Pragmatic Civil Defense

By W. E. Manry, Jr., M.D .

Published in the Journal of Civil Defense; October 1987


(Dr. W. E. “Bill” Manry looks at American civil defense without the soporific “benefits” of apathy, wishful thinking and procrastination. This leads him to some shocking conclusions about the fate of his fellowman when the nuclear chips are down. Here he prescribes bitter but best available action in the absence of timely and meaningful citizen survival measures by government or utilization of self-help shelter measures.)

It is obvious that no significant civil defense protection for the population of the United States is in prospect any time soon. Perhaps we don’t need it soon, but I’m reminded of a Labor Day conversation that I had with several people in 1939. Up until then we had been hearing more and more bluster about militarism in Germany, and my friends admitted that Germany was certainly getting strong militarily, but insisted that Hitler could not possibly be ready yet to undertake a major war. In other words, we didn’t have to worry yet. That was the day Hitler’s troops moved into Poland.

Maybe Russia is not ready yet – but how will we know?

Clearly, in the next few years we are not going to have public shelters to any worthwhile degree. Further, no matter how hard we try, we apparently are not even able to get significant numbers of people to pay attention to the possibility of nuclear attack, let alone make some basic plans for it.

What can we do with the very negligible amount of money now being allowed for the Civil Defense Program? If we do nothing we can predict very emphatically that without any warning, or even with a day or two warning, that the entire population of the country will panic completely.

During this interval, immediately after blast, those who have not been killed or seriously injured have that one major danger: gamma radiation from fallout. Those in an area where all structures have been demolished must move as rapidly as possible outside of that circumference to large buildings and go to the lowest middle portions of these structures. Those outside the blast zone must still worry about fallout and they too should go to the middle of their homes and struggle through as best they can. They will always be much safer there than running around outdoors in the initial high radiation interval, trying to find a better place of protection. Time permitting, expedient shelter is a good alternative.

A house with no advance preparation at all can provide protection simply by keeping fallout deposits at the greatest possible distance from the inhabitants. Radiation diminishes as the square of the distance from the source, so that the safest place for anybody will be at the furthest distance he can get from the radioactive dust. Intervening insulating materials (building a “shelter inside a . . . A WAY TO TAKE THE BLINDFOLDS OFF POLITICAL LEADERSHIP. shelter”) can be of great help – books on tables, heavy appliances and materials to reduce radiation, etc. There will be some areas in which the radiation is so intense that even with it diminishing by the square of the distance, the inhabitants at the central portion of the building will still get lethal doses. On the other hand, in a very large percentage of homes the radioactive dust that settles will be of lesser intensity.

There are very reliable estimates that even in quite heavily radioactive areas, the radiation danger will have essentially subsided by two weeks after the blast.

Accordingly, survivors must have a minimum amount of potable water for a total of two weeks time. It would also be good to have food during that time but almost nobody will starve to death for lack of food over a two-week period.

So, there are two things that we can try for with limited government finances:

  1. Convey to the people the importance of staying indoors for possibly 2 weeks. Advance educational promotion of this idea is worthwhile – if we can get people’s attention. (Regardless of any success in this education effort, there should be provided to every radio and TV station, detailed material to be announced when needed that is consistent with the principles we are talking about.)
  2. Promote storage of water in homes. These are simple and basic. All other considerations become quickly more complicated -worthwhile but expensive. These are high priority items to give attention to while we try to find a way to take the blindfolds off our political leadership.