Cinema History from the Cold War!

An Expanding Archive!

A growing list of films!  Simply click the screenshots or headings for summaries, video, and productions histories of the featured films.  If the film you're looking for isn't listed, please let us know, we may be able to track it down for you.

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A Concrete Plan for Civil Defense

Realizing a unique opportunity to showcase its services and equipment, as well as its commitment to national civil defense efforts, The Ready Mixed Concrete Company teamed with The Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1953 to release A Concrete Plan for Civil Defense.  The film describes the many ways concrete mixer trucks will play in civil defense, primarily by transporting water.  Please click this link to view the summary:

Environment for Education

In 1973, The Defense Civil Preparedness Agency was busy expanding traditional notions of civil defense to include natural disasters, civil disturbances and pollution in addition to nuclear readiness.  As part of this strategy, Environment for Education was released.  The film examines how architectural designs in new school buildings combat physical vandalism like broken windows, while also diminishing noise pollution, increasing fallout radiation protection and minimizing damage from rioting students.

Air Raid Instructions for The Home

This one minute television spot entitled Air Raid Instructions for the Home was released as part of the Take Cover series by The Federal Civil Defense Administration in April of 1952.  Consisting of 4 brief films, approximately the length of a television commercial, as well as one longer film, the series aimed to teach Americans what to do in various locations in the event of a surprise enemy atomic attack.  In this installation, a family dinner is interrupted by an air-raid siren and a blinding flash of light.

School for Survival

Set on the grounds of the Federal Civil Defense Administration's premiere training center in Olney, Maryland, this film from 1952 details the classes which volunteers from across The United States could participate in.  A small town warden travels to Olney to complete a rescue course and is impressed by the scale and authenticity of the disaster scenarios offered.  He leaves determined to create a similar resource in his hometown in order to better prepare his neighbors from the threat of atomic attack.

Lease of Life: The Civil Defense Improvised Emergency Hospital

Detailing a four step plan to ensure medical continuity after an atomic attack on New York, this film features extensive scenes assembling a packaged Improvised Emergency Hospital.  Released in 1957 by The New York State Civil Defense Commission, the film boasts the approval of several medical boards as well. Stressing organization above all else, location, staffing, equipment and resupply for the hospital are discussed.

The Role of The Warden In the H-Bomb Era

This film covers the ever changing role of the civil defense warden throughout the 1950's.  Following an inner-city block warden and a civil defense official from a rural era, they describe their duties and how they cooperate to evacuate a large city and receive refugees.  NOTE: We are having problems with our web host service at the moment, so there are currently no images with this film, only our notes and description, we hope to add photos soon.

Texas Has A Brand New School

When the Board of Directors for The United Independent School District voted to build a new high school, they also made the decision to include fallout shelter space.  Highlighting this example of a new building designed to serve as a public fallout shelter, The Office of Civil Defense documented the planning and construction in its 1965 film Texas Has A Brand New School.  Featuring testimony from students, parents, and staff, the film offers a look at local participation in the civil defense process.

Big Men in Small Boats

Accepting both the vulnerability and the advantage of America's seaboard communities, The Federal Civil Defense Administration released Big Men In Small Boats to highlight how sailors have the skills to aid in the event of an enemy atomic attack.  After an enemy attack, with fallout settling and debris in every direction, boat captains would have the best knowledge of navigable waterways.  Big Men In Small Boats examines how these impromtu fleets would best serve civil defense efforts.

Food for Thought

Released by the Colorado Civil Defense Agency in 1956, Food for Thought is aimed at suburban housewives, assigning them the vital task of feeding their families and those less fortunate after an enemy attack.  The film begins by examining changes to the food industry over the first half of the 20th Century and highlighting its vulnerability to the atomic bomb.  When Denver is bombed, the actions of four housewives are presented along with general advice for stockpiling food during any type of emergency.

The H-Bomb Over Illinois

As promised by its title, The H-Bomb Over Illinois examines what would happen should an enemy target the "Peaceful Land of Lincoln" with hydrogen weapons.  Released by the Illinois Civil Defense Agency in 1956, the film begins with the state's most probable target, Chicago, and explains how radioactive fallout would spread far and wide.  The disruption such an attack would cause on commercial, industrial and population centers like Peoria, The Quad Cities and East St. Louis is also highlighted.

Your Chance to Live: Pollution

In 1972, The Defense Civil Preparedness Agency took over emergency preparations for The United States and sought to create awareness for dangers facing Americans in both peace and wartime.  The Your Chance to Live film series addresses not nuclear attack but also more common threats like natural disasters.  The 8th film, Pollution, presents a far-reaching global problem by hypothesizing a world where all life has gone extinct due to contamination from trash, smog and chemicals.

Fractures and Splinters

In the event of a "major disaster" situation in The United States, this film explains, the majority of injuries would be fractures.  Released by the Office of Civil Defense and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1965 as part of the Medical Self-Help Series, Fractures and Splinters shows how to identify and set broken bones.  While nuclear attack is never explicitly mentioned, the narrator emphasizes moving victims into a "sheltered environment", later shown to be a public fallout shelter.  


