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Before Homeland Security

By TheOnlyCoolTim in Culture
Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 06:24:17 AM EST
Tags: etc (all tags)

Think back to a more idyllic time - the 1950's and 1960's. No one knew of terrorism. The letters "WMD" held no meaning, yet the world was actually threatened with mass destruction. As the War on Terror spawned Homeland Security, the Cold War begat Civil Defense. Since stopping a nuclear attack was not practical at the time except through diplomacy, the civil defense movement focused on public awareness, protection, and dealing with the aftermath of nuclear war. The author has had the opportunity to visit a fallout shelter and emergency hospital established by the Office of Civil Defense during the Cold War.

A Brief History of Civil Defense

Civil defense refers to civilian activities directed towards protection against and emergency relief for a military attack or a natural disaster. The bureaucratic history of official civil defense organizations in the United States is long and convoluted. The first such organization was the Council of National Defense, created in 1916. During the Second World War and continuing into the Cold War, civil defense took on greater importance as fear of an enemy attack on the United States rose. The most famous civil defense organization, the Office of Civil Defense (OCD), was created as part of the Department of Defense by President Kennedy's Executive Order 10952 in July of 1961. The office was charged with, among several other duties,

...the development and execution of
  • (i) a fallout shelter program;
  • (ii) a chemical, biological and radiological warfare defense program;
  • (iii) all steps necessary to warn or alert Federal military and civilian authorities, State officials and the civilian population,
Their familiar logo was a blue triangle inscribed with a white triangle which contained the letters "CD."

The Office of Civil Defense and its predecessors enacted many programs against the threat of Soviet attack. Some of these were public information and propaganda campaigns, such as Bert The Turtle's "Duck and Cover" filmstrip for children. Many other films were produced, as were multitudinous brochures and booklets describing the effects and aftermath of an attack, ways to protect one's self, and how to build a backyard or basement bomb shelter. (Note that, foreshadowing the WMD trinity of "Nuclear, Biological, Chemical," there were films released dealing with biological and chemical attack.) Sirens were put up to warn the public of any attack. The government established CONELRAD (Control of Electronic Radiation), a program with a twofold purpose. First, it served as a precursor of the Emergency Broadcast System and the Emergency Alert System of today, by informing the public of any attack or disaster through radio transmissions on 640 and 1240 AM. Secondly, through requiring all public radio and television transmitters to cease transmitting except for CONELRAD announcements on the appropriate frequencies, it would prevent Soviet bombers from using the frequencies of different transmitters as navigational aids.

The other activities of the civil defense movement were intended for the aftermath of an attack - caches of supplies were established in large buildings, both public and privately owned. These fallout shelters in the basements of sturdily constructed buildings provided a place to seek shelter from the blast and the radiation, and, where supplies for emergency hospitals were set up, to treat the wounded. The signs reading "Fallout Shelter" and bearing the logo of three yellow triangles in a black circle can still be seen over the doors of many buildings more than a couple of decades old. In many cases, the actual fallout shelter supplies themselves still reside in some dusty, disused basement room.

During the 1970's, the threat of a nuclear war lessened and the various civil defense organizations all became FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), which focused on national disasters much more than hostile attack. Since the destruction of the World Trade Center, however, the civil defense movement has been reborn in the form of the Office of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is now a part. The fallout shelters became abandoned and forgotten.

Inside the Fallout Shelter

The particular fallout shelter and emergency hospital I visited during the late 1990's and after was in the basement of a combined church, school, and community building. The room the supplies were in, somewhat larger than a tennis court, had once been a small bowling alley. Sometime before the shelter was established the bowling alley had been shut down and most of the quality bowling alley floor had been removed and sold, replaced with rough boards full of holes and cracks. Along with the omnipresent dust, this contributed to the abandoned atmosphere of the place. Near this former bowling alley was a large community hall and a gymnasium, where the shelter could be set up when the bomb was dropped.

The owners of the building had decided they wanted this area for storage, and the shelter supplies had to go. The last government acknowledgement of the fallout shelter seemed to have been the removal of the shelter's supply of Geiger counters for use elsewhere. No government organization was now willing to take responsibility for the removal of stacks of crates and boxes, so it had to done by volunteers for the church and the school, which I attended at the time. A dumpster was rented, and we began trying to dispose of as much of the shelter supplies as we could. Some things were thrown in the dumpster, some supplies were donated to local organizations that could use them, a few were sold at the church's tag sale, and a few found their way home with the volunteers.

The shelter probably was built to serve anywhere between fifty and several hundred people. Of course, they needed a place to sleep. So the shelter contained boxes full of folding cots and supplies of sheets and blankets. The blankets were of a high quality wool/cotton blend, and proved to be quite a popular item. There is one on my bed now. After the nuclear holocaust, the survivors could sleep warmly.

