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Office of Civil Defense


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The National Fallout Shelter Survey began in 1961 when the Department of Defense sent teams of architects and engineers across the United States to inspect existing structures and determine which ones met the criteria to serve as public fallout shelters. Suitable buildings were cataloged into a nationwide database so they could later be marked with proper signage and stocked with supplies essential for survival.  By July of 1965, however, it was becoming clear that strictly relying upon existing buildings would not yield enough shelter space for the American population.  To remedy this lack of 

space, the concept of “slanting” was introduced. (1)  In architectural lingo, slanting is the process of examining a proposed building during the initial design phase to identify weak points which may leave the occupants vulnerable to outside fallout radiation.  Modifications are then made prior to the construction phase which improve the building's fallout protection capabilities, most commonly by baffling entrances and exits, reducing window space, and moving ground floors below grade.  Successful slanting requires the maintenance of the building's original purpose and design aesthetic and should be manageable for little or no extra cost.  This appropriately title film, released in 1967 by the Office of Civil Defense, argues the flexibility granted an architect during the design stage allows any building the opportunity to be modified into an effective public fallout shelter. (2)

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The film opens with shots of a quarry and a construction site where men work with stone, brick and heavy timbers.  The concept of shelter, explains a narrator with a voice of calm authority, has been to known to man since the dawn of time. Solid materials have protected against the harshest of climates and all forms of conventional attack.  Geometric patterns, representative of radioactive particles, fill the screen and begin to pulsate.  Man now understands that solid building materials can also block radiation.  The more electrons contained in a material, the more dense it is and the harder it becomes for radiation to penetrate it.  Radiation 

will easily pass through less dense materials like wood, whereas it will largely be blocked by concrete or steel.  When dense materials can be substituted for lighter ones, a structure’s ability to protect against fallout is greatly improved. The remainder of the film unfolds as a series of brief case studies highlighting buildings which incorporated fallout shelter into the final construction.  A library, a cafeteria and restrooms form the central core of Southeast Polk High School in Ivy, Iowa.   Surrounding outer classrooms protect the core from fallout on the sides, leaving only the roof as a weak point. The addition of reinforced concrete over the central core creates shelter space for 1,700 people.  At the Somerset County Pennsylvania Home for the Aged, the same design is used in the flooring atop a basement wing turning the underground area into a shelter.

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In Pontiac, Michigan the school administration headquarters is built into the side of a hill.  When this is combined with a reinforced roof and baffled entrances, the result is 1,200 square feet of shelter space.  Baffling, the architectural tradition of offsetting entrances from interior hallways, has long been associated with security and defense-oriented building.  Once it was also established as an effective way to block outside radiation, baffling was often championed as a very cost-effective modification which should be considered.  Baffling was not necessary when the Board of Directors for First Federal Savings sough to add fallout shelter into their 

new bank building.  A decision to move their meeting room, offices and a staff lounge to the basement level would not hinder the peacetime purposes of these rooms and would allow 2,300 people to shelter there following an enemy nuclear attack.  Similarly, the University of California added 2,500 shelter spaces to its campus when expanding workshops, storage space and a language lab into underground levels of its new library.  The Office of Civil Defense would heavily promote the film Slanting.  In 1968, it released the pamphlet "3 Short Films in Color" to encourage viewership of Slanting, Once to Make Ready and Briefly, About Fallout.  At that time, Briefly, About Fallout was one of the most requested government films in circulation.  It would remain available to rent from armed forces catalogs until at least as late as 1986.  Slanting would not enjoy that level of longevity, however, it would not be declared obsolete and could still be rented or purchased from official sources into the 1970's.

1. Office of Civil Defense.  New Trends in Fallout Protection.  U.S. Government Printing Office.  July 1965.

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