Public Shelter Organization and Staff

Once a population was forced to seek refuge inside of a public fallout shelter, it was hoped that strict adherence to well-rehearsed procedures would ensure a peaceful occupancy.  Public Shelter Organization and Staff demonstrates how to implement many of these procedures to effectively manage a shelter in a post-nuclear attack period.  Interestingly, however, the film also depicts unexpected situations, such as the death of trained staff and power outages, which force the shelter manager to improvise.

One World or None

Preceding the genre of Cold War civil defense films was a cautionary tale warning against a future where antagonistic nations faced off with atomic weapons.  Released by Philip Ragan Productions and The Federation of American Scientists in 1946, One World or None stresses that unless a global body controls atomic energy, global destruction will result.  To drive home the risk facing The United States, the film examines the damage that would be caused if an atomic bomb struck an American city.

Lifeline of The Nation

To highlight the contributions of the rail industry in the Second World War, The Association of American Railroads produced the film Lifeline of the Nation in May of 1945.  Looking to promote their continuing efforts towards civil defense in the Hydrogen Age, the Association released an updated version of Lifeline of the Nation in 1958.  Arguing that railroads are ideally suited to transport food and rescue workers into areas stricken by an enemy bomb, the film also showcases new rail technology.

Facts Make the Difference

In the chaos which would surely follow an enemy atomic attack, there would be a very high risk of rumors and false information causing panic and lowering morale.  It would be the job of civil defense to ensure all emergency actions were based on accurate information.  Facts Make the Difference, released by The Office of Civil Defense in 1965, examines effective ways to collect and act upon information from many sources.  Firemen, police, and shelter managers are encouraged to ask who, what, when, where and why.

Face of Disaster

Using footage from the critically acclaimed Office of Civil Defense film Though the Earth Be Moved, Face of Disaster tells the story of Alaska's devastating Good Friday Earthquake.  Released by The Office of Civil Defense and The Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1965, the film also examines other deadly natural disaster from tornado outbreaks to floods.  A fast-talking narrator warns that no matter what the threat, be it nature's fury of an enemy nuclear missile, viewers must be prepared.

A Day in September

When the National Fallout Shelter Program first began, many initial shelters were located in federal buildings.  As it waned in the late 1960's, buildings owned and operated by the federal government were primarily the only locations still marked and stocked as public shelters.  A Day in September, released in 1968 by the Office of Civil Defense, visits federal buildings across the United States, from a Texas hospital to Montana dam, designed to provide fallout protection as well as ensure government continuity.

Manual Damage Assessment

The aftermath of an enemy nuclear strike on the United States would be chaotic, to say the least.  If such an attack should disable conventional means of communication, civil defense officials would need to rely on alternative methods of determining which areas have been hit.  In 1967, the Office of Civil Defense released Manual Damage Assessment to train volunteers in how to properly calculate the location and scale of a nuclear detonation using only eyewitness accounts and radio reports.

Bleeding and Bandaging

Released as part of the Medical Self-Help film series in 1965, Bleeding and Bandaging shows viewers to treat severe cuts and and lacerations when there is no expectation of aid from trained doctors or nurses.  The film, produced by The Office of Civil Defense and The Department of Health, Education and Welfare, focuses on conventional and industrial scenarios involving everyday injuries.  The aftermath of a nuclear attack is also shown and the need to move victims into shelters is discussed in detail.

The Five Days of Betsy

Hurricane Betsy slammed into the Gulf Coast of the United States in the fall of 1965, carving a swath of destruction and leaving 81 dead.  In 1966 the Office of Civil Defense and the Department of Agriculture released A Hurricane Called Betsy to highlight the role civil defense measures played during the disaster.  With a run time of 30 minutes, A Hurricane Called Betsy was deemed to long to screen for passing crowds at civil defense exhibits so a much shorter version was released as The Five Days of Betsy.    

Rescue Street

When a petty feud between two neighbors leads one man to show off his local civil defense unit's new rescue truck, it sparks a discussion on the importance of trained volunteers in the event of an atomic attack.  Using exciting action scenes filmed at the National Civil Defense Training Center in Olney, Maryland, this humorous film was released by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1954.  Sponsored by the R.E.O. Motor Company, the film also promotes the use of trucks  in civil defense.

Nuclear Weapons Effects for Monitor Training

As its title implies, Nuclear Weapons Effects for Monitor Training was meant to be screened for audiences training to become radiological monitors.  Released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963, the film provides an overview of how nuclear detonations create fallout radiation and how this radiation and its decay can be measured.  An authoritative host uses a model town and several spinning charts to discuss the specific stages of radiation from the initial blast to delayed global fallout.

Safety Measures in Public Shelters

This Office of Civil Defense film from 1963 outlines the duties of the public fallout shelter safety manager.  While following a live-action safety manager through an empty model shelter as he checks his paperwork and equipment, the narrator discusses the various responsibilities of the position which include confiscating dangerous objects and maintaining order.  Additionally, the safety manager must be ready to fight fires or tunnel out of compromised shelter spaces in the event of a building collapse.  

Public Shelter Supplies: What Additional Supplies Are Desirable?

Released in 1963 as a companion to Public Shelter Supplies: What does the Government Supply? this Office of Civil Defense film makes it clear that life in a public fallout shelter would be spartan.  Because the federal government will only provide supplies absolutely necessary for survival, local authorities are encouraged fill their shelters with extra amenities.  An austere shelter is depicted alongside one stocked with cots, canned food, books, and other items to increase occupant's comfort.