After their nap, our survivors might need to use the bathroom. The shelter was up to this challenge. First to answer the challenge of sanitation were the Sani-Kit IV's. These were cylindrical cardboard cans that contained a toilet seat, a liner, chemicals (like the chemicals used in porta-potties), cans of hand cleaner, sanitary napkins, and 10 rolls of toilet paper, along with instructions for use and gloves and tie wraps for the disposal of filled Sani-Kits. The can that contained all this became the body of the commode, with the liner inside and the toilet seat on top. For unexplained reasons, the Sani-Kit also contained supplies for dispensing water. These were a tube to siphon water from the tanks or metal water storage cans and cups to hand out to the shelter's inhabitants. Each Sani-Kit IV was intended to service fifty people for two weeks. If the Sani-Kits ran out, the shelter had additional options. The metal cans used to store water could be used as toilets. There were huge boxes full of additional toilet paper, a different kind of toilet seat presumably for use with the water cans or over a latrine, and toilet seat protectors for anyone afraid of getting germs on their buttocks.

After taking care of the bodily functions, perhaps it would be time to sit down to a heaping plate of pancakes, bacon, and scrambled eggs. Unfortunately, the shelter did not provide that. There were three items intended for human consumption: water, crackers, and candy. The water was stored in metal canisters in the back of the room. Each canister was built to hold seventeen and a half gallons of water inside two layers of plastic lining and was printed with instructions for filling, dispensing water, and reuse as a toilet. Someone had emptied the canisters in the years after the end of the OCD and before our visit. The crackers were the mainstay of the shelter's food supply. These were packed in sets of six tins inside a cardboard box, giving around forty pounds per cardboard box. Printed on top of the tins was "Civil Defense All Purpose Survival Cracker", the number and weight of crackers in the box, the manufacturer, and a list of ingredients. Upon opening the tin, crackers packaged in wax paper were revealed, along with a smell of preservatives. The crackers were still as fresh as the day they had been packed - not very. Although they did not actively taste bad, the crackers were very stale, bland, and dry. They were not something you would eat except if it was all you had.

The candy, on the other hand, was better. These were also in cardboard boxes, each containing two tins of about forty pounds each. The OCD might have been a bit ashamed of ranking candy as the second most important food for people, so the boxes and tins were all marked "Carbohydrate Supplement." The candies were standard "hard candies" (think lollipops in a different shape without the stick) and came in yellow and red flavors. The red was cherry, and the yellow was probably meant to be pineapple. No one told the OCD that most people like cherry much more than pineapple, as there seem to be ten yellow candies for every red one. They were liberally coated with powdered sugar and each tin included a pack of small brown paper bags for handing out the candies. These candies taste very good, although it seems that the red ones may contain the dye that has since been banned for causing cancer. The particular batch I took home was dated October 1963, so soon I will have the privilege of eating candy aged more than most wines. I have yet to develop cancer.

This was all a typical fallout shelter would supply - a few Geiger counters, sleeping materials, sanitation kits, water, and food, along with a large First Aid and medical kit that my particular shelter did not contain. That was because this shelter was more than a regular fallout shelter, it also had all the supplies to be an emergency hospital.

There were splints, surgical instruments, and stretchers. There were bedpans, bandages, and band-aids. There were large crates of hospital machinery - sterilization machines, anesthesia machines, and most tantalizing of all, a "Profexray" X-Ray machine. The X-Ray machine, complete with a lead apron and lead gloves that would protect the operator from radiation, and plastic goggles that would not, seemed to be complete and in working order. The only reason it may not work would be moisture damage - although none was visible, apparently it was very sensitive to moisture as indicated by the presence of several silica gel bags the size of socks. Silica gel is the material used to keep shoes dry during shipping, but in them you only see one bag the size of a sugar packet. I have yet to, however, attempt to use the X-Ray machine, as that seems needlessly foolish. I have used some of the band-aids and bandages and some of the various metal bowls and instrument jars that were there for the hospital.

Another interesting machine was the "Wangenstein." Not a machine for the repair of damaged penises, this was a grey metal cylinder on wheels which had a pump handle. It was evacuated of air by hand - a gauge indicated the pressure inside - and used to provide suction for surgery.

In one aspect, it may have been better to be a hospital resident than a regular shelter resident. Instead of the unappetizing crackers and a few candies, you got fed intravenously from jars of "Enteric Feeding Solution." The hospital also possessed a complete array of pharmaceuticals, but these suffered the most from the passage of time. Bottles of drugs and chemicals had broken and leaked their contents all over. These drugs and chemicals were the first things to be removed as they were considered potentially dangerous so I got little chance to look at them.

All bedpans were donated to the local hospital.

In the end, the shelter supplies were more than the rented dumpster could handle, and often the kind of thing no one wanted to buy or even get for free, so many boxes of supplies still remain, a reminder of a time when the United States feared something worse than terrorism.

