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Civil Defense during the Cold War

By Evan Whisnant

June 5, 2011

During the Cold War the was a nationwide fear of other countries with nuclear weapons that could be used against us.  After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, testing of nuclear weapons became more and more common worldwide.  Between 1945 and 1998, 2053 nuclear bombs were detonated in the world.  This began with the Manhattan Project “Trinity” that was conducted near Los Alamos, and ended with Pakistan’s nuclear tests in May of 1998.  The video below is an animation created by Isao Hashimoto that shows all of the 2053 nuclear explosions between 1945 and 1998.


Nuclear bomb map

Fallout Shelters

Because of the increased fear of nuclear attack during the Cold War, the government and other organizations distributed material about how to build fallout shelters.  These shelters were supposed to be able to protect the people inside from the worst of the radiation in the event of a nuclear attack.  This is a diagram distributed by the government in June of 1980 with information and diagrams on how to build a home fallout shelter in your backyard.

Distributing Information

The government and the Civil Defense Administration used many ways to distribute information to the public about what to do if there was a nuclear attack.  Schools were required to have drills and study materials on how to be protected.  Informational booklets were distributed and there were frequent radio PSA’s.  Children’s songs were created that had information about nuclear preparedness in them.  Many videos were made and shown to the public as well and one of the most famous was a film for kids called “Duck and Cover”.


Evacuation Plans

At the beginning of the nuclear age the government was opposed to evacuation of cities in the event of a nuclear attack.  The government said that people should not evacuate because they would be needed to help repair damaged infrastructure, and that the nuclear radiation “would only stay in the air a day or two”.  Despite this initial opposition to evacuation, plans for evacuation were soon created.

Portland, Oregon was at the forefront of evacuation planning, and the city’s center could be completely evacuated in 19 minutes.  In 1983 Ronald Reagan announced the Crisis Relocation Plan which was a $10 billion, 5 year plan that would allow for the evacuation of cities to rural areas, saving 80% of the population, and could be completed in three days.


Opposition to Civil Defense

There was alot of opposition to civil defense during the Cold War, because there were people who thought that the government was being misleading by telling people that a nuclear attack would be survivable.  The Catholic Worker Movement held a protest on June 15, 1955 and many protesters were arrested because they refused to take shelter during an air raid drill.  Opposition continued to increase through the next several years until the drills were stopped in 1961.

Civil Defense after the Cold War

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Civil Defense fell into disuse.  Since that time there has been much less focus on nuclear war and so more attention has come to things like natural disasters and climate change.  The triangular “C.D.” logo was retired in 2006 and was replaced by EM (Emergency Management) but Hawaii, Guam, and the Philippines still use a similar logo to the original one.

Civil Defense logo

Emergency Management logo


Emblem, Wuss. “United States Civil Defense.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_civil_defense>.

“National Security Resources Board.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Security_Resources_Board>.

“Cold War.” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_War>.

“A Time-Lapse Map of Every Nuclear Explosion Since 1945 (Minus North Korea’s) | Geekosystem.” Geekosystem – Your Geek Guide To Tech & Internet Culture. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://www.geekosystem.com/every-nuclear-explosion-time-lapse/>.

“Ground Zero: Google Maps and Nuclear Weapons.” Carloslabs. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://www.carloslabs.com/projects/200712B/GroundZero.html>.

YouTube – ‪Our Cities Must Fight (1951)‬‏. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7RNcTnvTJa0>.

YouTube – ‪Duck and Cover‬‏. YouTube – Broadcast Yourself. 16 May 2006. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0K_LZDXp0I>.

“Covington County EMA – History.” Covington County EMA. Web. 05 June 2011. <http://www.covingtoncountyema.com/?page=history>.


1 Comment

  1. Cissy O'Neal

    Hi Evan,

    I really enjoyed your presentation and website on “Civil Defense During the Cold War.” You had excellent, interesting information and the website was easy to navigate. It will be great to use this as a standard for other websites students may be interested in creating in the future. Your “grade” was a 100!

    I hope you and your family are having a wonderful summer.

    Ms. O’Neal

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