Cinema History from the Cold War!

Protection Factor 100
Office of Civil Defense
Norwood Studios


Beginning in 1961, teams of architects and engineers employed by the government began searching for potential fallout shelter space in communities across the United StatesKnown as the National Fallout Shelter Survey, these regimented building inspections marked the first phase in implementing a system of federally sponsored public fallout shelters.  This process of physically visiting properties and recording all relevant data is documented in the film Protection Factor 100, released in 1962 by the Office of Civil Defense.  Steuart L. Pittman, then director of civil defense, briefly appears in the beginning of the film to offer his, and President Kennedy's, blessing to the ambitious national shelter plan.  His speech masks a fierce debate that was actually raging around the implementation of a massive shelter system, where every aspect, from widely fluctuating costs to the overall effectiveness, was attacked from both sides of the political spectrum.  Pittman, who never appears comfortable in front of a camera, refers viewers to the widely distributed pamphlet Fallout Protection to gain the necessary knowledge to keep themselves and their families ahead of the radioactive threat.


The title of the film is drawn from requirements established by the OCD, whereby a building having a protection factor of at least 100 (meaning radiation levels inside the building would measure 1/100th of outdoor levels), was eligible to be marked and stocked as a fallout shelter.  Once a building was deemed suitable, signs demarcated the protected areas within.  The second phase of the shelter program, which involved placing supplies of food, medicine, and sanitation material in the shelter, is the focus of The Day That Made a Difference, a 1965 OCD production.  The third and final phase was a continual maintenance and resupply of registered shelters.  Throughout the early 1950's, the danger of fallout radiation had been minimized or outright dismissed.  By 1957, however, it was recognized as a serious and long-lasting effect of a nuclear detonation and the government began suggesting individuals construct shelters in their homes.  This privatized view of civil defense responsibility would last until the Kennedy Administration advocated for public fallout shelters.  The closing words moments of Protection Factor 100 capture well this reversal of government policy.  “This nationwide inventory of existing shelter space will form the basis for all future shelter planning.  It represents a realistic step in a program ultimately designed to make fallout protection available to every individual in every community throughout the nation.  It is a program committed to the principle that the safety of the individual and his community is a national concern, and that the national welfare is the concern of every community!"