Public Shelter Supplies: What Does the Government Supply?

Once a structure was structure was marked as a public fallout shelter, the next step was to stock it with supplies necessary for survival.  The Office of Civil Defense offered stocks of food, water, sanitation items, medical kits, and radiological detection equipment.  This film, from 1963, highlights the efforts of the federal government to provide the basic essentials to sustain a shelter occupant for up to eleven days inside a public shelter.  Local authorities are repeatedly urged to stock additional supplies. 

Operation Scramble

As part of Operation Alert 1955, St. Louis County Hospital tested an evacuation plan designed to relocate patients, staff, and medical equipment in the event of an enemy atomic attack on St. Louis, Missouri.  Footage captured during this test, dubbed Operation Scramble, was edited together with an interview of the coordinating physician into this film of the same name, released Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1957.  Dr. John M. Whitney, Health Services director for the F.C.D.A., hosts.

Rural Community Defense

Just as in past wars, in the event of an enemy atomic attack, tremendous responsibility would be placed on American farmers and ranchers to sustain the nation.  Rural Community Defense, released by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization and the Department of Agriculture in 1960, serves to remind rural populations of this responsibility and to inform them of the dangers of fallout radiation, which can spread great distances beyond a target area.  The care and housing of refugees is also discussed.

Facts About Fallout

By 1955, the Federal Civil Defense Administration recognized fallout radiation as a deadly side-effect of an enemy attack with atomic weapons.  That same year, to help remove the mystery and misinformation which spread quickly whenever the topic of radioactivity was raised, a colorful pamphlet titled Facts About Fallout was published to explain the basic ways of protecting individuals and families from fallout.  This animated film of the same name, released in 1957, brings the pamphlet to life.

Healthful Living in Emergencies

The need to seek shelter from radioactive fallout in the event of an enemy nuclear attack upon the United States would have forced millions of Americans into protected, yet cramped and confined spaces with none of the conveniences of modern life.  Released as part of a series of Medical Self-Help films in 1965, Healthful Living in Emergencies examines the problem maintaining adequate food and water supplies in both public and private fallout shelters, as well as the problems of sanitation and disease.   

Radioactive Fallout and Shelter

Anticipating interruptions in medical services following a nuclear attack, the Office of Civil Defense and the Department of Health, Education and Welfare developed the concept of Medical Self-Help to train Americans to treat ailments without no expectation of aid from doctors or nurses.  In 1965, eleven films were released to supplement this program.  The first film in the series, Radioactive Fallout and Shelter, explains the dangers of fallout and demonstrates how to treat radiation sickness.

One Week in October

The Cuban Missile Crisis offers the only international situation to date where the American public believed a nuclear war was a probable outcome.  In 1964, the Office of Civil Defense produced One Week in October which uses footage shot during the crisis to examine how populations respond to emergency situations.  The film argues that while most people were aware of civil defense measures and the National Fallout Shelter System, too many relied on last second plans driven by panic.   

Sky Sentinels

Created as a public service by the private aircraft manufacturer Lear, Inc. in 1956, Sky Sentinels explores the role of America's Civil Air Patrol in civil defense.  The film highlights the Civil Air Patrol's participation in Operation Cue, where volunteer pilots flew reconnaissance and evacuation missions and conducted aerial fallout monitoring.  Specialized equipment, which is manufactured exclusively by Lear, Inc., is also demonstrated as the ideal solution to many in-flight problems.

The House in the Middle

Released by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1953, The House in the Middle uses footage from the Nevada Proving Grounds to argue that well-kept homes are much less likely to catch fire during an enemy atomic attack than dingy, dilapidated homes.  Although not as well known as it's colorized remake, this original version of The House in the Middle provides a fascinating look at early American civil defense policy and its attempts to educate suburban homeowners on the atomic threat.

Decision Making in Civil Defense

Throughout history, military commanders, politicians, and even civilians, have been called upon to make difficult decisions in difficult circumstances.  In the aftermath of an enemy atomic attack, civil defense personnel would have been expected to make snap judgments while under enormous stress.  Comedian Eddie Bracken hosts Decision Making in Civil Defense, a 1967 film designed to guide volunteer civil defense officials through the process of decision making in times of emergency.

Town of the Times

Released in 1964, Town of the Times unfolds as a dramatic standoff between two men on opposing sides of a public fallout shelter debate.  As an insurance salesman, George McCardle views public shelters as vital protection for the future of his community.  William Groves, on the other hand, sees them as an unnecessary encouragement of war.  The use of well-known actors and a dramatic storyline makes the film, which was meant for television broadcast, an incredibly entertaining watch.

Community Protection Through Civil Defense

Months after the creation of a National Fallout Shelter Program, officials in Jacksonville, Florida began negotiating with property owners to acquire public shelter space.  Hoping to set an example, Jacksonville filmed each step it took towards creating a local fallout shelter plan, releasing the footage under the title Community Protection Through Civil Defense in 1963.  The film highlights a one-day shelter stocking effort in October of 1962 where volunteers made ready shelter for 50,000 people.

Radiological Defense

In the final months of its existence, the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization produced a number of motion pictures which stressed the importance of protection from radioactive fallout.  By far, the most widely distributed of these films was Radiological Defense which offers a comprehensive look at how individuals and local governments can deal with the fallout of an enemy atomic attack.  Also featured is a high school training program for students interested in learning about radiological monitoring. 

