In Time of Emergency – US Cvil Defence Film 1969

This interesting US film, produced by the Office of Civil Defence and Department of Defence, is analogous to Britain’s Protect and Survive. Like Protect and Survive this film is basic advice to the population on what to do under conditions of nuclear attack. It follows largely the same pattern; what immediate action to take should a nuclear explosion happen whilst you are out in the open and the second part of how to prepare your home should international tensions rise and attack may seem possible.

There are some obvious differences beyond presentational style – Protect and and Survive is stark and impersonal (“chilling” might be a more fitting description) and this is a much more paternalistic approach. One obvious difference is that Protect and Survive doesn’t shy away as much from the less pleasant aspects of its subject – for all both films are about nuclear attack, “In Time of Emergency” avoids too much discussion of blast effects, the extent of radiation and fall-out and ultimately any discussion of casualties. For all the many shortcomings of Protect and Survive it was reasonably unblinking about the effects of nuclear attack; it admitted that if you were within 5 miles of the explosion you stood almost no chance, that the minimum shelter time was probably 14 days, that medical, rescue and fire-fighting attempts were pretty unlikely and that ultimately you may have to bury your own dead. Chilling stuff.

I couldn’t help but feel “In Time of Emergency” avoided much in-depth discussion of this. It even avoided much discussion on your sanitary requirements – even Protect and Survive had to admit you were going to have to pee and poo in your own shelter space. Perhaps the originators of “In Time of Emergency” realised how absurd many of the more realistic preparations were and were thus better left unsaid.

One very notable difference were the elaborateness of some of the preparations and the huge gulf between the wealth of the United States and Britain. The US had a system of public shelters and whilst not absolutely comprehensive, the UK had whatsoever. In Britain there had been no public shelter space provided since World War II and successive governments had rejected calls for any public shelter programme, generally on the basis of cost.

The difference in wealth is even more striking at the individual level; the American film shows large detached homes with extensive basements, and whilst it can be said was the case for every American family, it was another world from the homes of Britain. Another key difference were the level of supplies families had, both the 1963 British Civil Defence film “Civil Defence Bulletin no. 3” and Protect and Survive’s “Food Consumption” (1976) show very modest amounts of food and water being taken to the shelter. Contrast this to “In Time of Emergency’s” vast supplies of water in large plastic and glass containers, the huge tins of food and other storage items. In fairness “In Time Of Emergency’s” supplies were far more realistic for any kind of long stay in the shelter, the British versions had supplies that looked like what you might have if you were snowed in for a few days. They certainly didn’t look like they’d sustain a family for a week.

Government films accessioned by The National Archives

The UK National archives have a list of all government films they have accessioned – some 4800 films in total dating from pre-1939 almost up until the present day. The full list – available as a spreadsheet – contains a suprisingly small number of films that seem to be relayed to nuclear matters:

BRITISH NUCLEAR FUELS   COI + British Nuclear Fuels
FUEL FOR NUCLEAR POWER 1962 UKAEA
INTRODUCTION TO THE PRESSURE WATER REACTOR – NUCLEAR STEAM SUPPLY SYSTEM 1985 UKAEA
MANAGEMENT OF NUCLEAR WASTE 1982 DENE
NUCLEAR FUEL SERVICE 1985 UKAEA British Nuclear Fuels
NUCLEAR FUSION: ENERGY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY 1983 COI / DENE
NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS 1977 UKAEA
NUCLEAR POWER REACTORS 1961 UKAEA 
NUCLEAR POWER TODAY AND TOMORROW 1967 UKAEA
NUCLEAR SHIP SAVANNAH   COI
REPROCESSING NUCLEAR FUEL 1964 UKAEA
TECHNOLOGY OF NUCLEAR FUEL REPROCESSING 1986  
ZETA ZERO ENERGY THERMO-NUCLEAR ASSEMBLY 1954-8 COI

Civil Defence seems also not very well represented:

CIVIL DEFENCE CARTOON 1958 none listed
CIVIL DEFENCE IN 1962 (HOME SECRETARY’S BROADCAST) 1962 none listed
PROTECT AND SURVIVE 1976 COI/HOME OFFICE
SHOULD DISASTER STRIKE  1987 COI PRODUCTIONS (1977 – 1992)

Unfortunately there isn’t much in the way of a description and some titles don’t adequately describe the contents of the film so there is a chance much interesting material may be very hard to spot.