protection for their pupils.  The fruit of this collaboration was Civil Defense in Schools, an extensive pamphlet first published in 1952.  The opening pages explain to the reader (likely an education professional) that responsibility for student safety rests directly with the school authorities.  Stressing organization above all else, the pamphlet suggests assigning staff members specific roles such as messenger, fire warden, and health manager, while listing the expected pre and post attack responsibilities of each position.  Civil Defense in Schools was republished several times and in 1958, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization teamed with Norwood Studios to put it to film.

                                        

Unlike its printed counterpart, the film version of Civil Defense in Schools does not explore the specific responsibilities assigned to school staff during an emergency.  Instead, it opens by focusing on how to gather appropriate community for a school civil defense plan.  The film suggests allowing teachers to develop an organizational structure in cooperation with the local civil defense director.  This ensures that any plan will fit into city or regional defense plans already in place.  Once approved by the school board the plan may be implemented.  Interestingly, while the film begins with the organization and inclusion of personnel, it also suggests physical changes to school buildings to improve fallout shielding capability.  This discussion, which highlights the increased respect fallout radiation had been given as a dangerous and long lasting result of a nuclear attack by 1958, dominates the second half of the film.

                                       

Filmed in part around Rockville, Maryland, Civil Defense in Schools examines a few of the unique solutions designed by area educators to increase the preparedness of both their buildings and their students.  In one school, for example, industrial tech students converted a disused boiler room and coal storage into a workshop for the drama department which also serves as a fallout shelter.  Likewise, basement level cafeterias and pantries with diesel generators and protected water sources allow staff to provide emergency mass feeding without exposing themselves or food rations to fallout.  Elsewhere, physics students train as radiological monitors with specially prepared high school kits.  Schools remain connected to other vital community buildings through telephones, sirens, and intricate warning light boxes.  During a visit to a 5th grade classroom, the students create posters to explain how they are prepared at home and at school for an enemy attack.