Some Civil Defense Films for You

Just outside of ground zero, nuclear weapons kill with blast, heat and radiation. The results are destruction, fire or incineration and fatal illness. Go a bit further out, the effects dilute, and one’s primary concern is the blast wave. The blast wave can be understood as the pressure from the explosion moving outward, losing intensity and velocity as it expands. As far as surviving the initial event is concerned, the old Office of Civil Defense /Civil Defense Administration focused on preparing people to recognize the signs around them. Certainly, the population would know if they were cooking in a radioactive crucible, or melting in the bomb’s fireball. But if people are outside the maelstrom of plasma and firestorms, they need to understand the reality of what they will experience, and how to lessen the impact of the attack.

The OCD printed literature and published films and documentaries instructing people on what to watch for, and how to deal with the effects of a nuclear attack. People in the 50s and 60s were not very far removed from the horrors of WWII, with its city-killing history of incendiary fire-bombing and its double tap of nuclear destruction. For them, the Red Threat was both real, and comprehensible. The arms race also led to a defense race. In the tradition of informing the populace of what to do during WWII, the OCD continued this mission for a large part of the Cold War.

A quick survey of YouTube videos will yield many quaint videos from that era. While the technology is dated, and the threats magnitudes have changed, the thought behind defense against nuclear effects has remained a constant. This is because the physical effects are predictable and consistent. A blast front producing over-pressures of 5 psi is going to be 5 psi regardless of whether it is 3 miles from ground zero, or 5. All that really changes is the size of the bomb, and its proximity. Using this site’s blast simulators will help you determine what you can expect. Watching these videos will help educate you on how various materials can either help or hurt you when dealing with thermal effects. You will see what construction types will do best against a blast wave. You will see how some practiced reactions to the flash of a nuclear detonation will reduce the likelihood that flying debris will skewer you or your loved ones.

As you review these videos, try not to focus on the dated clothing and equipment, the speaking voice of the narrators, or the types of weapons shown in tests or mentioned in discussions. Instead, study the physics of what you are seeing and use the common and predictable effects of live tests to evaluate your own situation, as determined by your work on blast simulators.

As a for instance, my primary residence is located within 13  miles of a medium sized target slated for at least 1.5Mt. I have a thermal radiation concern at that distance, but the blast wave is of a power that will produce broken or shattered windows, perhaps some damaged roofing, but not much else. Windows in the old films are single pane, traditional glass. I have dual pane, frame reinforced, tempered glass. If both panes break free, I will see quite a bit of glass moving about, but not as viscously as I might with older windows. My expectations? Some broken windows, and perhaps charing of window treatments from the thermal pulse. I’m not happy about my proximity to the target, especially considering a potential targeting error distinctly against my favor, but as for text book survivability, I am not overly concerned.

Map out your particulars and see what you should be concerned about, if much at all.

“Duck and Cover” 1951 – The brunt of many jokes, this film does a fair job of explaining how people can survive blast and fragmentation injuries within the outer zones of the blast area.

“Operation Cue” 1964 Revision – Shows how various structures hold up to blast effects.

“The House in the Middle” 1954 – How deferred maintenance and garbage can lead to thermal ignition. Interesting take of keeping neat and tidy.

“Survival Under Atomic Attack” – Similar in topic to “Duck and Cover”, but as the video notes share, it is directed towards adults.

“About Fallout” 1963 – For one who has never studied about fallout, this is an excellent training film. It discusses the nature of fallout, how it is created and affects us, and what to do about it.


Some further thoughts for your consideration. First, if you let the hordes of sensationalist yahoos out there grab hold of your fears and lead you about, you have already lost. Don’t listen to their claims about inescapable death. Do your own study. The tools are available to you. We face serious challenges under various scenarios, but knowing the difference between defeat and victory is key. If these things concern you, then you must educate yourself. The only way to make informed decisions and opinions is to consider the facts with as little predisposed emotional energy as you can.

Second, the Civil Defense Administration was not tasked with fooling anyone. It was a real effort at sharing life saving information with all Americans. The information is still applicable to today, when matched with common and easy to use tools found on the net. It is true that the OCD /CDA itself is a thing of the past. The government that put it in place is not the same as we have today, but the underlying physics and applications remain.


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