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Public Shelter Supplies:

What Additional Supplies Are Desirable?


Office of Civil Defense


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Beginning in the early 1960's, a number of films were created by the Office of Civil Defense depicting what life might be like in a public fallout shelter should Americans ever be forced to seek refuge in one following an enemy attack with nuclear weapons.  Public Shelter Supplies: What Does the Government Supply? is one such film from 1963 which stresses that the federal government will only stock public shelters with items absolutely necessary for survival.  Any extra amenities which may improve the quality of shelter living will be the responsibility of local authorities.  To elaborate on this second point, this 

companion film, Public Shelter Supplies: What Additional Supplies are Desirable? was released the same year. (1)  The opening scenes show an austere shelter, one which is stocked only with the minimum government supplies.  An authoritative narrator makes it clear that while the food is nutritious, the water clean, and the sanitary facilities adequate, the comfort level of the occupants leaves much to be desired.  Men, women, and children are shown stretched out on cardboard boxes and a bare concrete floor.  While there is ample space, there are no activities to occupy time and no place to conduct shelter operations such as radiological monitoring or radio communications.

When determining what additional supplies to stock in a public shelter three factors must be considered.  Any item which increases the comfort, health, or morale of shelter occupants is desirable so long as it is not injurious or annoying and doesn't take up too much space.  Because many shelters are likely to be found in the basements or sparse mechanical rooms of buildings, conveniences as basic as chairs and tables may be lacking.  Providing a place for occupants to sit, and ideally cots and bunks for sleeping, will add much comfort.  Special medicines not found in government first-aid kits, along with basins, towels, and soap for bathing 

and laundry greatly improve health and sanitation, not to mention morale.  The narrator suggests that small objects like toys and puzzles will help distract small children.  Similarly, decks of cards, books, and magazines will curb boredom and anxiety for adults.  For spiritual comfort, copies of the bible are an option.  As the standard shelter diet would consist of protein-infused wheat crackers, significant consideration should be given to extra food rations.  Canned foods that can be eaten with little to no cooking are best.  If air flow is a concern in the shelter, canned heat and cook stoves should be used with caution. 

The setting switches from the austere shelter shown in the opening scenes, to one stocked with all of the amenities described above.  Children play with toys while adults read and deal cards.  All occupants have a place to sleep on bunks and evenly spaced cots.  Shelves of food and medicine line the walls.  This image, of an uncrowded shelter area stocked well beyond the minimum supplies provided by the federal government, is the one depicted most often in Office of Civil Defense films, even though actual shelter habitability tests would suggest this would not be the reality.  Regardless of how comfortable a shelter is made, the

narrator stresses that its primary purpose is survival.  Thought should be given to equipment needed should an emergency arise within a shelter.  In crowded and confined spaces, the danger of fire is high and extinguishers and sand buckets should be acquired.  Similarly, if a shelter is damaged by the blast of a nearby nuclear detonation, shovels, picks, and other tools for excavation may be needed.  Because the loss of power is very possible, generators, flashlights, and even candles could prevent a panic if the lights go out.  Communication via radio sets is also vital and serves as a connection to other shelters, civil defense command centers, and the outside world.  Even if the radio is only one-way, it can provide important news updates and boost morale.

Public Shelter Supplies: What Additional Supplies are Desirable? may be viewed, in its entirety, HERE.



1. Department of the Army.  Index of Army Motion Pictures and Related Audio-Visual Aids.  U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972.  345.

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