Interesting Links and Sources

Civil Defense Museum - This site is highly recommended further reading. You can see pictures of many of the items I saw in the shelter.

Executive Order 10952 - Read the Executive Order that created the Office of Civil Defense.

History of Civil Defense - This site has a long history of Civil Defense, focused on Tennessee.

From Civil Defense to Emergency Management - A shorter history, set up by the Office of Emergency Management of Fort Collins, Colorado.

Cold War Civil Defense - CONELRAD - A description of the CONELRAD system for warning the public and shutting down stray radio transmissions.

Cold War Austin - Civil Defense in Austin - This site includes a tour of a small family shelter and an archive of newspaper articles.

Prelinger Archives - This source of "ephemeral" films includes many dealing with the Cold War and Civil Defense.


Voxel dot net
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Favorite Post-War Story Or Movie
o Alas, Babylon 5%
o On the Beach 6%
o A Canticle For Leibowitz 16%
o Dr. Strangelove 39%
o The Day After 5%
o Mad Max 18%
o The Postman 3%
o Duck And Cover 6%

Votes: 97
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Executive Order 10952
o "Duck and Cover"
o biological
o chemical
o Civil Defense Museum
o History of Civil Defense
o From Civil Defense to Emergency Management
o Cold War Civil Defense - CONELRAD
o Cold War Austin - Civil Defense in Austin
o Prelinger Archives
o Also by TheOnlyCoolTim

Display: Sort:
Before Homeland Security | 68 comments (54 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
It's gonna be old-timers day on k5 (4.66 / 3) (#10)
by Bill Melater on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 10:46:32 PM EST

As all us old geezers start to reminisce about having air-raid alerts at school. Very big around the Cuban missile crisis. On the playground you would drop prone on the ground and cover your head with your hands. Inside the school you would file into the corridor, face the wall and cover your head with your elbows touching the wall. Happened about as often as fire drills.

At the time, it never occurred to me that "Hey, we're rehearsing for getting fucking bombed!".

Strange (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by sinexoverx on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 11:11:14 PM EST

I started the first grade in 1958 and never had one of these duck and cover drills. And I lived near a major airforce base. Not saying they didn't happen elsewhere but they were not as wide spread as people think. I do remember hearing the regular weekly air raid siren from town, but it was just a thing you accepted and ignored. We did have drills where we all went to the basement of the school but there was no talk of nuclear attacks. In fact we had a fire drill about once a month but the "going to the basement" drill was once a year if that. The drill could have been called for a tornado or anything. This article sounds like hype from my perspective.

[ Parent ]
I had something similar (none / 0) (#12)
by Edgy Loner on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 11:16:41 PM EST

Except it wasn't airraids we were practising for, it was tornadoes. We had sirens and the whole bit, sirens got tested once a week. I imagine they still do drills. Never had a real one near us, but spent plenty of afternoons and evenings in the basement listening to the weather reports on the radio.

This is not my beautiful house.
This is not my beautiful knife.
[ Parent ]
When you're five (none / 0) (#14)
by Bill Melater on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 11:26:31 PM EST

you just accept things as being normal. As I recall, there was the definite subtext of this being preparation for a nuclear bomb. We lived about 90 miles or so from NYC, so maybe there was the thought that those poor bastards down there would surely get nuked but us upstate hayseeds were far enough away that the duck and cover thing might actually be effective. I don't think tornadoes were ever a worry.

At most these happened for the first couple of years I was at the school, from 1964 onward. I can't say I remember when they actually stopped.

Shirley you must remember the fallout shelters with the yellow/black signs. We had one at the courthouse which was probably just big enough to hold the mayor and the city council.

[ Parent ]

Yeah... (none / 0) (#55)
by minusp on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 09:23:46 AM EST

Grew up about 30 miles north of you... did the drill often enough to remember it very well. At least four or five times per school year from '60 to '65 if I remember. I did know at the time that it was not going to help much, maybe make the bodies easier to identify, or something. In retrospect, I think the program was designed to increase the general level of anxiety. Having a good bogeyman really helps keep the sheeple in line...
Remember, regime change begins at home.
[ Parent ]
I didn't understand it at the time (none / 0) (#57)
by Bill Melater on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 09:00:51 PM EST

I think I was actually expecting bombing along the lines of conventional WW II style bombing. As a little kid (growing up in Wappingers, actually) the scale of a nuclear explosion was beyond my comprehension. None of the grupps ever explained that there were these rockets from the other side of the planet that could land over here and vaporize my whole world.

So I wasn't too anxious about it, but yeah it must have scared the crap out of the big people.

[ Parent ]

Weekly air raid siren (5.00 / 1) (#17)
by rusty on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:31:09 AM EST

Well, it might not actually be an air raid siren, since air raids are pretty unlikely, but every week at 1pm on Sunday the sirens still crank up and echo across the bay here.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
How close is the nearest nuclear power plant? (none / 0) (#18)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:32:27 AM EST

That's the one thing I know of these days that merits a siren...

