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Public Shelter Organization and Staff


Office of Civil Defense


In a driving rainstorm, moments after an enemy nuclear attack, a man stands outside a fallout shelter re-bundling his trench coat and frantically waving people inside the door.  He is relieved by the gruff Bill Collins, shelter manager, who arrives with his wife and daughter and immediately takes charge.  Although a radiological team informs him that fallout is not yet descending on their location, Collins finds his shelter filled to capacity and orders the entry sealed.  Working a radio set, a communications officer establishes contact with civil defense headquarters while Collins oversees the distribution of registration cards to all

occupants.  Voice-over narration explains that Bill Collins is following a well-rehearsed procedure designed to ensure entry into the fallout shelter goes as smoothly as possible.  Collins' strict adherence to procedure is interrupted, however, when he learns that four trained staff members, including his assistant shelter manager and the feeding manager, have likely perished in the attack.  Quickly scanning the vital information collected on the occupant registration cards, Collins finds Mrs. Dyer, a cafeteria manager in pre-attack life, and puts her in charge of feeding the occupants of his shelter.  Just as he orders her to pass out coffee, the power goes out and the sudden darkness causes a panic.  Collins uses a bullhorn to quickly restore order and requests men with electrical experience to come forward.  This opening sequence demonstrates nicely the message Public Shelter Organization and Staff tries to relate.  Strict adherence to procedure is necessary for life in a fallout shelter, but managers must improvise when unexpected situations occur.

Once the Department of Defense deemed a building suitable to serve as a fallout shelter, it was marked with signs and stocked with supplies necessary for survival.    After that it was up to local authorities to maintain the shelters and recruit qualified leaders to staff them.  To aid in this process, the federal government produced many publications and motion pictures to train shelter staffs and depict what life might be like in a fallout shelter.  It was in this vein of "shelter living" material that The Office of Civil Defense released Public Shelter Organization and Staff in 1963.  The film examines the most effective ways to

organize shelter management staff, the shelter itself, and the occupants.  In addition to the shelter manager, a number of assistant positions should be filled including the health and sanitation manager, the safety manager, the feeding manager, the bunking manager, the maintenance manager, the communications officer, the information officer and, perhaps most important, the radiological defense officer.  Several animated maps are shown demonstrating the best ways to arrange these tasks in shelters of varying sizes.  If a management position is vacant, it should be filled by an experienced shelter occupant.  Bill Collins demonstrates this onscreen when he recruits Mr. Bernard, a quick-witted man with a thick Brooklyn accent, to serve as the maintenance manager after Bernard effortlessly restores electricity to the shelter.

According to the film, the occupants themselves should be organized into units of 10 people for easier management and sections of up to 100.  If needed, larger groups of 300 to 500 people should be organized as divisions.  Interestingly, although many large public shelters had capacities in the tens of thousands, with few exceptions, only very small shelters are depicted in film.  This is almost certainly due to the logistical and budgetary hurdles which would have been necessary to feature a large shelter population onscreen.  One notable exception, 

Handbook for Survival, covers an actual fallout shelter habitability test in Athens, Georgia in a massive warehouse with several divisions of occupants. (2)  That film makes it clear that crowded conditions and lack of sleeping space would immediately become a problem and that even simple tasks, like food service, could take hours to complete.  With his shelter capacity limited to 50 (the minimum allowed for a federal public shelter designation), Bill Collins does not have this problem.  Mr. Bernard is able to keep the electricity running and Mrs. Dyer serves coffee quickly and without complaint.  In spite of the bleary outlook of a post-attack world, the film ends on this optimistic note, suggesting that good organization, good leadership and positive attitudes will ensure the survival of shelter occupants.  The organizational procedures presented in the film would not be deemed obsolete by the end of the 1960's.  Instead, the film could be rented or purchased from Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (successor to the Office of Civil Defense) catalogs into the 1970's. (3)


Public Shelter Organization and Staff may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.

1. Department of the Army.  Index of Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids, 1972.  345.
2. Hammes, John A.  Shelter Occupancy Studies at the University of Georgia 1965.  Office of Civil Defense, July 22, 1965.  Acknowledgments.
3. Department of the Army.  Index of Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids, 1972.  345.

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