Cinema History from the Cold War!

Emergency Hospital

Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization
Creative Arts Studio, Inc.
1959

Recognizing a need for continuity of medical services in the aftermath of an enemy atomic attack, the federal government instituted a program in 1956 to create portable disaster hospitals in large cities across the United States.  The plan called for 200 bed units, modeled upon the mobile army surgical hospital, which would contain all the necessary components for a patient's recovery and which could be shipped from storage to safer locales via semi-truck upon warning of an imminent attack.  The finale of Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow features the set-up of one such hospital by teams of volunteers who complete the job in a mere four hours. A far more detailed description of the disaster hospital program was provided in 1959 when the animation experts of Creative Arts Studio teamed with the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization to produce Emergency Hospital. 
                             
Consisting almost entirely of still images strung together with narration, Emergency Hospital takes the form of a filmograph, similar to Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself, also produced by Creative Arts Studio the same year.  The film is set in “Hometown, USA”, where a population of 600,000 strains the hospital system during peacetime.  Following an atomic attack, the injuries of everyday life would be coupled with the burned, crushed, and radiated survivors of the blast who would need immediate attention as well as shelter from fallout.   Interestingly, the narrator indicates the first step officials should take would be to utilize all surviving hospitals, no matter what their distance to ground zero, before sending patients to the makeshift hospitals in surrounding areas.  Well in advance of any emergency, the city should select a multipurpose building outside predicted destruction zones and arrange to have the packaged medical unit stored nearby.  The officials of Hometown opt to use school buildings, found to have good fallout protection, in neighboring communities.
                             
One of the top priorities of the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization was to inform the public of the dangers of fallout radiation which had been treated as a nominal threat for the previous decade.  Given this new governmental position, Emergency Hospital extensively stresses the consideration of fallout protection in any building chosen, shown onscreen when Hometown engineers and architects examine the sheltering abilities of various sites.  Further protection can be gained, the narrator adds, by placing sandbags and plywood around ground level windows.  When the building is deemed secure, the hospital itself will arrive, crated and in need of assembly.  The film is quick to point out that while all the components of a complete hospital will be included in the packaged disaster units, only a limited number of supplies can be provided initially.  As a solution to this problem, the federal government's plan called for a number of depots to cache medical supplies in massive warehouses at strategic locations across the United States.  When the operational hospitals ran low on supplies, orders would be placed with the warehouses and the proper deliveries made.
                             
Records from the Office of Civil Defense show that by 1964, over 2,000 disaster hospitals had been packaged, the vast majority of them having been placed in storage on the East Coast.  These same records show the complexity of the hospitals, which contained equipment for trauma care, X-Rays, sterilization, full surgeries, recovery wards, and even a morgue.  In addition, the film offers tips for improvised sterilization if regular power is unavailable, despite the generators included with the hospital.  Perhaps to drive away the belief that emergency hospitals would consist of spartan care surrounded by primitive conditions, a number of still frames are presented near the film's conclusion which highlight the modernity patients could expect.  Bloody and battered casualties appear alongside images of immaculate surgical units, ample doctors, and healing victims attended to on evenly spaced cots in uncrowded conditions.  While these photos were likely snapped during a civil defense drill, complete with mock bandages, the narrator reiterates that with extensive planning prior to the arrival of enemy bombers, the story of Hometown would be the post-attack reality.  Although the packaged disaster hospital program would continue through the 1960's, Emergency Hospital was declared obsolete by 1965.  Ironically, however, scenes from the film would appear in the 1965 Department of Health, Education, and Welfare production Hospitals for Disaster, which offers a gritty and detailed look at the importance of continuing medical services during an emergency.