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

There isn't one (none / 0) (#19)
by rusty on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:55:01 AM EST

Maine Yankee is in Wiscasset (maybe 45 miles as the crow flies) but it closed in '97. There's Seabrook in New Hampshire, but that's more than an hour away.

Portland harbor is not insignificant as North Atlantic harbors go. I think they probably just take civil defense more seriously here than a lot of other places. Besides, Maine is kind of like living in the fifties anyway. They probably still do duck and cover drills in the schools.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Hmm (none / 0) (#20)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:57:37 AM EST

Maine is weird.


Some guy found one of these sirens in the junkyard and sets it off every week to fuck with people.

Has this just started since 9/11/01 or was it going on before then?

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

Ever since I moved here (none / 0) (#22)
by rusty on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 03:33:54 AM EST

Which doesn't say much, as that was September 1st, 2001 and I don't remember if it sounded the first week we were here or not. It was weird the first few weeks, but now I'm pretty much used to it. It took an astoundingly long time for me to realize it happened at the same time every Sunday.

I have no real evidence, but I think it's been going on since long before 9/11. If nothing else, someone probably would have said something about it if they'd just started.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Hmmm (none / 0) (#56)
by JahToasted on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 11:46:04 AM EST

I used to go to Nova Scotia for the summers, and I seem to remember that they had a Siren at the fire department they used to crank up all the time, and I don't think they had that many fires. But the area of Nova Scotia I used to go to had some of the craziest people on earth so who knows...

[ Parent ]
Greatest air raid siren. (none / 0) (#42)
by Work on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 02:00:40 PM EST

Chrysler air raid siren

Powered by a 180 hp V8 hemi engine.

[ Parent ]

Could be.. (none / 0) (#30)
by dj28 on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 09:46:01 AM EST

A fire-department siren. The same thing happens where I live (Pooler, GA). Except where I am, the siren goes off every Tuesday. I think it's out of tradition, but it's supposed to signal the weekly meeting of all the firefighters.

[ Parent ]
I don't think so (none / 0) (#31)
by rusty on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 10:27:02 AM EST

It's got that classic "air raid" wail. And while I haven't carefully tried to locate it, it doesn't seem to come from Portland. I think it's out in the bay somewhere, or possibly up by the power plant in Yarmouth.

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]
In our area ... (none / 0) (#29)
by pyramid termite on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 09:04:24 AM EST

... they set them off at 1 p.m on the first Sunday of the month. This is in Michigan, and we do get tornados, so this isn't totally useless.

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
I can't remember them either (5.00 / 1) (#28)
by pyramid termite on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 09:01:43 AM EST

I can vaguely remember my Dad going through the basement with a civil defense booklet in his hand and trying to figure out how to turn a ping pong table, some bags of cement and a few bricks into a makeshift fallout shelter. It's my recollection that the table wouldn't have been stable enough to hold the cement. Earlier, he'd gotten a small radio which had the civil defense station engraved in plastic on it. This was 1962. A couple of years later we moved and I was playing in a vacant lot when some smart ass kid told me the North Vietnamese were bombing the airport and I ran a half mile to my home in a panic. This was in Michigan. Asshole.

I don't recall any duck and cover drills. One of the Army's computer centers for logistics in Ft. Custer and the Michigan Air National Guard were a mere mile from my neighborhood and school. Perhaps they'd stopped doing these drills in the mid 60's. Perhaps they figured we were close enough to ground zero that it didn't matter if we ducked and covered. I had a girlfriend from the area that was a few years older who did remember them though.

I showed my wife the Duck and Cover film (if you haven't seen it, you must download it and watch it), and she was genuinely shocked and stunned with amusement by it. She was born in '73 and had no idea ...

On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Alerts (5.00 / 1) (#34)
by nevertheless on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 11:55:13 AM EST

I started first grade in 1961 and don't remember ever having an air raid practice. However, we did have weekly tornado alert practice, which amounted to just about the same thing. Duck and cover and all that. It even came in handy once.

This whole "being at work" thing just isn't doing it for me. -- Phil the Canuck

[ Parent ]
Also (none / 0) (#21)
by SilentNeo on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 03:06:10 AM EST

Did it ever occur to you that hitting the dirt might not do any more than leave a nice shadow on the ground? Actually, even the megaton nukes don't vaporize people unless you are within a few miles of ground zero, but the firestorm as nearly every building in the city catches fire at the same time (the combined flashes from the different blasts is enough to do this) would probably end your young life anyway.

[ Parent ]
Well (5.00 / 4) (#23)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 04:09:16 AM EST

Think of it this way.

One day, the bomb goes off. But, you are a cool kid, cooler than all the others. You aren't gonna duck under your desk. You're gonna take death like a man.

