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Civil Defense


Ending WWII, nuclear bombs exploded in mushroom clouds and destroyed thousands of lives at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Now, a new threat hovered on the horizon: nuclear war. No longer fighting a common enemy, the US and the Soviet Union began an ideological struggle. Though never combating each other directly, their hostilities played out in proxy wars, the space race and the nuclear arms build-up. This was the Cold War.

Each superpower built up a massive supply of nuclear weapons capable of destroying the other. With so many weapons around, no one wanted to be unprepared. Though the US had created short-lived civil defense programs during the World Wars, these programs now resurfaced, and on this date in 1950, the creation of North Dakota's own Civil Defense Council was reported.

Though the US mainly focused on creating weapons as a defensive tactic, civil defense plans were seen as a way to minimize the effects of nuclear war. These programs included educating the public, creating evacuation plans and building fallout shelters. At the beginning of the Cold War, the government wanted local administrations to take a "self-help" approach with the assistance of federal funding. Still, when North Dakota prepared its Civil Defense Council, the members served without pay.

Eight years later, the council had outlined its emergency procedures. "North Dakota Operational Survival Plan" blazes across the cover of the thick document in fading red script. Complete with resource maps, fallout pattern diagrams and organizational charts, it details what to do in case of attack or natural disaster. Minot, Bismarck, Grand Forks and Fargo are all identified as targeted areas, circled with bulls-eyes. Emphasizing the need to update the plans, the report also maintains that, "...civil defense is everyone's business and responsibility..."

Following advice to create local plans, Stutsman County stockpiled first aid supplies, emergency generators and radios. Setting aside 17 buildings as shelters complete with food, water and radiation measurement devices, there was only enough protection for 2,286 people. Home shelters were encouraged.

One day, Dennis Murphy helped his dad, the Stutsman County and Jamestown City Civil Defense director, create their own shelter. After fitting cement blocks together, the space was stashed with magazines, flashlights and other emergency supplies. Luckily, it only served as a tornado shelter or a quiet place to sleep.

Through changing defense needs, natural disasters, and presidential administrations, civil defense has also changed. Today, FEMA, or the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is responsible for responding to disasters.

Dakota Datebook written by Alyssa Boge


Grand Forks Herald - August 9th, 1950

"North Dakota Operational Survival Plan" - June 1958

"Stutsman County Civil Defense" in the Jamestown North Dakota Community Fact

Survey by Otter Tail Power Company in Cooperation with Jamestown Chamber Of Commerce - 1963.

Text for Cold War Exhibit provided by the North Dakota Historical Society Museum

"Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness

Efforts, September 2006" <http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/edu/docs/DHS%20Civil%20Defense-HS%20-%20Short%20History.pdf>