Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Civil Defense

Title: Family digs fallout shelter
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Civil defense refers to programs and preventive measures to help defend civilian populations from military attack. During the Cold War, these efforts were directed mainly at protecting civilians during a nuclear attack. Two civil defense programs existed that can be regarded as standardized systems, namely those of the Soviet Union and the United States. These nations exported their civil defense organizations to their allies.

Soviet civil defense consisted of a system of state-sponsored measures designed to secure the population and national economy in time of war and to manage rescue and recovery efforts with the purpose of minimizing casualties. The Soviet civil defense apparatus was well organized, thought to be reliable, and based on two primary principles. First, civil defense was organized on a territorial-industrial basis to protect the entire nation. Citizens underwent continuous training in civil defense measures, and high emphasis was placed on fallout shelters, which were designed to safeguard the population from the effects of nuclear detonations. Second, civil defense called upon the mobilization of material and human resources of the nation as a whole.

The Soviet government approached civil defense with four major premises. The first was on the presumption that a well-trained populace would be less prone to injury or death and be less susceptible to panic in the event of a war. Second, adequate training would help the population to deal with dangers contingent upon an enemy attack. Third, people trained in civil defense would be capable of providing aid to the injured and could be mobilized to begin recovery efforts as soon as possible. Fourth, civil defense training would reinforce the defensive capabilities of the country. During the Cold War, some 30 million Soviet citizens and 70 percent of the industrial workforce were directly involved in civil defense programs. It is estimated that the Soviet Union spent $1 billion per year on civil defense measures.

Two organizations oversaw the Soviets' civil defense program. The Local Civil Defense (MPVO) system was organized in individual municipalities. The objective of the MPVO was to protect local citizens against enemy attacks of various kinds. In charge of the Municipal Executive Committee of the Council of Workers' Deputies (ECCWD) was the municipal chief. The committee chief exercised the exclusive right to issue direct orders and make decisions in the best interest of the locality. Such committees were responsible for providing a diverse range of services by order of the Soviet government in order to maximize civil defense measures during an attack.

The second civil defense organization was the Volunteer Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force, and Navy (DOSAAF). The objective of DOSAAF was to train people in the basics of military warfare. DOSAAF provided training to the civilian population, especially youth, to develop basic skills in firing weapons, skiing, driving, parachuting, piloting aircraft, and radio communications. In the process, DOSAAF also promoted various sports. DOSAAF fell under the aegis of the National Defense Ministry and worked closely with MPVO units.

In the event of enemy attack, one of nine warning signals would be transmitted to cities and towns by means of siren alarms, loudspeakers, whistles, and radio. The majority of fallout shelters were public; in fact, the construction of family or individual shelters was not encouraged, as the common perception was that an enemy attack would focus on public places such as industrial centers, factories, and motorways. Soviet shelters were classified in numerous ways. These included blast shelters with high-level, industrially manufactured air filtering equipment; blast shelters with simplified filtering equipment; nuclear shelters equipped to handle peacetime accidents (such as nuclear reactor accidents); and simple nuclear shelters fabricated from readily available materials to offer refuge from nuclear attack. Fallout shelters were also classified according to capacity: small-scale (accommodating up to 150 persons), medium (150–450 persons) and large-scale (450 or more persons).

In the event that people could not reach fallout shelters in time, Soviet citizens were trained to wear protective clothing. Usually, they wore suits of rubber or plastic equipped with a breathing apparatus and gas mask, protective gloves, and footwear. Respirators were issued to high-ranking officials and civil defense chiefs. Families and individuals had to obtain protective gear at their own expense.

Civil defense was not nearly as well organized in the United States. Civil defense measures were left primarily to local and state authorities, with the federal government playing a relatively minor role, mainly coordinating and disseminating information. Furthermore, American civil defense emphasized individual self-help, privatization, voluntarism, and decentralization. Unlike Soviet citizens, Americans were routinely prompted to construct their own individual fallout shelters, and many did, particularly in the 1950s.

The first national Cold War civil defense agency was created in January 1951 as a response to the Soviets' first atom bomb detonation in 1949 and to the Korean War (1950–1953). This agency, the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), had a narrow mission, which was chiefly geared to educating the populace on appropriate civil defense measures to take in the event of a nuclear attack. Although the FCDA recommended the construction of fallout shelters as part of a comprehensive civil defense apparatus, the federal government never allowed for the construction of adequate public shelter protection, and no cohesive national civil defense policies were ever implemented. The emphasis remained on regional and local programs.

