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Occupying a Public Shelter

Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Army

“Mid-afternoon, USA, a community like thousands of other communities across the country.  Like your community!  You’re a housewife out doing the shopping, or a little girl out walking the dog.  You’re a boy trying out your new baseball glove.  You’re a construction worker with the day off catching up on some chores around the house, or a senior citizen, catching up on his dreams.  Suddenly something happens!  (Cue activation of warning siren) Something that halts the normal routine of the day, your nation has become the victim of a nuclear attack. To prevent you from becoming a casualty, you must stop what you are doing and be prepared to take cover, most likely in a public shelter.  What will you will do there?  How will you react?"


Occupying a Public Shelter begins by showing the activities described above when the wail of a siren causes each character to stop and stare towards the sky in a freeze frame.  The following scene cuts to a generic street corner while a crowd streams into a building prominently marked with a fallout shelter sign.  To lighten the considerably serious situation developing, a whimsical musical score begins to play while an explanatory disclaimer scrolls up the screen.  The lengthy message discusses a series of government administered tests upon which the film was based.  In short, the character situations depicted in the Occupying a Public Shelter were designed to concur with the results from numerous sociological tests on populations in crowded spaces.


Inside the shelter, Donald Barnes, local businessman and federally trained shelter manager, takes command of the families entering from outside.  Barnes, while personally greeting each occupant, also presents them with registration cards.  Containing vital statistics, as well as registered skills that could benefit the shelter community, the cards also provide a valuable assurance that government bureaucracy has indeed survived the attack.  As the shelter fills up, it’s clear an interesting cross-section of 1960’s America is seeking refuge along with Barnes.  Among them are numerous elderly couples, a foreign immigrant, a Hispanic family, a young “hips” mother, complete with knee high boots, beret, and poncho as well as a middle-aged black man who has been trained to operate the shelter's radio system.


“The alert shelter leader, always on the watch for an ‘emergent leader’ ready to help ease the burden of shelter living  Manager Barnes sets out to assemble a sort of shelter staff who will aid him in keeping the shelter running at full efficiency.  To perform the many functions that will be needed to ensure a quality operation, Barnes looks to the information provided to him by the forms each occupant has filled out.  It appears that his occupants cover a vast array of skills.  “Housewife Lenore Payton has listed on her registration form that she has taken a First Aid Home Nursing Course.  In the absence of professional medical personnel, Manager Barnes assigns her the position of nurse  The whimsical music continues as Barnes gives her a tour of the shelter’s extensive medical supplies while the narrator makes note that all were furnished free of charge by the Federal government. Hal Benton, the calm and collected construction worker seen earlier cutting the grass, utilizes his skills a former military police officer when he is placed in charge of security and organization.  Office worker Burt Gates finds in this time of trial, a natural ability to induce comfort in others.  Noticing this, Barnes promotes him to chaplain and he begins by reading Bible verses to an elderly woman overcome with stress in the current situation.  Carry Wilkins, local supermarket cashier is given the responsibility of distributing the shelter’s supplies of food.  As Mrs. Wilkins goes about her inventory of the available edibles, the camera offers some beautiful shots of government furnishes supplies, including survival crackers, water barrels, and sanitation kits.