Cinema History from the Cold War!

Introduction to a
Radiological Defense Exercise
Office of Civil Defense


This is the story of Dan Carter, high school physics teacher and chief radiological monitoring officer for Central City, the fictional metropolis where the film takes place.  Like the average American citizen at the height of the Cold War, he has grown skeptical of the continuous scare headlines boldly printed across the front page of the evening paper, and so he resents the interruption of his weekly golf game to establish a civil defense command center in the midst a new international crisis.  His own narration makes clear "everyone in town felt this was not another Cuba, it was business as usual like in '65 when they started bombing North Vietnam."  Yet the thought of a shooting war with the Soviets permeates Carter's conscience.  Descending into the local emergency operations center as the sirens sound at the end of the film, he is left wondering whether his family has made the proper preparations.

As the second in a line of productions created by the Office of Civil Defense in 1967 to train volunteers in fallout detection, Introduction to a Radiological Defense Exercise serves only to introduce characters and an attack narrative which are explored in subsequent installments of the series.  The setting for each film is Central City, described in Emergency Operating Centers: The Basic Concepts as "a bustling metropolis of around 80,000."  Moments after this film ends, the actions picks up again in Emergency Operation Centers: Radiological Defense Operations, which continues to follow Dan Carter and his team as they chart fallout patterns when the nearby Cobb Air Force Base is hit.  The remaining films explore topics such as fallout contamination of personnel and food, as well as radiological monitoring over large areas and in key municipal facilities.  Concluding with Planning for Emergence from Public Shelters, a promise of a restoration to pre-attack life is promised.

The zeal expressed in these productions masks a general decline in support and funding for civil defense programs in America which had taken hold by 1967.  Still a year away from the In Time of Emergency campaign which would inject new life into federally guided nuclear preparedness, the Office of Civil Defense was chronically underfunded and lapsing in credibility.  As many large cities, most notably New York, did away with local civil defense structures, it became more difficult to maintain an image of a cohesive national program.  Films such as these then, were ostensibly training devices but on a deeper level they worked to show the increasingly skeptical public that not only was civil defense alive and well, but that it was morphing into an organized and well coordinated system and not stagnating, as one New York Times critic suggested, "back into the days of armbands, tin helmets, and binoculars".