Handbook for Survival

In order to see how average populations would fare inside a community fallout shelter, the Office of Civil Defense observed large groups of volunteers confined to a warehouse in downtown Athens, Georgia.  Using an experimental guidebook, otherwise untrained citizens organize themselves to survive for a week under conditions simulating a nuclear attack.  A film crew from the University of Georgia captured raw footage of the experiment.

Fallout Shelter: What is It?

The concept of seeking shelter from radioactive fallout was relatively new to Americans when the Kennedy Administration introduced the National Fallout Shelter System in late 1961.  This film, released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963, explains the process of selecting buildings to be used for public shelter.  In addition to discussing the use of solid building materials, the film offers some interesting alternatives for cities to consider.

Survival Under Atomic Attack

Just months after its creation in December of 1950, the Federal Civil Defense Administration ordered the production of nine films concerning emergency preparedness and unconventional methods of enemy attack.  The first of these "official" government films to see release was Survival Under Atomic Attack, a nine minute short based off a pamphlet of the same name.  Famed broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow provides a stern narration.

Target You

By releasing Target You in 1955, The Federal Civil Defense Administration hoped to stress upon the audience that, as citizens of the United States, they were under the threat of enemy atomic bombs.  Using animation, the film becomes a literal checklist of responsibilities which homeowners must complete if warning of an impending attack is given.  At a brisk eight minutes in length, Target You focuses only on the immediate tasks needed to save lives and stop fires.

Three Reactions to Shelter Life

Instead of explaining the physical science behind protection from radioactive fallout, Three Reactions to Shelter Life examines the psychological problems likely to occur when people are confined to fallout shelters following a nuclear attack.  By presenting three scenarios which highlight the mental stress and physical violence that such cramped quarters may give rise to, this 1964 Office of Civil Defense film asks fallout shelter managers how they would better handle troubled occupants.

Rehearsal for Disaster

The need for immediate aid after an atomic attack meant heavy reliance would be placed on the trucking industry to move valuable supplies and personnel into targeted cities.  Eager to show their drivers were up to this challenge, The American Trucking Associations teamed with The Federal Civil Defense Administration to create Rehearsal for Disaster in 1957.  Set in a roadside diner, long-haul drivers Joe and Slim discuss their transportation responsibilities during civil defense emergencies.

The Waking Point

This British film from 1951 stars character actor John Slater as the perpetually tired Joe Mercer, who doesn't see the value of civil defense in the wake of World War II.  When his son is trapped in a sand pit, he quickly changes his view and joins a local rescue squad where he envisions a terrible future if more of his countrymen don't enlist in a civil defense program.  Creative storytelling netted The Waking Point the Best Civil Defense Film award at the 1952 Cleveland Film Festival.

Mission Fallout

For the most part, volunteer radiological monitors practiced their craft during civil defense drills, using hypothetical attacks and imaginary fallout readings.  In 1957, however, a group of specialists working for the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization were given the opportunity to train under realistic fallout conditions during Operation Plumbob.  Mission Fallout follows this select crew as they demonstrate radiological detection equipment, including an in-depth look at plans for aerial monitoring.


Eager to highlight their contribution to the nation's civil defense effort, the Ex-Cell-O Corporation, producer of paper milk cartons, teamed with the Federal Civil Defense Administration to produce Crisis in 1956.  Hosted by broadcaster Bob Considine, the film tells the story of how the dairy industry delivered pure drinking water to Pennsylvanians in the wake of Hurricane Diane.  Considine continually reminds the audience of a need for clean water during both natural disasters and atomic attack.

Time of Disaster

In addition to urging preparation for a possible enemy attack, The Federal Civil Defense Administration and its successors also warned of the devastation which could come from natural disasters.  Time of Disaster, released in late 1954, shows how the forces of nature can buildings and utilities to rubble.  By focusing on a small town with a solid civil defense plan, however, the film demonstrates what steps need to be taken to keep a population safe during many types of emergencies, natural or otherwise.

Shelter on a Quiet Street

Despite the United States' creation of a nationwide system of public fallout shelters in 1961, the federal government continued to encourage the construction of private shelters in the home.  Shelter on a Quiet Street follows Hank Adams, local civil defense director, as he discusses the noticeable lack of public shelters in suburban areas.  Offering a remedy for this problem, Adams helps the family of David and Betsy Warren transform their basement into a fully stocked shelter.

Emergency Hospital

Civil defense planners knew an enemy attack involving nuclear weapons would place great strain on the United States' medical infrastructure.  To help ensure continuity of vital medical services, the federal government began a program of stockpiling pre-packaged disaster hospitals outside large cities in 1956.  The specifics of this program are examined in the 1959 "filmograph" Emergency Hospital, made by Creative Arts Studio for the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.


The Burroughs Corporation, a producer of adding and data storage machines, created Bombproof in 1956 after consulting with the Federal Civil Defense Administration.  By telling the story of the fictional Donovan Manufacturing Company, the film offers business continuity advice for the aftermath of an enemy H-Bomb attack.  Walter Abel stars as J.B. Donovan, who wisely used microfilm processing (a service provided by the Burroughs Corp.) to preserve vital company records.

