Beginning in 1961, architects and engineers across the United States set out to inspect thousands of buildings which could potentially serve as public fallout shelter spaces. This project, known as the National Fallout Shelter Survey, culminated with the marking and stocking of many suitable locations. Once the signs and supplies were in place, however, the Office of Civil Defense often left subsequent administerial responsibilities to local officials. Federal programs still sought to train local shelter managers by creating a body of films and literature designed to examine each phase of a shelter stay. This “shelter living” material frequently stressed absolute reliance on bureaucratic procedures implemented long before any emergency. Instinctive following of these procedures, it was expected, would allow for calm attitudes to suppress the chaos which would no doubt ensue after an enemy attack. Few films demonstrate this principle better than the 1963 OCD production Operations in Public Shelters.
Operations in Public Shelters follows an impromptu leader, Gary Bates, as he gradually gains control over the hectic situation unfolding in his local shelter. Opening in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear exchange, citizens mill in panic, crowding the entrance of Public Shelter 126. Those inside fare little better, as shelter manager Bill Floyd is among the dead and his deputy, Bates, must assume command. This scenario is addressed briefly in the 1963 film Planning for Public Shelter Entry, which notes the existence of special paperwork to be completed should the shelter manager fail to survive. Bates instead reacts with frustration, trying to shirk his duty while shouting with other occupants. The opening minutes of the film are frantic, with infants crying, phones ringing, and refugees shuffling aimlessly. Bates reluctantly accepts his role, pressing the fact he was out of town when the shelter protocols were designed. Fortunately, however, his communications operator patiently explains the shelter was established in accordance with uniform federal guidelines. "We set up by the book, you shouldn't have any problem!"
Bates faces several immediate problems, rising temperatures, a lack of food for infants, and fallout quickly accumulating on the Western edge of town. Examining the shelter operations plan, prepared by volunteers in peacetime, Bates is able to form a radiological monitoring team to retrieve infant formula and additional supplies. Through a similar reliance on bureaucratic methods, a detailed shelter schedule is devised, along with a food service system, and information/moral procedures. The film also focuses on Bates' ability to assign shelter jobs in accordance with occupants' skill sets. A handyman with a thick accent, for example, is able to use his plumbing skills to retrieve extra water, while those with craft skills fashion privacy curtains to surround a makeshift commode. Also offering his assistance is Gil Thompson, Shelter 126's enthusiastic health and sanitation manager. Gil is played by a young Anthony Zerbe, a prolific actor who would later appear in films such as The Omega Man and Rooster Cogburn. As the days go by, reports filter in from a local command center urging local populations to remain sheltered. Bates turns this potential demoralizing peice of news into a challenge he and the shelter occupants strive to meet. "We'll do it! We'll use training, recreation, useful work, and special activities to make shelter living more acceptable!"