Cinema History from the Cold War!

Rehearsal for Disaster

Federal Civil Defense Administration
American Trucking Associations
1957

"The film makes it apparent that the trucking industry, organized on a nationwide basis, can be a tremendous factor in saving lives and property in the event of any emergency, natural or war-caused."  This excerpt, taken from a government catalog, reveals both the subject of Rehearsal for Disaster and the heavy reliance which would be placed on truck drivers in the event of an enemy atomic attack.  A major source of pride for post-war America was its system of streets and highways, webbing the nation from coast to coast.  Cold War civil defense planners viewed this network as a valuable asset, for even if an atomic bomb destroyed a city and its surrounding infrastructure, aid could still be shipped in, and survivors evacuated out, via any number of intact roads.  The important role of motorized transport in time of crisis is highlighted in Rehearsal for Disaster, a 1957 production created by the Federal Civil Defense Administration and American Trucking Associations, a massive trade association comprised of several trucking companies.  The film follows two long-haul drivers, Joe and Slim, as they discuss how the emergency needs of any community can be met by dedicated trucking personnel.

                              

Opening in a roadside diner, Joe and Slim chat with waitress Sue.  Slim, who has spent the previous thirty-six hours using his semi-truck to rescue victims of a flood, is exhausted.  While Sue watches coverage of the flood on television, Slim relates the sights he witnessed.  Trucks carrying emergency feeding stations made sure citizens had enough to eat.  Red Cross vehicles laden with supplies helped out with the injured and homeless.  Slim himself backs his tractor-trailer against the rising water and evacuates children, the elderly, and even pets.  Joe is unimpressed.  "He hasn't seen anything yet!  What if the bomb drops down on us?"  While Slim remains awed by the effectiveness and organization put forth by the government and relief agencies, Joe explains it is all part of the region's civil defense plan.  The local director has assigned a specific duty to all trucking companies, particularly specialized carriers.  Tanker trucks will be steam cleaned and used to haul drinking water.  Automobile trailers will be converted to carry small boats wherever they may be needed.  Any surviving delivery trucks will take auxiliary firemen, police, utility workers, and other essential persons into the bombed out area.  Once emptied they will be converted to ambulances, removing injured civilians to emergency hospitals.  The emergency hospitals themselves will be trucked from their storage locales to a distance far outside target cities.

                             

Rehearsal For Disaster takes time to explain the limited capacities of all other forms of transportation.  Planes will be unable to land within a targeted city if the airport is damaged.  Similarly, trains rely on a fragile system of tracks which are less common than roads and, once destroyed, would stop locomotives from getting near a city.  Trucks, however, can relay any stranded cargo from these other vehicles directly into ruined areas.  Slim elaborates further on the versatility of trucks.  “We don’t even need roads!  I could take that rig of mine across the fields if I had to!”  As the film concludes, Joe explains how, even after an immediate emergency is past, truck drivers will be needed to carry raw materials and finished products to keep American factories producing.  Sue, who has recently joined a nursing program, concurs, adding that everyone should enlist in a volunteer civil defense unit.  In spite of this recruitment message, and the fact that transportation trade associations would continue making civil defense oriented films well into the 1970's, Rehearsal for Disaster would be declared obsolete by the Office of Civil Defense by 1965.  The film fails to address the threat of fallout radiation, which was the principal concern of the F.C.D.A.'s successor agencies.  All government copies of the film were recalled and owners of private copies were encouraged to cease screenings. 

Rehearsal for Disaster may be viewed in its entirety HERE.