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Public Shelter Supplies:
What Does the Government Supply?

Office of Civil Defense


Beginning in 1961, architects and engineers under the employ of the Office of Civil Defense set out to inspect thousands of existing buildings across the United States which could potentially serve as public fallout shelter spaces.  Once a structure was found capable of providing suitable protection from fallout radiation in the event of an enemy nuclear attack, the first step was to mark it with a black and yellow shelter sign. The second step was to stock each shelter with supplies necessary for survival.  To highlight its shelter stocking efforts, the Office of Civil Defense released Public Shelter 

Supplies: What Does the Government Supply? in 1963. (1)  As the film's opening lines make clear, it doesn't matter how much protection a shelter offers, unless people are equipped to live inside of it.  Recognizing this fact, the federal government offered food, water, sanitation items, medical kits, and radiological detection instruments to all marked public shelters.  The host of the film begins by explaining the importance of allocating sufficient space for supplies in a shelter area.  To entice building owners who may be reluctant to give up floor space for permanent storage, it is stressed that government supplies are designed to be condensed to as small an area as possible.

A female host takes over, explaining in a gentle voice that standard diets in a public shelter will consist entirely of tinned wheat crackers.  Government planners theorized that an allotment of 10,000 calories per person for the entirety of an eleven day shelter stay would allow occupants to maintain a reasonable standard of nourishment.  To achieve this, the crackers are baked to provide 900 calories per person, per day.  Even more important than food, however, is water.  Shelter water supplies will come from 17 1/2 gallon drums, shipped empty from federal depots to be filled and stored by local authorities prior to the arrival of any fallout.  To 

encourage better hygiene and to help even out distribution, siphon hoses and plastic cups are included in sanitation kits. Shelter sanitation kits also contain toilet tissue, sanitary napkins, waterless hand cleaners, disinfectant, gloves, and a plastic seat to transform the round fiberboard container into a commode once emptied.  As water drums are emptied, they too will serve as commodes.  To deal with sickness and injury which will inevitably occur, medical kits are provided. They contain medicines such as penicillin and asprin, as well as simple bandages and first-aid items.  Guidebooks for the treatment of basic medical emergencies are also found in the kits, though the female host stresses that severe cases may require professional attention and specialized supplies not provided.

The host from the beginning of the film returns to discuss shelter radiation kits.  He is a veteran of several civil defense films, hosting Power of Decision (1958) and Planning for Emergence from Public Shelters (1967) and starring as gruff emergency preparedness director Bill Logan in Day Without End (1964).  Shelter radiation kits contain four pieces of equipment.  The first is a low level survey meter (a CD V-700) which is used to measure radioactive particles on people, food, water and other small objects.  The second instrument is a high level survey meter, used by trained monitors to determine radiation rates through the entire

shelter and surrounding areas.  The final two pieces are a dosimeter (a pen-sized device designed to measure radiation exposure on individuals) and a dosimeter charger.  Batteries and operation manuals are also provided.   In the closing moments, the host stresses these supplies, food, water, sanitation items, medical kits, and radiation instruments constitute the minimum essentials needed for survival in a shelter environment.  Local authorities are urged to augment them in order to make shelter living hospitable.  To drive home this point, the Office of Civil Defense released a companion film alongside this production titled Public Shelter Supplies: What Additional Supplies are Desirable? (2) It depicts a forward-thinking shelter which has stocked canned food, flashlights, cots, safety equipment and other luxury items are provided to ease the burden on occupants.


Public Shelter Supplies: What Does the Government Supply? can 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.
2. 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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