The Plan of Action
Oregon Gives a Greenlight to Evacuation
Oregon’s plan was divided into two
stages, each with its own distinct objectives. The initial stage took the
form of a public information crusade, striving to alert on everything from
warning siren signals to evacuation routes. Attempts to spread the basics
of civil defense and evacuation to Portland manifested themselves primarily in
the form of pamphlets and presentations. A public affairs department,
created to meet this goal, ultimately produced several leaflets to get the
message out. Among them were “Target Oregon”, “Your Guide to Defense
Against the H-Bomb”, and “Pre-Attack Evacuation Plan” which, in that respective
order, sought to guide the public through a nuclear crisis. These
publications were supplemented by presentations where the handbills were
distributed to interested crowds and the finest in Oregon state civil defense
was showcased. Throughout 1954 and 1955 for example, the volunteer crews
of Clark County’s seven rescue vehicles, which had traveled to Nevada to take
part in atomic testing, toured a number of county fairs, American Legion
conventions, and Armed Services Day memorials to demonstrate their techniques
and incite participation.
education program recruited thousands of volunteers to serve as everything from
air raid spotters to engineering assistants, a much larger infrastructure was
needed to establish the orderly evacuation the H-bomb required (3).
Throughout the early 1950’s, an evacuation infrastructure was planned and
partially implemented. This early plan saw the designation of staging
areas for rescue personnel outside Portland as well as the construction of road
signs to direct the flow of traffic. According to the Annual Civil
Defense Report, state planners began to reexamine the idea of providing
evacuation routes to welfare centers outside the city while rescue workers both
from the city and neighboring counties gathered in three strategic staging
areas. This was due in large part to the fear of an H-bomb’s increased
power, and a revised plan was put out, tailored to the dangers of the Hydrogen
The basic evacuation formula stayed in place but the scope was enlarged. Portland’s Critical Target Area was expanded to include Clackamas, Washington, and Multnomah Counties, and a total evacuation order within a twenty mile radius of a projected ground zero was implemented (4). The entire state of Oregon was deemed a “Support Area” to take in evacuees and send any available rescue personnel and resources to the blast region. Twelve “Reception Areas” in communities well outside the twenty mile danger zone were designated. These small towns would play host to newly arrived evacuees while they register with welfare services and wait to be assigned more permanent quarters in counties further south.
A united front of organizations was assembled to ensure a safe passage for the stream of confused, displaced, and likely panicked or injured people who would be in exodus from Portland. Highway crews to clear the roads, Red Cross kitchens to feed the masses, and engineering units to supply the emergency routes with basic facilities were among the departments on hand. During the evacuation, a massive health service center was to be erected at Pacific University in Forest Grove, while Portland’s hospitals and medical personnel were to be strategically dispersed outside the city (5). Showing the increased respect nuclear fallout had been given in1955, plans were in the making for several radiological monitoring stations to coordinate safe passage from the affected areas. The stations were to be manned by volunteers trained in meteorological patterns and fallout detection. All events would be connected through a communications network established by R.A.C.E.S. volunteers, and several other amateur radio operating services. What the government hoped to establish through the combined efforts of these professional and volunteer services was to make the evacuation route as hazard free and quick moving as possible.
As the civilian population moved out, National Guardsmen and public service personnel moved in. Three massive Staging Areas were established in an arc around Portland. Sandy, Forest Grove, and Aurora, provided the proper resources and appropriate distance from Portland to safely assemble for rescue operations. Each area would be overseen by a director, for example, Stage 3 in Sandy was under the command of a high ranking Portland fire officer. Under the original plan, each Stage Area would have been coordinated by the “Advanced Control Center” set up at the McMinnville high school (6). The revised H-Bomb plan however, called for a state of the art 400,000 dollar control center to be placed in the hills outside Portland. Completed in time for Operation Greenlight, this concrete bunker would be home to the Portland city Government, Mayor, Civil Defense Director, and the heads of all municipal departments. Laden with the latest communications equipment and microfilmed copies of all vital city records, the bunker could hold the entire city emergency government for a two week stay (7).
3. According to the Annual Report, a two day training seminar was needed to become an engineering assistant. The main focus of the event was to learn different ways of setting up water lines to quench the thirst of evacuees on the routes out of Portland.
4. State planners projected in their hypothetical attack on Portland that ground zero for the H-bomb's detonation would be at the intersection of SW Broadway and Morrison streets, directly in the heart of the city. The distance which evacuation zones and staging areas could be safely established was judged by using these coordinates and spanning outwards.
5. As of February 1956, this plan was still on the drawing boards. It was likely that Forest Grove was chosen because Pacific University's infrastructure would have allowed a substantial medical facility to be established with less investment than smaller communities. Its existing facilities could also have been utilized had an attack occurred before proper arrangements were completed, and still been an effective center.
6. After the completion of the Portland City Government Bunker, the McMinnville high school was to be the headquarters for the Auxiliary Police program and safety resource center. Under the direction of operators at this center, auxiliary police were to man checkpoints to stop incoming traffic to Portland within three to five minutes after an alert was received.
7. Extensive shots of the bunker and its features are provided in A Day Called X,
while narrator Glenn Ford highlights the history of civil defense in
Portland, and stresses the preparedness of its population.