Then the bomb hits, miles or tens of miles away, and you don't die from it. But then, the wall next to you gives way and a brick hits you in the head and you die. The other kids are glad that the bricks only hit their desk.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

UK Perspective (5.00 / 2) (#45)
by pwhysall on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 02:45:14 PM EST

Back in the early 1980s, there were a number of television advertisements, leaflet campaigns and informational films that explained how one could maximise one's chances of not being in the initial bodycount should the clock finally tick to midnight.

This programme was given the name "Protect And Survive". This, along with the film Threads, ensured that the UK population spent the early and mid 1980s in a mild state of nuclear panic.
K5 Editors
I'm going to wager that the story keeps getting dumped because it is a steaming pile of badly formatted fool-meme.
[ Parent ]

-1, Liberal myths (nt) (1.71 / 14) (#13)
by A Proud American on Sat Apr 05, 2003 at 11:26:29 PM EST

The weak are killed and eaten...

How the liberals attack you (none / 0) (#26)
by Filthy Socialist Hippy on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 07:57:09 AM EST

After all, they've seen this parodied by their propagandist masters in Hollywood, so it must be true, right?  Right?

leftist, you don't love America, you love what America with all its wealth and power can be if you turn it into a socialist state. - thelizman
[ Parent ]
"Think back to a more idyllic time - (4.75 / 4) (#32)
by dmt on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 11:19:24 AM EST

the 1950's and 1960's. No one knew of terrorism." - Rubbish!

Times were not idyllic, and people had heard of terrorism: Hoover, Mccarthyism, race riots, Vietnam, Black Panthers, James Jesus Angleton, Nixon, segregation, Baader-Meinhoff, Che Guerva and Fidel Castro.  The last three count as terrorists, the activities of the Vietcong in built up areas (1950s particularly); the others are not idyllic indications of the times.

Most people, regardless of civil defense initiatives, were pretty damn scared during the Cuban missile crisis, civil defense initiatives only went so far toward ameliorating peoples fears. The media barrage against communists/communism were a symptom of this.

The first sentence is sarcasm. -nt- (none / 0) (#37)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:45:25 PM EST


[ Parent ]
My bad - but not explicit, at all[nt] (none / 0) (#44)
by dmt on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 02:32:12 PM EST

[ Parent ]
kuro5hin: whiter than white (4.80 / 10) (#33)
by turmeric on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 11:33:18 AM EST

dear american,

first of all i dont blame you, i consider you a victim of your shitty school system.

second of all, at the time you are talking about, there was plenty of terrorism. the klu klux klan was alive and well in the 1950s and 1960s. people were getting killed all the time in terrorist attacks of the klan. the 60s would also bring the transformation of many 'peace' groups into violence groups, especially after all the assassinations and the vietnam draft started.

third of all, american history goes back a little bit before the 1950s and 1960s. in fact it goes back into the 40s, 30s, 20s, 10s, 00s, the 1800s, and the 1700s. and pre-american history goes back to the 1500s. and pre-european-american history goes back farther than that.

if you actually read about these periods, you will find plenty of terrorism. again, the kkk was even stronger in the past than it was in the 50s and 60s. and they didnt just terrorize ethnicities, they terrorized catholics, communists, and all sorts of other people. let us not forget that plenty of presidents were assassinated in the past... if that is not terrorism then i dont know what is.

even before that, the US experienced a 'terrorist attack' on the USS Maine. of course nobody knows what really happened, but that didn't stop the strong and powerful of the country, including William Randolph Hearst, newspaper giant, from whipping everyone into round-the-clock fear of terrorism from Spain. and so, the spanish american war. Thus cuba, and our lovely string of dictators we installed there, and of course, the reaction to this being over-the-top communism of castro. do you still say that terrorism and national security have never been at issue? that we are in some kind of new era that nobody has ever seen before?

but it goes before that. when the us was small, just colonies, there were hundreds of wars between the europeans and the natives. these involved terrorist tactics, on both sides of the conflict. civilians were killed, captured, etc. not just some of them, all of them... an entire town. peace parties would be invited to a town, and then captured or killed. they would stick peoples heads on a pike in the town square. they would slit civilians bellies open and stuff bibles in them.

every time i hear someone say 'we are in a whole new era, everything changed', i think to myself, 'yeah, nothing changed if you are ignorant of history'

well, what did change is (none / 0) (#35)
by modmans2ndcoming on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 12:41:56 PM EST

who is commiting MOST of the terror.

what also struck me is that the guy says we did not fear the letters WMD....ummm, Chemical, Biological and Nuclear wepons existed durring that time and were were plenty scared of the Nuclear.

[ Parent ]

WMD (none / 0) (#40)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:51:53 PM EST

As far as I know they were not CALLED WMD by the public at the time.

