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Facts About Fallout

Federal Civil Defense Administration
Byron, Inc.

In 1955, the Federal Civil Defense Administration first acknowledged fallout radiation as a deadly and long lasting side-effect of an enemy atomic attack on the United States.  For the previous decade, the general belief held that airborne radioactive particles were dangerous only when brought to earth either by heavier debris in the immediate vicinity of a detonation or by rainstorms over surrounding areas.  To help educate the American public on this newly determined threat, the F.C.D.A. published Facts About Fallout, a colorful pamphlet featuring a perpetually nervous cartoon man.  Drawn to represent the average citizen, the man is shown humorously learning that fallout, in spite of its mysterious nature, is easy to protect against.  Two years later, in September of 1957, the F.C.D.A. and Byron, Inc. produced this animated film of the same name.  Following the structure of its namesake pamphlet, the motion picture version of Facts About Fallout depicts a family who is taught, by an authoritative narrator, what fallout is, how it harms the human body, and how to protect one's self against it.
Opening to an animated shot of the Federal Civil Defense Administration's headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, the film briefly explains how myths and misunderstandings are causing unnecessary fear of radiation.  A middle-aged man is introduced as he reads the Facts About Fallout pamphlet.  As the head of an average American family, he is eager to learn the problematic features of fallout.  The narrator reveals that fallout, which is invisible and odorless and cannot be heard or tasted, poses a risk to anyone downwind from the target of an enemy attack.  While the man's son studies a map of the United States, it is stated that the majority of the population lives within 200 miles of a probable target.  Interestingly, the man's teenage daughter makes a critical observation of government policy when she expresses her concern with fallout from American atomic testing.  The narrator is quick to point out that extensive planning and meteorological studies ensure that such tests are only conducted when fallout paths will not affect inhabited areas.  Because the enemy will not offer such consideration, protection from fallout is needed.

The man's wife worries aloud whether adequate shelter is available for her family.  Ideally, the family can construct a basement shelter, or an outdoor underground shelter covered by at least three feet of earth and stocked with seven days worth of supplies.  However, explains the narrator, just being inside a house may cut exposure to radiation down to as much as one half or two-thirds the outside levels if no greater shelter is available.  For persons caught outside when fallout arrives, cars or simple structures like barns would offer some protection.  In one of the more ridiculous pieces of advice given through a civil defense film, the narrator suggests digging a foxhole, with a plank of wood if necessary, and covering it with brush to serve as an improvised fallout shelter.  The man's daughter, who earlier criticized American atomic testing, is seen utilizing such a shelter when an enemy attack takes her by surprise in the countryside while on a romantic walk with her boyfriend.  Likely due to this scene, and because the film suggests homes without any shelter modifications may offer significant protective qualities, Facts About Fallout was declared obsolete by the F.C.D.A. in July of 1959, less than two years after its creation.  Citing inaccurate information as a result of continuous modifications to non-military defense strategies, civil defense officials ordered all government copies of the film returned and encouraged owners of private copies to cease screenings.

Facts About Fallout may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.

1. Federal Civil Defense Administration.  Facts About Fallout.  United States Government Printing Office, 1955.
2. Federal Civil Defense Administration.  1957 Annual Statistical Report.  United States Government Printing Office, 1957. 124.

3. Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization.  Motion Pictures on Civil Defense.  United States Government Printing Office, June 1959.  15.