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Display of Operational Data


Office of Civil Defense


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The concept of a nationwide system of public fallout shelters became reality in December of 1961 when the Office of Civil Defense began marking qualified buildings with distinctive signs and stocking them with supplies necessary for survival.  The ultimate goal of this process, appropriately named the National Fallout Shelter Program, was to ensure every American had adequate refuge following an enemy nuclear attack.  Although the federal government would identify the shelters and provide supplies, subsequent management duties, including how to best allocate shelter space amongst a population, were largely left up to city and 

county authorities.  To aid local shelter management efforts, a number of detailed training films were produced with each documenting an expected post-attack problem along with a number of solutions.  Display of Operational Data, released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1967, examines the most effective methods to collect and present the overwhelming amount of information that would no doubt flood into an emergency operating center in the chaos of a nuclear attack. (1) Proper informational displays, the film argues, are essential to successfully coordination of post-attack tasks such as monitoring levels of fallout radiation and maintaining safe shelter capacities.

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Many films released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1967 all share the same setting, an emergency operating center in Central City, the seat of Modell County. This fictional location, described in Emergency Operating Centers: The Basic Concepts as a "bustling metropolis of 80,000", is never subjected to a direct hit by an enemy missile.  Instead, it is always inundated with fallout from nearby strikes on cities and military bases.  In a broader context, this is indicative of American civil defense policy in the late 1960's which focused very heavily on providing shelter to people well outside the ground zero of a nuclear detonation.  Official films and 

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publications were, by that time, tacitly admitting there was no practical plan capable of saving the millions who would be caught in the blast and fire of a direct hit.  Display of Operational Data does not break from this theme and introductory narrations explains local authorities were first notified of missile attacks on the West Coast.  When nearby Metropolis City is destroyed, Central City braces for fallout.  Men and women trained in civil defense staff their desks and chart weather conditions, wind patterns, blast radii and fallout conditions on large maps and chalk boards visible to all.  Their information is received through radio operators and quickly and calmly processed by secretaries.  Radiological defense officers use the data displays to relay commands to individual shelter managers.  Just as the action begins to intensify, the camera pulls back in a decidedly self-reflexive manner to reveal a sound stage, film crew and lighting equipment.  The actors and crew exit the stage and a clean-cut host appears to explain how Central City has achieved such an efficient system.

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Central City's planning process began long before any crisis period.  The civil defense director met with the sheriff, the police and fire chiefs, military commanders, and representatives from local government and the highway and utility departments.  Each of these entities would help staff the emergency operating center and use their personnel as reliable sources of collecting information.  This collection phase is the first step towards effectively managing a hectic post-attack period and it is addressed in several films.  Facts Make the Difference, an Office of Civil Defense film from 1966, in particular discusses

which data collection methods and sources are most credible. (2)  Here, data collection is shown to function best as an exercise in cooperation between first responders.  The second phase of this process, the host explains, is the physical display of all collected data.  In an ideal setup, large maps with movable icons and equally large chalkboards will the walls of a civil defense headquarters.  These can be quickly and easily updated when information or conditions change.  Particular attention is given to different types of maps that can be best utilized.  The host acknowledges that, due to budget reasons, many areas may not have such an elaborate display.  In a pinch, a standard bulletin board and pieces of felt or magnets can be used.  In extreme circumstances, white sheets and brown paper bags can serve as both overhead projector screens and display surfaces.  The need for the information presented in Display of Operational Data never dissipated and as a result, the film would not be declared obsolete like many others in the 1960's.  Instead it could be obtained through armed forces catalogs into the 1970's. (3)


Display of Operational Data may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.


1. Department of the Army. Index of Army Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids.  May 29, 1973.  345.
2. Department of Defense, Office of Civil Defense. Annual Report.  February 9, 1968.  76.
3. Department of the Army. Index of Army Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids.  May 29, 1973.  345.

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