The U.S. government did, however, develop a civil defense plan aimed at protecting America's industrial base. In August 1951, President Harry S. Truman announced the National Industrial Dispersion Policy, a program designed to decentralize American manufacturing, thereby making it less vulnerable to a concentrated Soviet air attack. The dispersion program was highly decentralized, however, and the onus of implementation was placed on individual localities. Thus, almost no federal funds were allotted to the endeavor, and the policy had little impact on the protection of America's industrial sector. By the late 1950s, with the proliferation of highly destructive hydrogen bombs and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), the National Industrial Dispersion Policy was rendered largely moot and faded into obscurity.

The closest the United States ever came to duplicating the more ambitious Soviet civil defense efforts was the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), created in 1947 to mobilize national resources and industrial production in time of war. It did not, however, play a large role in more traditional civil defense preparations. In December 1950, in response to the reversal of fortunes in the Korean War, the Truman administration established the Office of Defense Mobilization (ODM), whose task was to coordinate all military and defense production—much like the War Production Board of World War II. But again, the ODM played almost no role in civil defense procedures. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower combined the NSRB and the ODM into one agency, although its mission did not change. In 1958, U.S. officials decided to merge mobilization and civil defense readiness into one agency when they consolidated the FCDA and the ODM into one unit: the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). The OCDM went through several permutations over the years and became more of a disaster relief agency than a civil defense apparatus, especially after nearly all military and civilian defense operations were consolidated into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in 1978.

Most U.S. communities developed their own emergency plans and tasked local civil defense officers with specific functions. Additionally, civil defense volunteers underwent training to complement regular officers. The responsibility of alerting the public of an impending nuclear attack rested with the national, state, and local civil defense offices. These agencies arranged training courses for volunteers who had to be ready to assist authorities in managing existing shelters, decontamination procedures, fire fighting, first aid administration, and recovery efforts.

Adequate advanced warning depends upon the detection of approaching aircraft or missiles as far from the nation's borders as possible. To this end, the National Warning System (NAWAS) was established in 1957. It worked with local warning systems to form the Civil Defense Warning System. Telephones, radios, teletype, and other warning systems were used to transmit urgent civil defense information. Public sirens were also used for early warning. To provide early warning, the North American Air Defense Command (NORAD) maintains a sophisticated surveillance network including ground radar and radar-equipped aircraft deployed across the entire North American continent. Detection first begins at the Distant Early Warning Line, a radar wall extending some 4,000 miles across the Arctic through the Bering Sea and into the North Pacific.

The United States possessed two civil defense alert warning signals. The first was a steady, three- to five-minute siren that indicated an advanced-warning alert signal. This was used if enough time remained for people to seek protection in public or family fallout shelters. The second, a series of short siren blasts for five minutes, meant that immediate cover should be taken, indicating an imminent attack within minutes.

Local alert transmission systems differ from locale to locale. Two main alarm transmission systems were in place: a National Emergency Alarm Repeater (NEAR) system and a Control of Electromagnetic Radiations (CONELRAD) system. NEAR was designed to provide for almost instantaneous warning of an impending attack for the indoor public. NEAR had the capability of reaching 96 percent of the population in homes, offices, factories, schools, and other indoor public places. This system was especially valuable in that it was capable of transmitting alarm signals to rural areas where installation of outdoor alarm systems would be costly. Meanwhile, CONELRAD was invented to assure radio communications in a national emergency and to prevent enemy aircraft from using radio signals in search of targets. CONELRAD's importance decreased as the potential of attack via ballistic missiles increased, but it is still used to ensure more efficient communications between public officials and civilians.

Cold War fallout shelters in the United States were classified on the basis of their protection factor (100 meant the radiation level outside a shelter could be 100 times as high as that inside a shelter). During and after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, relaxed civil defense qualifications yielded 110 million shelter spaces, of which more than 70 million had a protection factor of 100 or greater, and an additional 35 million shelters with a protection factor between 49 and 99. The shelters with a protection factor of 100-plus were concentrated in the larger cities of the United States. Only shelters with protection factors of 100 or greater were stocked with food and survival supplies.

Jaroslav Dvorak and Paul G. Pierpaoli Jr.


Further Reading
McEnaney, Laura. Civil Defense Begins at Home: Militarization Meets Everyday Life in the Fifties. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.; Rose, Kenneth. One Nation Underground: The Fallout Shelter in American Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2001.; Vale, Lawrence J. The Limits of Civil Defense in the USA: Switzerland, Britain, and the Soviet Union; The Evolution of Policies since 1945. New York: St. Martin's, 1987.; Yegorov, Pavel Timofaevich. Civil Defense: A Soviet View. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific, 2002.
 

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