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

Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts
Civil Defense and Homeland
Security: A Short History of
National Preparedness Efforts
September 2006

    Homeland Security
    National Preparedness Task Force
Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts
Civil Defense and Homeland Security:
A Short History of National Preparedness
September 2006

      Homeland Security
      National Preparedness Task Force

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

This report is the result of a requirement by the Director of the Department of Homeland Security’s
National Preparedness Task Force to examine the history of national preparedness efforts in the
United States. The report provides a concise and accessible historical overview of U.S. national
preparedness efforts since World War I, identifying and analyzing key policy efforts, drivers of
change, and lessons learned. While the report provides much critical information, it is not meant to
be a substitute for more comprehensive historical and analytical treatments. It is hoped that the
report will be an informative and useful resource for policymakers, those individuals interested in
the history of what is today known as homeland security, and homeland security stakeholders
responsible for the development and implementation of effective national preparedness policies and

Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts
Introduction                                       the Nation’s diverse communities, be carefully
                                                   planned, capable of quickly providing
From the air raid warning and plane spotting       pertinent information to the populace about
activities of the Office of Civil Defense in the   imminent threats, and able to convey risk
1940s, to the Duck and Cover film strips and       without creating unnecessary alarm.
backyard shelters of the 1950s, to today’s all-
hazards preparedness programs led by the           The following narrative identifies some of the
Department of Homeland Security, Federal           key trends, drivers of change, and lessons
strategies to enhance the nation’s                 learned in the history of U.S. national
preparedness for disaster and attack have          preparedness programs. A review of the
evolved over the course of the 20th century        history of these programs will assist the
and into the 21st.                                 Federal government in its efforts to develop
                                                   and implement effective homeland security
Presidential administrations can have a            policy and better understand previous national
powerful impact on both national and citizen       preparedness initiatives.
preparedness. By recommending funding
levels, creating new policies, and
implementing new programs; successive              Pre-Cold War Period (1917-1945)
administrations have adapted preparedness
efforts to align with changing domestic            World War I introduced a new type of attack:
priorities and foreign policy goals. They have     the use of strategic aerial strikes against an
also instituted administrative reorganizations     enemy’s population to degrade its ability and
that reflected their preference for                will to wage war. German aerial
consolidated or dispersed civil defense and        bombardment of towns in countries such as
homeland security responsibilities within the      France, Belgium, and Poland began in August
Federal government.                                1914, and in the following year Kaiser
                                                   Wilhelm authorized sustained bombing
Programs were seldom able to get ahead of          campaigns against military and civilian targets,
world events, and were ultimately challenged       particularly against England.1 From May
in their ability to answer the public’s need for   through October of 1915, Germany launched
protection from threats due to bureaucratic        seven air strikes against London alone.2
turbulence created by frequent reorganization,     England, like most other nations at the time,
shifting funding priorities, and varying levels    did not have an organized civil defense
of support by senior policymakers. This in         program to aid citizens during such attacks.
turn has had an effect on the public’s             Individuals were forced to find their own way
perception of national preparedness. Public        to safety, often taking refuge in the city’s
awareness and support have waxed and waned         underground subway stations.3 By all
over the years, as the government’s emphasis       assessments, the damage and casualty figures
on national preparedness has shifted.              that resulted from these early bombing
                                                   operations were comparatively insignificant,
An analysis of the history of civil defense and    but they exerted a psychological toll on the
homeland security programs in the United           British public.4 It became clear that civilian
States clearly indicates that to be considered     defense, involving a range of actions to
successful, national preparedness programs         protect the general public in the event of
must be long in their reach yet cost effective.    attack, would become a major fixture in future
They must also be appropriately tailored to        warfare.

Civil Defense and Homeland Security: A Short History of National Preparedness Efforts
among all agencies involved in national
Though the Axis and Allied powers continued        preparedness.13
to employ strategic bombing throughout
World War I, leaders in the United States did      As World War II ignited in Europe, Roosevelt
not feel that the country was vulnerable to        reestablished the Council of National Defense
attack. They concentrated their public             in 1940.14 Once again States were asked to
outreach on rallying support for the war           establish local counterpart councils. Tensions
effort.5 Much of this task was coordinated by      among Federal, State and local governments
the Council of National Defense,                   began to rise about authority and resources.
established on August 29, 1916 with the
passage of an Army appropriations bill.6 The       The states claimed they were not given
Council was a presidential advisory board that     enough power to manage civil defense tasks in
included the Secretaries of War, Navy,             their own jurisdictions, and local governments
Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, and Labor;        asserted that State governments did not give
assisted by an Advisory Committee appointed        urban areas proper consideration and
by the President.7 Its responsibilities included   resources.15 Non-attack disaster preparedness
“coordinating resources and industries for         remained almost entirely the responsibility of
national defense” and “stimulating civilian        States, while federal funding was reserved
morale.”8                                          primarily for attack preparedness.