What references I could find indicate that the term began to be used in the 60's but only as jargon in arms control meetings and treaties. Only recently has it become a widely used term.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

What you say is true... (none / 0) (#38)
by synaesthesia on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:46:15 PM EST

...but next time you go on a tirade about the shittiness of someone else's education, please spell the 'Ku' in 'Ku Klux Klan' correctly.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
leaving out millions of people (1.00 / 1) (#49)
by turmeric on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 12:03:47 AM EST

is more important than leaving out a letter here or there. do you have no sense of proportion? do you really think the terrorism experience of millions of african americans is less important than a spelling mistake? because i am the only fucking person who commented on it.... do you think that is a pretty large oversite considering the entire premise of the article is based on the idea that we are in some 'new' era?

[ Parent ]
My word, Turmeric (none / 0) (#52)
by synaesthesia on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 04:31:55 AM EST

You're right, I shouldn't have said that leaving out millions of people is more important than leaving out a letter. Just as well I didn't, eh? Perhaps I should have titled my comment something like, "What you say is true..." to make it clearer.

BTW, I'd have thought you of all people would recognise the T in HAND.

Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]

t? hand? (none / 0) (#64)
by turmeric on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 08:53:58 AM EST

what you say?

[ Parent ]
Hello, welcome to America. (1.00 / 1) (#54)
by tkatchev on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 06:16:56 AM EST

Nigger != American, you of all people should know this.

   -- Signed, Lev Andropoff, cosmonaut.
[ Parent ]

not funny (none / 0) (#63)
by turmeric on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 08:53:41 AM EST

not funny you beet drinking commie

[ Parent ]
Fallout shelter signs (5.00 / 3) (#36)
by Work on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:31:04 PM EST

I see a few buildings around here that still have them, and it amazes me that nobody has managed to steal them yet (heck, I wouldnt mind taking one...)

But then I think, whatever those signs are attached with was probably meant to survive the holocaust and it must be some incredible anchoring.

If I remember right (none / 0) (#46)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 04:20:15 PM EST

I think I tried taking hand tools to a sign once - it looks like you need to bring power tools...

You can find them on eBay, though.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

yep (none / 0) (#48)
by Work on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 06:52:05 PM EST

Just placed a bid on one :) Those things are pretty cheap.

[ Parent ]
The path of CD leads to..? (5.00 / 1) (#39)
by sakusha on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:47:03 PM EST

I remember the sixties CD projects well, and I saw long training films on how to use and operate the CD facilities in the usual lame basement shelters.
You should look more at the social aspects of implementing widescale CD programs. The more the US invested in CD facilities, the more obvious it became that we had no hope of ever providing decent defenses for more than a a tiny fraction of our population. There was some debate about putting big tax money behind building major civilian bunker facilities in urban areas, Moscow and Beijing had large urban bunkers. At the same time, the US military was taking extensive measures to protect their weapons systems, like using multiple silo "shell game" systems so the enemy would never know what silo to target and which held live weapons. This was part of the economic cold war, neither the US or Russia could protect their population with substantial CD without going bankrupt so the MAD equation stayed balanced.

moscow (none / 0) (#41)
by Work on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 01:57:46 PM EST

The russian government was much more centralized, so their large shelters were made largely for government officials. Also, the ABM treaty allowed for one site to be protected using ABM technology. The US chose to protect missile silos (in North Dakota, IIRC), the russians however chose to protect moscow.

The US government was much more flexible from a governing and communications standpoint, so washington was actually expendable.

Of course both sides knew that a nuclear war would be the end of both, but such posturings worked well for appeasing fearful populations.

The russians were quite a bit less up front about the consequences of nuclear war with their population though. I dated a Russian once and we got to talking about it... they really had no idea how terrible nuclear war would be. Then she came here in high school and learned about hiroshima and nagasaki and the horrors.

[ Parent ]

The Atomic Cafe (none / 0) (#43)
by sfenders on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 02:05:30 PM EST

See this film. It really is "a movie that has one howling with laughter, horror and disbelief."

Civil Defense Textbook (5.00 / 2) (#47)
by sphealey on Sun Apr 06, 2003 at 04:59:38 PM EST

I recently purchased a Civil Defense textbook from the early 1960's: "Strategy for Survival", Martin and Latham, University of Arizona Press, 1963, Library of Congress Catalog number 63-17720.

I have read through it, and it seems to be an absolutely serious introductory engineering textbook on how to calculate damage from prompt (blast, thermal, etc) and delayed (fallout) effects of nuclear weapons, and how to build countermeasures (primarily shelters) to allow some chance of survival.

I have read through it a couple of times, and the only conclusion I can come to is that these Cold War C.D. people were absolutely nuts. Using the authors' optimistic calculations of the prompt effects of a minimal strike by the USSR on the US (and presumably the same by the US on the USSR) shows that about 80% of the US population and economic capability would be destroyed.

