In December of 1950, President Harry Truman signed the Federal Civil Defense Administration into existence with Executive Order 10186. Two months after its creation, F.C.D.A. director Millard Caldwell announced the production of nine films concerning emergency preparedness. The films would be the first to enjoy the full approval of a government agency and while they were meant to address a number of dangers facing the American public, all but two of them dealt with the subject of atomic warfare. Emergency Action to Save Lives, which examines first-aid basics needed in the aftermath of an atomic attack, was formulated as part of this initiative. Though based off a pamphlet which was first published in 1951, the film would not see public release until August of 1953. Both the film and the original pamphlet repeatedly stress the medical advice offered is not designed as a substitute for more advanced medical care. Instead, it is meant to relay just enough information so that the untrained viewer, if caught abruptly in an emergency situation, could effectively keep victims alive and out of peril long enough for experienced personnel to take over.
Emergency Action to Save Lives begins with an authoritative narration warning that in the event of a surprise enemy attack or peacetime disaster, immediate steps will need to be taken to stabilize and evacuate victims until proper treatment can be applied. Serious bleeding, burns, shock, and suffocation represent the most immediate threats to the injured and the film explains simple techniques to mitigate their effects before wrapping up with with a demonstration on how to move injured persons away from dangerous areas. At just over seven minutes length, Emergency Action to Save Lives is very brief and its content is pared down to the fundamentals of first-aid care. By 1957, the F.C.D.A. had declared the film obsolete, citing changing concepts in civil defense and more powerful weapons which rendered the advice ineffective.