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Safety Measures in Public Shelters

Office of Civil Defense


With the implementation of the National Fallout Shelter Program in late 1961, teams of architects and engineers employed by the federal government toured the United States in search of existing buildings capable of offering protection from radioactive fallout.  Once a structure was found to meet qualifications established by the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), it was marked with shelter signs and stocked with supplies necessary for survival.  When these initial steps were complete, however, responsibility fell upon local authorities to organize and train volunteers to staff each shelter in the wake of an enemy attack with nuclear weapons.  The process of organizing a proper shelter staff was the subject of a motion picture produced by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963.  Among the positions to be filled is that of safety manager, who must protect shelter occupants from conventional dangers like fire and collapse, while also maintaining peace and order in the chaotic post-attack environment.  Later that same year, a separate film detailing the responsibilities of the safety manager was released by the OCD under the title Safety Measures in Public Shelters. 

The safety manager's duties begin well in advance of any emergency.  He (all films and literature assume this role will be filled by a man) must familiarize himself with the floor plan of the shelter, carefully noting any fire hazards and potential alternate exits.  A suit-and-tied man enters a model shelter and  examines his Operations Chart and lockbox.  After an attack, the safety manager must control the door, preventing any dangerous items from entering the shelter.  In a fascinating example of post-attack bureaucracy, any prohibited items are to be kept in a lockbox and their owners given a receipt to reclaim after the shelter stay has ended.  This process is examined in detail in the 1963 OCD production Planning for Public Shelter Entry.  This initial step would no doubt aid the safety manager and his team of volunteers in another important assignment, maintaining peace and order in the chaotic shelter environment.  Besides these routine tasks, the safety manager must be ready for any emergency which may arise.  The safety manager in the film inspects shelves of tools which will be needed to fight fires and excavate from the shelter in the event of a building collapse.  If parts of the shelter collapse, the safety team must coordinate with radiological monitors to determine which areas of the shelter are most protected from fallout and whether those areas are structurally sound.  After checking firefighting equipment, the safety manager concludes his shelter is secure, turns out the lights and exits.