For those who managed to make it to shelters, things would be even worse. Again, the authors optimistic fallout map shows that about in 90% of the inhabited area of North America "survivors" would not be able to exit their shelters for 30 days, and for 30-120 days only for 60 minutes or so at a time. And even then they would be receiving a radiation dose that would have serious health effects within a very short time.

And the engineering of these shelters! There is a detailed discussion of human waste disposal for 30-50 people for 120 days such that just getting rid of the waste does not expose the "survivors" to a lethal dose. My favorite by far was the winner of the design concept for a primary school that was also a shelter. Yeah, most 1st graders love going to school 3m underground.

The only conclusion that I could draw from this book was that the best strategy on hearing the C.D. sirens would be to drive to the city center as fast as possible and hope the other side was on target.


Remember reading this in 5th grade... (none / 0) (#59)
by cevans7 on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 11:34:04 PM EST

My parents actually had a school 'pick-up' location where we'd all take the southfield freeway into downtown detroit... I guess they figured traffic wouldn't be bad since traffic would be going in the opposite direction trying to escape...

[ Parent ]
Us, too... (none / 0) (#65)
by baron samedi on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 08:24:46 PM EST

My middle school assured us that we were close enough to missile targets that none of us would suffer, they explained to us how we'd all be vaporized instantly and mose important for kids, painlessly.

This was during the '80s at the height of Reagan's scare tactics. The fear I lived in as a child is the reason why I will never respect Reagan, and I am even to this day sickened whenever I hear his voice.
"Hands that help are better by far than lips that pray."- Robert G. Ingersoll
[ Parent ]

Civil in Defense in Soviet Russia (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by strlen on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 01:53:38 AM EST

This wasn't limited to the American side of the cold war. It was proably a lot more intensive in the USSR. Everyone knew where the local bomb shelter was, and as a I kid, I used to crawl all over the bomb shelter from time to time.. it was quite an fascinating place to explore, as it consist of quite a big underground network of basements with entrances into tunnels, into which air came in, through ventilation shaft. In my neighborhood, a World War II era bunker, left there by the Nazis (who occupied the era), was also integrated into the bomb shelter network, as it was too strng to demolish it without damaging near by buildings. That made for even more fascinating exploration.

In school, ever after the cold war, there was  a civil defense class. I remember that I even had to keep a notebook for that class, in 7th grade, in 1996. The class, while it included information on what do when the American Imrepalists Enemies (yes, some of the textbooks used that phrasing), focused more on industrial-era disasters, such as spillover of chlorin or amonia ("not in my back yard" and residential/industrial zoning are very much an American/West European luxury from what I've seen) gases.

 Those the class included, information on such as how to put on a gas mask (everyone in our class had to do it), and a direct and detailed overview of various chemical weapons.   We even had a large poster on the wall detailing every chemical and biological agent, and even vials of agent that were supposed to simulate the look of those chemical weapons! Later-grade version would include basic information on the use of firearms.. but I've was already in the United States when the time to learn that came. And yes the school had a bomb shelter.

All government corporations also had similar civil defense networks. My mom's employer (Belarusian SSR's Academy of Sciences Institute of Cybernetics) included nuclear drills, and had civil defense posters in every room. In fact, when she was layed off (after the fall of USSR), she took one such poster home, but unfortunately we didn't bring it to the US.

What we didn't have, however were fire drills. In fact, I don't think we had fire sprinklers, and in some rooms even smoke detectors in our schools. And there was no smoke detector in our appartement, either.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.

Bert the Turtle (none / 0) (#51)
by opendna on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 02:20:23 AM EST

Bert the Turtle has just been featured in his second short film, a long awaited sequel to the cult classic Duck and Cover. Yes folks, everyone's favorite coward is the star of the recently released Duck Tape and Cover.

[reposted from another site]

Level 7 (none / 0) (#53)
by Phage on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 05:14:13 AM EST

There is a very old novel "Level 7" that is sadly out of print now, but goes into the sheer farcical nature of the protection provided by these shelters. That is if you were lucky enough to get into one !
If you see a copy of this book in a second-hand store, pick it up. A good read, but very black.

I don't find Heathens to be sexy, as a general rule.
nobody knew of terrorism? (none / 0) (#58)
by vinayd on Mon Apr 07, 2003 at 10:11:02 PM EST

Think back to a more idyllic time - the 1950's and 1960's. No one knew of terrorism. Can you say KKK? That was terror -- tolerated by US federal, state and local governments. And there was plenty of terror sponsored by American foreign policy initiatives: the overthrow of arbenz in guatemala, allende in chile, mussadeq in iran, just to name (literally) a few. So nobody white or affluent and in the "first world" knew of terror. For many Americans the current period is pretty damn idyllic: McMansions, SUVs, cheap and fashionable clothing manufactured in the outlying provinces of the empire, all kinds of television, food, sports, entertainment, plus the glorious spectacle of our troops marching to victory..... In another one or two decades we'll all hear "remember when we all had to buy duct tape and make safe rooms?" I really do appreciate the remainder of the article however, I find all of that early cold-war period pretty ... um .. enchanting :) ?