Let's Face It

The Soviet Union's speedy acquisition of the hydrogen bomb came as a shock to many.  Seeking to address the new threat, the Federal Civil Defense Administration released Let's Face it in 1955, which bluntly explains the increased danger now posed to American cities.  The film further explains, however, that a robust civil defense program augmented with ample citizen participation, which is prominently highlighted throughout the film, can counter this danger.

Operation Doorstep

Over the course of three months in 1953, the United States detonated 11 atomic bombs in the Nevada desert.  Members of the press were invited to view the first detonation in order to report on Operation Doorstep, an exercise conducted by the Federal Civil Defense Administration to test the effect of a nuclear explosion on the standard American domestic scene, including homes, vehicles, and weighted mannikins.  Footage captured during Operation Doorstep was quickly edited into a short film of the same name.

Seconds for Survival

Bell Telephone, interested in presenting its contributions to America's civil and national defense networks, produced Seconds for Survival in 1959 to highlight its advances in radar systems and guided missiles.  Focusing on the Nike Zeus, a large anti-ballistic missile designed to destroy Soviet ICBMs which was still in the developmental stages at the film's creation, Seconds for Survival offers hypothetical demonstrations of its capabilities. 

Civil Defense in Schools

Based off a 1952 pamphlet of the same name, Civil Defense in Schools examines how education authorities can organize and implement emergency plans in case of an enemy attack.  In addition to discussing the bureaucratic procedures needed, the film presents numerous examples of how schools have improvised their own fallout shelters.  Also presented are fascinating shots of civil defense equipment in action, including light warning boxes, telephone operated sirens, and radiological detection devices.


With very few exceptions, films used in American civil defense programs were products of American studios with financial backing from the government.  Trapped, released in the United States in early 1954, is unique in that it was created by the Swedish Civil Defense Office as a means to train rescue squads.  Originally titled "Raddning av instanga under bombade hus", the film follows a volunteer excavation crew as they struggle to free residents of a collapsed apartment building in the aftermath of an enemy bomb. 

The Protected School

When education officials in Laredo added fallout shelter space and other protective features into the newly constructed United High School, the Office of Civil Defense sought to promote this practice by featuring the district in the 1965 film Texas Has a Brand New School.  Later that same year, officials released a condensed version of the film titled The Protected School.  As a series of still images strung together with narration, The Protected School highlights the multipurpose benefits fallout shelters can serve.

Cummings City

During the summer of 1958, two government agencies merged into the hybrid Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization which was renamed less than two months later.  Despite its brief lifespan, The ODCM managed to produce at least one film, Cummings City, which examines military assistance in the wake of natural and nuclear disasters.  Set in a fictional coastal city during a massive hurricane, the film makes clear that any military presence would be a temporary supplment to local civil defense resources.

Emergency Action to Save Lives

In early 1951, the newly formed Federal Civil Defense Administration announced the creation of nine films concerning various aspects of emergency preparedness.  Each film was to be based off widely distributed pamphlets which had been in circulation for the previous year.  Emergency Action to Save Lives, which explains very basic first-aid techniques needed in the aftermath of an atomic attack, was produced as part of this public information initiative.

Frontlines of Freedom

Hypothetical projections of a nuclear attack against the United States often began with a flight of Soviet bombers crossing the North Pole before sweeping across Canada towards their intended targets.  Recognizing the mutual threat this scenario posed to each country, civil defense officials in Canada and the United States came together to produce Frontlines of Freedom in 1955.  The film was made to serve primarily as a propaganda piece, extolling the virtues of democracy and other Western freedoms.

Modern Minute Men

What would happen if A-Bombs fell on Ohio?  This is the question explored by Modern Minute Men, created by the Bell Telephone Company in 1952 specifically for the Buckeye State.  Harkening back to the days of the American Revolution, the film likens civil defense volunteers to the original minute men, who could assemble for battle at a moment's notice.  Through the use of home movies, a warden explains why industrial centers like Columbus and Cincinnati are no longer safe from the threat of an enemy attack.

Hospitals for Disaster

Beginning in 1956, the federal government stockpiled emergency disaster hospitals across the United States.  Nearly a decade later, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare filmed the set-up and simulated use of one such hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  In addition to highlighting the sophisticated components of each portable medical center, Hospitals for Disaster features volunteers in gory makeup who seek to add a sense of realism to an otherwise optimistic production.

Atomic Attack

Often, the federal government would promote films and other productions which highlighted civil defense, even if it did not have a hand in their creation.  Such was the case with Atomic Attack, a dramatic fiction adapted into an episode of the Motorola Television Hour in 1954.  Phyllis Thaxter stars as Gladys Mitchell, a suburban housewife caught home alone when New York City is destroyed by a H-Bomb.  In spite of her initial panic, Mrs. Mitchell is able to regain her composure and follow CONELRAD radio instructions.

Operations in Public Shelters

In the event of a nuclear exchange, civil defense plans relied upon thoroughly trained individuals assuming leadership roles within public fallout shelters.  But what if an appointed shelter manager failed to survive the initial attack?  Operations in Public Shelters explores this scenario by examining Public Shelter 126, where a deputy shelter manager struggles to control both panic and confusion.  Utilizing a frantic pace, this 1963 film explains how order can be restored through a strict adherence to bureaucratic procedures. 