The work of the Council escalated when the         Because of extensive civilian bombing
United States entered the war in 1917. In the      campaigns in Europe, concerns about
same year, the Federal government asked            possible attacks against the U.S. homeland
State governors to create their own local          increased. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia of New
councils of defense to support the National        York City wrote a letter to President
effort.9 However, the Council’s activities         Roosevelt stating:
continued to focus more on facilitating
mobilization for the war than on protecting               “There is a need for a strong Federal
civilian resources. When hostilities ended, the           Department to coordinate activities,
Council shifted its efforts toward                        and not only to coordinate but to
demobilization. Its operations were                       initiate and get things going. Please
suspended in June, 1921.10                                bear in mind that up to this war and
                                                          never in our history, has the civilian
                                                          population been exposed to attack.
For the remainder of the 1920s, the Federal               The new technique of war has created
government undertook little public outreach               the necessity for developing new
related to defense and security. However, the             techniques of civilian defense”.16
1930s saw a revival of civil defense efforts,
when aggressive actions and arms stockpiling       President Roosevelt responded to the
in Europe fueled international concern.11 In       increasing concern of the public and local
1933, President Franklin Roosevelt created by      officials by creating the Office of Civilian
executive order the National Emergency             Defense (OCD) in 1941.17 The President
Council (NEC) which consisted of the               delegated a number of responsibilities to the
President, his Cabinet members, and the head       OCD by broadly interpreting civilian
of nearly every major Federal agency,              protection to include morale maintenance,
commission, and board.12 The mission of the        promotion of volunteer involvement, and
NEC included a variety of programs unrelated       nutrition and physical education.18 The OCD
to civil defense; however, its duties also         oversaw unprecedented federal involvement
included coordination of emergency programs

in attack preparedness. As with the Council        Truman Administration (1945-1953)
of National Defense, the OCD created
corresponding defense councils at the local        Soon after taking office, Harry Truman did
level.19                                           follow Landis’ advice and abolished the OCD,
                                                   reflecting the widely held belief that the
The issue of whether the OCD should                immediate threat of war had receded. 26
emphasize protective services, typically done      Initially, civil defense was not a high priority
at that time by men, or social welfare services,   in the Truman Administration, as troops
typically undertaken at that time by women,        began to return home and other war time
created tension from the office’s inception.20     offices were diminished in scale or disbanded
Director Fiorello LaGuardia referred to            altogether. The development of the atomic
“nonprotective” activities as “sissy stuff” and    bomb, however, had opened up previously
saw opportunities to build neighborhood            unthinkable risks. Increasing hostilities with
militias. Pressured to focus on other              the Soviet Union and their pursuit of a
nonprotective areas such as neighborhood           nuclear bomb threatened the United States.
support, he appointed Eleanor Roosevelt to
expand volunteer activities.21 The two leaders,    In this context, Truman began to reexamine
with their radically divergent points of view,     the national defense structure, reviewing the
exemplified a conflict over the meaning and        results of a set of commissions.27 In 1946, the
purpose of civil defense that would continue       U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey published its
well into the cold war era.                        report evaluating the results of strategic
                                                   bombing campaigns by imperial Germany and
OCD received criticism from Congress and           Japan against enemy civilian populations. The
the public on several fronts. It was called        report indicated that civil defense plans could
“pink” by influential politicians who disliked     significantly mitigate the effects of strategic
the program’s broad reach and social               bombing.28 Specifically, mass evacuation
development programs. Some believed the            plans for urban areas and shelters for those
organization’s tasks were better undertaken by     unable to leave the area could form
the Department of War.22 One of OCD’s              components of a viable civil defense plan.29
early leaders, James Landis, recommended           In 1947, the War Department’s Civil Defense
that the organization be abolished, since the      Board, led by Major General Harold Bull,
threat of an attack on U.S. civilians had          released a second report.30 The so-called Bull
receded.23                                         Report stated that civil defense is the
                                                   responsibility of civilians, and the military
With the end of World War II, most U.S.            should not be expected to get involved in
officials agreed that the risk of an attack on     such matters.31 According to the report, civil
the U.S. homeland was minimal. Roosevelt           defense was best implemented locally, a
did not take Landis’ suggestion, and the OCD       concept referred to as “self-help”. Still, the
continued to operate.24 While the OCD did          document did concede that the Federal
not fulfill all of its ambitious goals, it did     government could provide the majority of
begin the development of concrete civil            necessary resources.32 Additionally, Congress
defense plans, including air raid drills, black    passed the National Security Act of 1947.
outs, and sand bag stockpiling.25                  Best known for the creation of the Central
                                                   Intelligence Agency, the Act also created the
                                                   National Security Resources Board
                                                   (NSRB), which was initially responsible for
                                                   mobilizing civilian and military support, as