One can be silent and sit still only when one has bow and arrow: else one chatters and quarrels. - Nietzsche
Hey, make sure you dispose of the x-ray properly (none / 0) (#60)
by lukme on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 01:11:33 AM EST

Did you dispose of the x-ray properly.

Some x-ray machines will use radioactive CeCl as their x-ray source. This allows x-ray machines to work without a power source (kinda important in a fall out shelter). Unfortunatly, a radiotherapy machine with this type of source lead to a very serious contamination in brazil.

Here is a link:


There are very few things that make me this worried. If you have any questions I would contact your local hospital and/or the folks at oak ridge national labs.

It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
Yoikes (none / 0) (#61)
by TheOnlyCoolTim on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 01:42:27 AM EST

The X-Ray machine is not disposed of, it is still sitting there. I might get a chance to take a look at it later this month - I will definitely try to ensure that it works by standard 120 VAC... At one time we were considering contacting the manufacturer to see if they wanted it, but Profexray was long bought out by another company, which had in turn merged with yet another company that is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of one of the large defense firms...

The electricity situation is something I didn't discuss in the story because I was very unclear on it - they definitely thought that there was a good chance they would have power while using the shelter. It had a few lamps (and several years' supply of lightbulbs), some electrical hospital equipment, and even a refrigerator for some sort of medical use. On the other hand, there were some concessions to the possibility of a power outage, such as the hand-powered Wangensteins.

I know I personally did not see any generators, but I don't know if they were there and were one of the first things to be dumped or donated, if they were removed in the interim after the shelter's abandonment, if they were planning on bringing generators from elsewhere, or if they were so confident to believe that mains power would be available.

"We are trapped in the belly of this horrible machine, and the machine is bleeding to death."
[ Parent ]

That is a good start ... (none / 0) (#62)
by lukme on Tue Apr 08, 2003 at 02:54:51 AM EST

First, the machine used in brazil probably used 120 VAC. If it has a plug, it still might use a radioisotope source. A radioisotope source has several advantages over x-ray tubes (ie: more stable calibration, monochromatic, no power requirements).

As a side note, the x-ray generators that I am familar with had a casket sized box filled with all sorts of wonderfull chemicals. This was a rotation anode type instrument and was much more powerful than what you have.

If your instrument has 120 VAC as a power requirement, I would still suspect a radioisotope source. If it has a requirment specifing triple phase 220 VAC then it is not likely a raioisotope source. If I were you, I would try to do the following:

1) borrow either a scintillation counter, a proportional counter, or a giger counter from a local physics deparment and do a radiation survey around the instrument. With the first two instruemnts, if you see any radiation you could possibly determine what the source is - with a giger counter, you just detect the ionizing radiation. (an addition fun type experiment is to use scintillation counter or a porportional counter on dollar bills)

2) contact you local hospital to see if they know of any good x-ray repairmen. The older the better. These guys would have possibly worked on a similar instrument or at least have a clue as to how your instrument works.

I would try to do this in parallel.

PS: If you ever want to put your dentist on edge, ask him the last time his x-ray machine was calibrated. If you dentist is smart, he'll treat you extra gentel.

It's awfully hard to fly with eagles when you're a turkey.
[ Parent ]
WMD's had a different acronym (none / 0) (#66)
by mmsmatt on Wed Apr 09, 2003 at 04:28:58 PM EST

MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction.

Idyllic ? (none / 0) (#67)
by mattam on Thu Apr 10, 2003 at 02:10:50 PM EST

  "Think back to a more idyllic time - the 1950's and 1960's. No one knew of terrorism. The letters "WMD" held no meaning, yet the world was actually threatened with mass destruction."

  I don't understand in which terms the time was more idyllic, 10 years after the first (repeated) use of weapons of mass destruction. Maybe it was better for a tiny fraction of the world's population (namely the US population that did not suffer from KKK terrorists and got lot of work during the war without loosing too many family members), for the rest I don't think it was nicer than today. Japan and Germany were slowly reconstructing, France & England too at a lower scale, East europe was taken over by communists, africa and south america were not in a better situation than today. The fact that the cold war was between two powerful states do not frighten me less than between a powerful and a lesser one, if only for the fact that there are more ways to have pressure on a less powerful ennemy.

I liked the article, but 'idyllic' do not fit imho.

Don't get much sarcasm, do you? [n/t] (none / 0) (#68)
by epepke on Sun Apr 13, 2003 at 04:00:13 AM EST

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Before Homeland Security | 68 comments (54 topical, 14 editorial, 0 hidden)
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