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The Safest Place

United States Department of Agriculture
Pennsylvania State University


The late 1950's saw a rise in civil defense programs oriented toward rural communities, most of which focused on protection from fallout radiation from a possible enemy atomic attack, as opposed to the limited damages of blast and fire.  Dozens of pamphlets and a few films, including Fallout and Agriculture, were produced specifically catering to farmers, ranchers, and the general population residing outside urban centers.  Bolstering these information campaigns was a concept known as "the safest place".  As a strategy developed by the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, "the safest place" ideal asked farmers to locate existing buildings on rural property which could serve as the best fallout shelter for both humans and livestock.  Spearheaded by the United States Department of Agriculture, county extension agents were recruited to direct the program locally from their respective areas.  To train the extension agents, as well as spread the message of emergency preparedness on the farm, a step by step process for finding suitable shelter was placed on film.


The Safest Place, created in 1961 by the U.S.D.A, depicts the process of finding, converting, or creating fallout protection on farms.  With the cooperation of agricultural science and film students from the University of Pennsylvania, the U.S.D.A presents the story of Harold Wilson, rural dairy farmer, and how he works through his county agriculture agent Bob Martin to find the best protected areas for both his family and herd of prize-winning dairy cattle.  Although the film begins by offering a flattering monologue of rural America, praising its hardy nature as keeping humanity alive in the face of natural disasters, the focus remains centered on the Wilsons.  Wilson begins by attending an informational lecture on fallout given by Martin.  Martin, who doubles as a civil defense official, informs local farmers of the basic theory behind fallout protection and walks them through the sequence of a nuclear explosion.  Because the Wilson farm is far outside any danger of blast and fire damage, Martin urges Wilson and others to convert unused but well protected space on their property into suitable shelter.  "There are no quick answers to the question of fallout protection, but there are answers!"