Cinema History from the Cold War!

Cummings City

Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization
Office of Armed Forces Information and Education
1958

On July 1st, 1958, the Federal Civil Defense Administration merged with the Office of Defense Mobilization into a hybrid agency, the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization (ODCM), which assumed responsibility for emergency preparations within the United States.  Less than two months later, Congress officially renamed the new organization The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.  An apocryphal tale among lawmakers explains this name change was necessary to allow the “CD” logo to remain emblazoned on all existing equipment and material produced by prior civil defense agencies.  In spite of its very brief existence, the ODCM managed to produce at least one film during the summer of 1958.  Cummings City, subtitled “Military Assistance in Civil Disaster”, tells the story of a fictional coastal town which combines both civil and military resources to survive a devastating hurricane.

                              

The action begins when the mayor of Cummings City calls local air force commander Colonel Chadwick to seek assistance in evacuating 400 people off Pine Island in the face of an impending hurricane.  A disclaimer explains this is a fictionalized account of true events.  The film appears to be telling the story of Hurricane Audrey, which struck Louisiana in 1957, trapping 600 people in the small town of Grand Isle.  This unfolding emergency, which proves beyond the scope of local civil defense resources, sets up an in-depth examination of how the different branches of the American military can aid civilian populations in both natural and manmade disasters.  Once storm warnings had been issued and it becomes clear that many residents remained on the island, Colonel Chadwick coordinates his troops and equipment to help prepare structures and preform rescue operations in the threatened coastal areas alongside ODCM personnel.  Once the storm has passed and the infrastructure is stabilized, the film explains the military forces are steadily withdrawn, replaced by units of the Red Cross and local construction crews.
                             

Hurricanes, which cause widespread damage, disrupt both populations and utilities, and can leave vast areas uninhabitable, are perhaps the closest a population can come to simulating the conditions of a nuclear attack.  Given that these massive natural disaster scenarios play out on a annual basis, hurricanes were a favorite research topic of Cold War civil defense planners, who studied everything from evacuation times to public reactions upon receiving storm warnings. Explaining these similarities, the narrator asks the viewer to imagine that it was, instead, an enemy attack which devastated the landscape of Cummings City.  The plan of action remains the same, with military personnel providing manpower and radiological defense measures during the immediate emergency period before quickly transferring recovery operations to civil defense crews as the situation allows.  As if to quell any fears of a martial law takeover, the film stresses the temporary nature of military assistance, as well as the bureaucratic procedures which must be undertaken in order for the military to take action.  In a final nod to the shifting political nature of federal civil defense programs, the closing credits acknowledge that the Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization was renamed shortly after the film's release.

Cummings City may be viewed in its entirety HERE.