Fallout – Office of Civil and Defence Mobilisation


This undated film (from the early 1950s judging but its style) is an Amercian Civil Defence film designed to educate the public on the dangers of fallout. Several British films as part of the “Protect and Survive” series were also made about Fallout in 1976 of which the following is an example.

The American film particularly alarming because there are several instructions in the film that by most standards are simply wrong:

Ability to Detect Fallout

The film seems to imply the public can detect fallout – certainly something Protect and Survive doesn’t do. In fact Protect and Survive, for all its many faults, insists that fallout cannot be seen, heard or smelt. “Fallout” recommends leaving a white plate outside and looking for dust collecting on it – an incredible idea that judging from the dust collected on it the public would be able to detect fallout.

In general, fallout is made from debris sucked from the ground by a nuclear explosion on or near the ground, this pulverised material is then made highly radioactive and blown by the prevailing wind. However, there is no obvious visible quality to the material to allow you to decide whether its radioactive or not. In fact in the UK there were two specific warnings for fallout, the Black warning, immanent arrival of fallout and the Grey, fallout expected but not within the hour. These were communicated to the public by radio, maroons, whistle or church bells.

Protection from Fallout

The film describes various methods of protection, including describing that wooden framed buildings would give protection from fallout. Even from very early British films on fallout it is often repeated that heavy, dense buildings are the only effective protection from fallout. This 1961 Civil Defence film shows the relative effectiveness of differing materials.

It would surely have been known at the time that only dense material would protect the public from fallout, bricks, concrete, sand and earth being recommended as suitable. In British films, dwellings made from wood or of lightweight construction (like prefabs)

Overall this is an interesting film; very much of its time but has the same ulterior motive that I think can be found in most Cold War Civil Defence films – it tries to diminish the effects of nuclear weapons, to sanitise the effects in ways that make nuclear war seem more acceptable. The advice it gives, although arguably inaccurate, are qualitatively the same as most others. That the effects of nuclear weapons can be partially negated by domestic preparation when in most instances this has been shown to be palpable nonsense and many civil defence programmes could be described as self-serving propaganda.