Briefly, About Fallout
Office of Civil Defense
Out of all of the short, instructional style films produced during the Cold War era, About Fallout was perhaps the most widely distributed motion picture concerning civil defense and fallout protection. Based off of the popular pamphlet Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack, About Fallout was created in 1963 as a collaboration between the Office of Civil Defense and Wilding Productions. (1) Blending animation with live actors, the film functions as both a science lesson in radioactivity as well as an advertisement for the recently created National Fallout Shelter Program. Because of its broad message and easy to understand content, About Fallout
consistently ranked as one of the top requested films rented from government and military archives throughout the mid-1960's and was translated into both French and Danish for use overseas. (2) In 1967, acknowledging the success of the film, thrifty editors in the Office of Civil Defense trimmed About Fallout from it's original running time of twenty-three minutes to a brisk eight minutes and released this shorter version under the apt title Briefly, About Fallout.
Whereas the original version opens with a lengthy speech concerning the danger of fallout radiation, this film opens with a curt narrator announcing "Briefly, a few facts about fallout" before a scrolling message admits that blast and fire would likely kill millions during a nuclear attack. As part of the overall goal of demystifying fallout, the narrator stresses radiation erupting from the sun is showering Earth continually, resulting in the occasional sunburn. The pervasiveness of this natural "background" radiation is shown onscreen as bright streaks of light flashing through scenes of everyday life. While humanity has lived with this presence since the dawn of time, medicine
and industry have harnessed radiation for the advancement of mankind. Even with the benefits being reaped by science, however, radiation still presents a danger when it comes in the form of fallout, the deadly residue of atomic
The worst aspect of fallout, its ability to diffuse with the wind for miles, leaves no region of the United States safe from contamination. Measured in Roentgens, when fallout falls across urban areas, shelter is needed for adequate protection though it can be found in nearly every building whether marked as a shelter or not. The specific threat to humans, graphically demonstrated when gamma rays punch holes in human skin cells, can be overcome when enough solid shielding is placed between the outside radiation and the sheltered spaces. Whereas the full-length version provides extensive directions on how to cleanse food and your person when entering a shelter, Briefly, About Fallout
offers only glimpses of the decontamination process. Despite these problems, the film makes clear the federal government's National Fallout Shelter Program has chartered millions of public spaces to serve as post-attack shelters. The ending sequence, identical in both version the 1963 and 1967 versions, follows a family enjoying a peaceful walk, presumably secure in the knowledge they have a place to go when the sirens sound. In the years following it's release, Briefly, About Fallout would not be deemed obsolete by the Office of Civil Defense and could still be rented or purchased from government catalogs as recently as 1986! (3) An even more abbreviated version of About Fallout would appear in the 1969 OCD production A Briefing on Civil Defense. (4) There, an expert lecturer on fallout radiation discusses a film he intends to play for the viewing audience. He proceeds to show seven minutes of About Fallout, before the camera cuts back to him discussing public fallout shelters.
1. Fallout Protection: What to Know and Do About Nuclear Attack. United States Government Printing Office, 1961.
2. Office of Civil Defense. 1967 Annual Report. United States Government Printing Office, 1967. 89.
3. Department of the Army. Audiovisual Catalog: Photo Devices, Graphics, Audiovisual. 1986. 91.
4. A Briefing on Civil Defense. Office of Civil Defense. Motion Picture. 1969.