Cinema History from the Cold War!

Planning for Emergence
From Public Shelters

Office of Civil Defense
Department of the Army
1967



In 1967, the Office of Civil Defense was undergoing many changes.  It's secretary for the previous three years, William P. Durkee, departed suddenly to work for Radio Free Europe and his assistant, Joseph Romm was quickly appointed to fill his vacancy.  Among Romm's many priorities was to continue a push for the national shelter program.  Although a nationwide system of fallout shelters had been introduced with great fanfare during the Kennedy administration, it had been slowly losing momentum with each passing year.  Faced with crippling budget cuts, Romm's department ultimately created a series of short, low budget films concerning the feasibility of radiological monitoring from public shelters, and the countless lives which could be saved through a coordinated monitoring network.  Ostensibly, the films were to train public shelter managers and radiological defense officers to properly monitor levels of radioactivity.  On a deeper level however, the films worked to show an increasingly skeptical public that not only was civil defense alive and well, but that it was morphing into an organized and well coordinated system and was not stagnating, as one New York Times critic observed, "back into the days of armbands, tin helmets, and binoculars". 

Planning for Emergence From Public Shelters is the final film of the 1967 monitoring series, concluding a story arc which began with Introduction to a Radiological Defense Exercise and continues through the loosely connected films.  Although not mentioned in this film, the series is set in the fictional Central City, a small metropolis of 80,000 with a bustling industry and the large Cobb Air Force Base near by.  When Cobb Air Force Base is destroyed in Emergency Operating Centers: Radiological Defense Techniques, Central City bears the brunt of the residual fallout.  Now, having completed their stay, the occupants of Central City's shelters emerge, albeit slowly and with caution. 

The film itself is unique in the series due to the presence of the onscreen narrator who stands on a sound stage and speaks of fallout decay.  Looking more like a game show host than a radiological technician, the same actor stars as a civil defense director in Day Without End (1964) and narrates Power of Decision (1958).  While the first two films in the series present a number of characters and their related stories, the rest quickly descend into several painstakingly reproduced procedures for monitoring and decontamination.  Emergence From Public Shelters injects the drama back into the series in two ways.  The first is showing the interaction between the gruff shelter manager and his assistants, especially in determining which men have had too much radiation exposure.  Second, through the problems of shelter living, expressed mainly by the woman on the shelter staff, such as boredom, dwindling medicine, and oppressive heat.  While the acting may be insufferable, it is far from detracting from the series, instead, this last shot of humor and optimism provides a fitting conclusion for the image that Romm and Office of Civil Defense were trying to present.  A nuclear war would mean hardship and sacrifice, but is ultimately worth surviving.