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Time of Disaster

Federal Civil Defense Administration
Robert J. Enders, Inc.

According to an excerpt from a civil defense newsletter, the purpose of this film is to explain “the responsibilities of the Federal Civil Defense Administration and other groups in wresting from natural disasters part of the toll it would normally take.”  Similar to an atomic bomb, floods, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other peacetime disasters strike with little or no warning, leaving people and properties devastated.  Utilizing these similarities, civil defense planners turned to film to show how the mundane preparations citizens make for these common occurrences could easily help save lives during an enemy attack.  In this way, the hurricanes and forest fires depicted on screen in many government issued instructional films became substitutes for the havoc which an enemy air raid could deliver.  Often, a film's narration, while loudly urging viewers to develop survival plans for weather catastrophes and everyday emergencies, would quietly inject reminders that a surprise attack by a foreign power may be just as likely to occur.  Time of Disaster, released in December of 1954 by the Federal Civil Defense Administration, is a prime example of this tactic.  The film focuses on a town “anywhere in the United States”, which has just fallen victim to an unspecified natural disaster, though a stern narrator reminds the viewer the extensive damage could just as easily have come from the detonation of an atomic bomb.


Time of Disaster begins, appropriately enough, with a shattering clock, a permanent reminder of the precise moment when calamity struck.  The narrator presents a roll of the nation's worst disasters in recent years, shown as newspaper headlines flashing across the screen.  From Waco, Texas to Worcester, Massachusetts, tornadoes and fires claim hundreds of lives annually.  Even Washington D.C. is not immune from such occurrences.  Focusing on a small city which has implemented a thorough civil defense plan, run by a full-time director from the county courthouse, the film highlights how important this preparation becomes during an emergency. Through this localized program, volunteers learn first aid, train as auxiliary firefighters, and manage stockpiles of emergency supplies provided by the federal government.  By incorporating climactic disaster scenes from several earlier civil defense films including Duck and Cover, And a Voice Shall Be Heard, and Pattern for Survival, the town in reduced to rubble, while rescue workers scramble to restore order.  Despite the film's short length, a curious artistic element is adhered to.  With each disaster sequence shown, the camera focuses on different clocks buried amongst the rubble.  The closing moments of the film feature a hydrogen bomb explosion as the narrator remarks of the burst, "this time of disaster all of us hope never comes but should this disaster ever strike, our chances of survival will be all the greater through civil defense training and preparation!"  Although the film deals almost exclusively with natural disasters, it was deemed obsolete by 1965 when the Office of Civil Defense was promoting protection from fallout radiation above all else.  Government copies of the film were recalled and private owners were encouraged to cease screenings.

Time of Disaster May be Viewed in Its Entirety HERE.