Nerve Gas Casualties and Their Treatment

In early 1951, the Federal Civil Defense Administration announced the production to nine films designed to address threats facing the American public.  While most of the released titles deal with the dangers posed by the atomic bomb, Nerve Gas Casualties and Their Treatment examines the symptoms of "war" gasses, particularly when left untreated.  Incorporating clips from army training films, as well as a demonstration, this 1957 production also features an introduction by F.C.D.A. health director Dr. John Whitney.

Individual and Family Reactions on Warning

Meant to be both entertaining and informative, Individual and Family Reactions on Warning was created by the Office of Civil Defense in 1964 to serve as a guide for forming a family fallout shelter plan.  Fred, a concerned husband and father, strategically questions each member of his family on appropriate actions during an emergency.  Despite his wife's reservations on the topic, a consensus is quickly reached that calls for a quick journey to the nearest marked public shelter when the sirens sound.

The Invisible Enemy

1958 saw the formation of The Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, an agency devoted to spreading the message of fallout protection.  To achieve this task, government planners appropriated a number of existing films, such as The Invisible Enemy, which had been created for specific regions.   Made in Michigan to highlight the radiation dangers facing that state, the film features the emergency preparations of Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, explained through a lecture by an atomic research scientist.

U.S. Civil Defense in Action

Released in early 1953, this film was designed to champion the progress America was making in civil defense preparations.  Although the various films and radio programs created by the Federal Civil Defense Administration are highlighted in detail, a challenge is also presented to the population, who are accused of being apathetic towards the atomic threat.  Coming in the midst of the Alert America campaign, the film encourages volunteers to step forward and offer their skills to fulfill a civic duty.

Day Without End

After the creation of the National Fallout Shelter Program in late 1961, the role of the local civil defense director expanded as cities and states, once left to devise their own pre-attack preparedness, now received guidance, funding and supplies from the federal government.  Day Without End shadows Bill Logan, civil defense director, as he coordinates his town's emergency planning.  Facing thrifty bureaucrats, reluctant property owners, and a lack of participation, his challenges are many and his hours are long.

One Plane, One Bomb

Famed broadcaster Edward R. Murrow once again lent his hand to civil defense officials when creating One Plane, One Bomb in 1953.  Shot in the style of his See it Now program, Murrow and his CBS crew document a hypothetical experiment testing whether a flight of U.S. bomber planes, posing as Soviets, can fly across American soil and remain undetected until reaching New York City.  Relying primarily on the trained volunteers of the Ground Observer Corps, the film paints a grim picture of America's state of preparedness.

Nuclear Detonations: The First Sixty Seconds

Throughout the 1960's, the Office of Civil Defense produced a number of short, focused films each with the purpose of teaching about a specific aspect of the nuclear threat.  Filmed in a classroom setting, Nuclear Detonations: The First Sixty Seconds does not stray from what's promised in the title.  A teacher/narrator explains to his class about the immediate effects and dangers of blast, shock, heat, and initial radiation. 

Planning for Public Shelter Entry

The implementation of the National Fallout Shelter Survey in 1961 created the need to train thousands of volunteers to staff the public refuges.  This film from 1963 was designed to examine the initial moments of shelter entry, when frightened patrons would need to be efficiently settled inside.  Following a group of neighborhood civil defense officials convening at the door to a warehouse, Planning for Public Shelter stresses good communication, a secure environment, and prompt first aid for those in need immediately following an attack.

A New Look at the H Bomb

The growing fear of an enemy attack was fanned in 1952 with the development of the hydrogen bomb, a move quickly matched by the Soviets the following year.  Rising to address the situation, F.C.D.A. director Val Peterson lectures viewers on the increased destructive power of the new weapons, focusing primarily on fallout dangers.  Set entirely within Peterson's office, A New Look at the H Bomb uses detailed photographs to show the dispersing nature of radioactive contamination and the best defense to it.

The Family Fallout Shelter

When the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization distributed a pamphlet entitled The Family Fallout Shelter in 1959, it formally asked the American public to create a private shelter system within their homes.  The following year, this film with the same title was produced, illustrating the do-it-yourself shelter designs showcased in the pamphlet.  Featuring the Brown family, The Family Fallout Shelter traces their elaborate underground shelter from the planning stages to the final stocking of supplies.

Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself Against It

1958 saw the creation of a new national civil defense agency which initiated a campaign for greater awareness of fallout radiation.  As part of this much heralded public information endeavor, an animated film was contracted in 1959 to provide a general overview of the threat fallout particles posed.  The resulting production, Fallout: When and How to Protect Yourself Against It, features a cartoon businessman quickly established as an average American, who demonstrates how to protect himself, his family, and his property from the deadly residue.

Disaster on Main Street

The Federal Civil Defense Administration was established in 1950 with two goals, first to raise awareness of the atomic bomb's potential for destruction, and second to conventionalize this power.  Disaster on Main Street sought to accomplish both of these goals by connecting images of rubble and refugees from World War II with a stern warning that the same fate could befall American cities who remain complacent on civil defense.  Narrated by famed journalist Edward R. Murrow, the film provides an interesting glimpse into the early policies of the F.C.D.A.

Living With the Atom

Religion often found its way into many policies or practices concerning the atomic threat.  In 1957, for example, The Moody Institute of Science found a way to incorporate the principles of Intelligent Design into both atomic energy and the vast moral dilemma the wielding of such power held.  Living With the Atom unfolds as both a science lesson, complete with visual aides, and a moral lecture urging consultation with a higher power before dictating policies involving "the building blocks of The Creator."

