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Fallout Shelter: What is It?

Office of Civil Defense

This film seeks to answer the question presented in its title by explaining the concepts of shielding from radioactive fallout.  Throughout much of the 1950's, the fallout radiation from an enemy attack with nuclear weapons was of little concern to civil defense planners in the United States.  By the early 1960's, however, it was being treated as a deadly and long-lasting threat.  In an effort to offer effective protection for all Americans, the Office of Civil Defense began the National Fallout Shelter Survey in 1961.  Teams of architects and engineers employed by the federal government searched through real estate records and physically inspected existing buildings in order to find structures which could serve as public fallout shelters in the event a nuclear exchange made such accommodations necessary.  Fallout Shelter: What is It?, released by the Office of Civil Defense in 1963, examines how this process is accomplished as well as how fallout accumulation can harm the human body and what types of buildings are the most desirable in terms of fallout protection capability.


The host of the film, who portrays a civil defense expert in many other OCD productions, begins by explaining that while only those living near urban centers and military installations need worry about the blast and fire from a nuclear attack, all of America can fall victim to radioactive contamination.  Potential shelters, however, are plentiful.  Buildings housing fallout shelters, he assures, do not possess any mystical protective properties.  Instead, they are constructed with solid, dense material, such as granite or masonry.  The thicker the walls, the less radiation can penetrate the interior.  Architects examine these and other characteristics to determine a building's Protection Factor.  Any building found to have a Protection Factor of 100 or greater, meaning that radiation levels inside the building would be 1/100 of those outdoors, is eligible to be marked and stocked as a public fallout shelter.  Interestingly, the film encourages local civil defense planners to explore unconventional options for fallout shelters.  Potato cellars in Idaho, hill mines in Pennsylvania, and subway tunnels in Manhattan are some possibilities to be considered.  Tall office buildings too, with ample distance in between fallout accumulations on the ground and roof, could shelter many people in urban areas.  As the film wraps up, the narrator explains that for families in suburban and rural areas, where there is unlikely to be publicly stocked shelter, private shelters are ideal.

Fallout Shelter: What is It? may be viewed in entirety, HERE.