Briefly, About Fallout

When it was created in 1963, About Fallout became one of the most widely distributed films on the topic of civil defense.  Four years later, the Office of Civil Defense cashed in on the same subject matter once again by carefully editing their hit into a condensed version which was eventually entitled Briefly, About Fallout.  Though it is the same film, the advice considerably trimmed, resembling more an advertisement for the National Fallout Shelter Program than an instructional device.

Infant and Child Care

As this film quickly makes clear, the likelihood of infants and small children being present in a fallout shelter following a nuclear attack was high.  Recognizing the problems these tiny occupants would no doubt face, the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare created Infant and Child Care as an abbreviated guide for parents caught in emergency situations.  While focusing almost entirely on the sanitation and feeding of infants, the film also provides some fascinating insight as to how teenagers were supposed to behave while confined to the shelter.


Although most commonly associated with an atomic threat, civil defense also sought to protect against the furies of nature.  A prime example of this non-nuclear defense can be found in the 1956 public service film Tornado, which explains the formations of the deadly vortexes, while depicting the destruction of the fictional Elmville, Oklahoma.  Featuring a host of developing meteorological technology, parallels can easily be drawn between Tornado's content, and that of films which demonstrate the devastation likely to occur following an enemy attack.

Emergency Operating Centers: Radiological Defense Operations

Created in 1967 as part of a monitoring series, this film picks up moments after an enemy attack has hit the fictional metropolis of Central City.  Descending into a county-level civil defense headquarters Emergency Operating Centers: RaDef Operations follows a number of civil defense officers as they plot fallout projections headed towards the town.  Covering in detail the jobs of EOC staff member, the film uses a number of relatable characters who also address problems of communication and a lack of accurate information.

       To Live Tomorrow

Produced in part by the Institute of Life Insurance, To Live Tomorrow begins with a speech by President Eisenhower calling for a solid civil defense program.  Utilizing this call to preparedness, an insurance executive examines the ways in which humans react to sudden change, from minor disturbances to life-threatening disaster, all while on his train commute home.  Culminating in a brief thought experiment involving his fellow passengers, the executive's message is grim, too many Americans would panic in a disaster without proper leadership and training.

Your Chance to Live: Nuclear Disaster

The 1970's proved to be the waning years for American civil defense programs and during this time of diminishing public awareness, an experimental film was produced to show the dangers of such attitudes.  Created by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency as part of the Your Chance to Live series, Nuclear Disaster is a film highlighting process of creating a civil defense film.  Follow a director and his camera crew as they interview potential actors, sync sirens sounds to images, and discuss intonations with their narrator before a surprise ending provides a fitting conclusion!

New Family in Town

The Second World War provided a generation with a first-hand experience of warfare and in 1956, the F.C.D.A. drew upon this experience in a unique way when creating New Family in Town.  The film relates the stir which is caused by the arrival of the Trombleys, an English family, into a working class American town.  In addition to bringing with them a host of foreign customs, the Trombleys also possess a keen interest in civil defense, a trait displayed to the rest of the town through the construction of a state of the art air raid shelter.

In Time of Emergency

The late 1960's saw a general decline in civil defense, both budget wise and in a "general apathy" on behalf of the American public.  As an attempt to reinvigorate a stagnating image across the country, the In Time of Emergency pamphlet campaign developed in March of 1968 and this film of the same name followed a year later.  While the idea of campaign was to liken preparation for an enemy attack to natural disaster, the film forgoes any mention hurricanes, blizzards, or flooding, instead focusing on fallout protection.

The House in the Middle

As a means of spreading public awareness of civil defense, the Federal Civil Defense Administration often invited various companies and trade organizations to test their products in the presence of an atomic blast.  This experimental marketing gave the National Paint, Varnish, and Lacquer Association promising footage concerning the protective capabilities of finishing materials.  The resulting film, The House in the Middle, recommends a clean house, a tidy yard, and a fresh coat of white paint to keep homes safe.

Emergency Operations Centers: The Basic Concepts

As an introductory film to a radiological monitoring series, Emergency Operations Centers provides a number of humorous situations alongside tedious suggestions for management protocols.  The film takes place in the fictional Central City and features an unlikely duo consisting of up-and-coming celebrity Conrad Bain and wiseguy comedian Arnold Stang who create an ideal emergency headquarters for the local government. 

The Price of Liberty

The creation of the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1950, and the inception of the Alert America program the following year created a boost in civil defense awareness which ultimately resonated in a call for volunteers.  One manifestation of this call appeared in The Price of Liberty, a presentation from WNYC tailored specifically for New York audiences.  Adopting the motto later utilized for Alert America, the film sternly warns that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" while encouraging the viewer to volunteer.

                                                              Fire Fighting for Householders

As one of the nine original commissions by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1951, this production holds a unique place in the first federally sponsored film campaign on nuclear civil defense.  Step by step procedures for fighting wood, chemical, and electrical fires are presented as a both training process, and an incentive to keep property free of flammable debris.  Utilitarian in script and drama, Fire Fighting for Householders gives the viewer just enough taste of their expected responsibilities as to encourage further reading on the subject.  

                                                                    The Safest Place

Increased awareness of the threat fallout posed to rural populations led the United States Department of Agriculture to produce a number of films in the late 1950's and early 1960's to help farmers and ranchers deal with the problem. Evenly paced and to the point, The Safest Place praises the "built in" preparedness of rural life as much as it informs on fallout protection.  Stressing the utilization of existing farm space, County Agent Bob Martin helps dairy farmer Hugh Wilson ready his family and livestock for an attack. 

                                                                   Planning for Emergence from Public Shelters
The concluding film in a 1967 series concerning radiological monitoring, this production injects a well needed dose of humor and drama into what had fast become a painstakingly detailed project.  Trace a gruff shelter manager and his heat oppressed staff as they bring in more medicine and sardines to supplement their dwindling supplies while avoiding the harsh presence of radioactivity.  Short and triumphant, Planning for Emergence from Public Shelters exudes optimism while still trying to present the blunt reality of war.  

                                                            Introduction to a Radiological Defense Exercise           

The first in a line of films designed to show county level civil defense officials how to set up an effective radiological monitoring program, this short begins with a personal story.  Follow Dan Carter, an average citizen already learned in physics, as he becomes educated in the science of fallout.  A fun beginning to a tedious series, Introduction to a Radiological Defense Exercise weaves human poignancy with the cold facts of nuclear war, and all in six minutes!  

                                                                       -And A Voice Shall be Heard
By late 1950, General Electric, apparently unsatisfied with having their brand in every American household, moved into the world of civil defense.  The result was a film subtly functioning as an elongated G.E. advertisement, using a nuclear disaster to showcase electronics.  -And A Voice Shall be Heard is not so crass as to prophesize disaster for towns which don't use G.E. communication equipment, but shamelessly promotes the advantages of having them in time of emergency.

                                                                         Pattern For Survival
Civil defense films made prior to 1951 lacked two things, coherent scripts and the full authority of the government to back their Atomic advice.  Pattern For Survival (late 1950) attempts to remedy one of these ailments.  The organization is still disjointed but narration provided by noted journalist Chet Huntley and interviews with William Lawrence, media expert on nuclear activity, allow Pattern For Survival to pack a professional punch without Washington's help.

                                                                       Fallout and Agriculture
Rural America often fell second to city folk when it came to films depicting the horrors of atomic warfare, as close quartered urban populations produced a plethora of horrific options to expound upon.  Emphasis on fallout in the late 1950's however, gave the agriculturist a dilemma, and thus, screen time.  A brainchild of the U.S.D.A, Fallout and Agriculture addresses the farmer on life altering issues such as cattle ionization, all while colorfully illustrating the process!

                                                                Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter
The concept of "do it yourself" took an interesting turn in 1959 when the Eisenhower Administration formally asked the public to construct home shelters.  Supplementing a similarly titled pamphlet, Walt Builds a Family Fallout Shelter showed America how to do just that, out of pocket of course!  Join grandfatherly host Walt as he turns an unused basement space into an economically feasible, multi-purposed, self-sufficient fallout shelter.

                                                                    Protection Factor 100
Fallout sheltering came of age during the Eisenhower Administration, yet Washington kept its pocket book sealed in terms of financing such development.  The 1960's, however, brought a new president, eager to lend a federal hand ensuring every American had a post-attack refuge.  Protection  Factor 100 details this massive undertaking, documenting a radical shift in government policy, and the best established of all attempted civil defense programs.


                                                                                 The Day Called X

Originally aired as a prime time special on CBS in 1957, this dramatic reenactment of a nuclear attack on Portland, Oregon was narrated by celebrity Glenn Ford.  Highlighting the city's plan of evacuation, the footage was taken from Operation Greenlight, a 1955 civil defense drill.  Excellent usage of suspense and action shots make A Day Called X a very entertaining watch!


                                                                             Alert Today, Alive Tomorrow

Narrated by radio personality Andre Barruch, this production spotlights the civil defense preparations being undertaken by the city of Reading, Pennsylvania.  Stressing the need to help others and come together as a community during an atomic crisis, the film offers superb shots of rescue teams in action, as well as the peculiar ways in which the county is preparing to warn the public and carry on effective communication after the bomb falls.


                                                                                       Atomic Alert 

An early attempt to introduce school aged children to the dangers of the nuclear age, this film was produced as a line of science-related shorts by Encyclopaedia Brittanica.  Using a blend of animated nuclear attacks and real life children, the ideas of seeking shelter, avoiding blast and heat, and trusting adults and older kids are repeated numerous times to drill the procedure into the heads of the viewers.


                                                                        What You Should Know About Biological Warfare

This film looks at the effects of a biological, not nuclear, attack on the United States.  Based on a pamphlet of the same name, What You Should Know About Biological Warfare outlines the different methods in which a biological attack can occur and what the medical community is doing to halt the results if one occurs.  Urging obedience to health authorities, the film promotes the pamphlet for further information on the subject.


                                                                                Our Cities Must Fight

One of the original films produced by the Federal Civil Defense Administration in 1951, Our Cities Must Fight preaches a scathing message against evacuation.  Shot in a very unique way that is best described as a dramatic dialogue between two men, stock footage of traffic jams and civil defense drills are incorporated to make an argument against leaving American cities when the fear of attack is high.