well as maintaining adequate reserves and         result, the Board was moved to the
effective resource use in the event of war.33     Department of Defense (DOD), then shifted
                                                  to the Executive Office of the President, and
Neither report resulted in substantial reforms    finally had its responsibilities transferred to
to the Truman Administration’s policies           the Office of Defense Mobilization in
because civil defense continued to remain a       December of 1950.
low priority. 34 However, as U.S.-Soviet
relations became increasingly strained,           The climate of civil defense changed
President Truman began to implement civil         dramatically with the successful Soviet test of
defense policy reforms. These changes             a nuclear weapon in August of 1949. The
resulted, in part, from the strong                United States lost its monopoly on nuclear
recommendation of Colonel Burnet Beers,           weapons and the corresponding negotiating
who was responsible for directing a study on      power that this entailed. Local officials began
future civil defense planning and operations      to demand from the Federal government a
to establish a civil defense unit in the Office   clear outline of what they were to do in crisis
of the Secretary of Defense (OSD).35 Truman       situations.43 The Truman Administration
acted promptly on this advice, establishing the   received criticism from local officials, a
Office of Civil Defense Planning (OCDP),          worried American public, and Congress for
whose purpose was to recommend a course           not taking firm action.44 In response, in 1950,
for the creation of a permanent civil defense     the NSRB generated a new proposal called the
agency.36 After six months, the OCDP              Blue Book, which outlined a set of civil defense
released its 300-page Hopley Report,37 which      functions and how they should be
called for the creation of a Federal office of    implemented at each level of government.45
civil defense directly under the President or     The Blue Book also recommended the creation
Secretary of Defense. The report additionally     of an independent Federal civil defense
recommended that the Federal government           organization.46
provide civil defense guidance and assistance,
but that State and local governments handle       Truman agreed with many of the Blue Book
most of the operational responsibilities.38       recommendations, but held firm to his belief
                                                  that civil defense responsibilities should fall
Reactions to the Hopley Report inside and         mostly on the shoulders of the State and local
outside government were generally negative.       governments.47 In response, Congress
There were concerns about the cost and scope      enacted the Federal Civil Defense Act of
of civil defense. Many people feared its          1950, which placed most of the civil defense
recommendations were too far-reaching and         burden on the States and created the Federal
made unrealistic demands on the public and        Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to
government.39 And there were concerns             formulate national policy to guide the States’
about military control. Some civilian groups      efforts.48
thought the report called for transferring what
should be a civilian responsibility to the        As planning began, policymakers struggled to
military, which could lead to a “garrison         define what was meant by national security. A
state.”40                                         key question was the appropriate level of
                                                  readiness to be attained. At what readiness
Truman ultimately chose to address the latter     level would people have to surrender personal
concern by assigning civil defense planning to    freedoms to state control? At what level of
the NSRB, a civilian agency.41 However, the       security would civil defense metamorphose
NSRB did not receive the necessary resources      into a garrison state, undermining the
or authority to carry out its mandate.42 As a     underlying purpose of protecting individual

rights?49 The decision to assign civil defense    film was seen by millions of schoolchildren
responsibility to States and localities was       during the 1950s.58 The public education
intended partly as a safeguard against the        campaign throughout the decade promoted
garrison state.                                   the idea that with preparation, a nuclear attack
                                                  could be survivable.59
Planners also struggled with a difficult
political question: just how much support
should government provide? Congressional
resistance to paying for a comprehensive
program, and concerns about establishing
public dependency on government, led to
adoption of a doctrine of “self help”:
individual responsibility for preparedness to
minimize (not eliminate) risk.50 The idea of
decentralized, locally controlled, volunteer-
based civil defense was not new; in fact it was
the foundation of the successful British civil
defense effort in World War II. However, the
decision to make self-help the basis of civil
defense was also a political compromise, a
way to balance conflicting views over the size,             Duck and Cover promotional material
power, and priorities of the emerging postwar
nation.51                                         An examination of the FCDA-led shelter-
                                                  building initiative underscores some of the
The FCDA led shelter building programs,           civil defense program’s internal
sought to improve Federal and State               inconsistencies. The Federal Civil Defense
coordination, established an attack warning       Act of 1950 allocated significant funding to a
system, stockpiled supplies, and started a well   shelter initiative. The law allowed the FCDA
known national civic education campaign. In       to develop shelter designs and make financial
1952, the FCDA joined with the Ad Council         contributions to shelter programs. However,
to release Korean War advertising to boost        Congress stipulated that the Federal
national morale.52 The FCDA specifically          government could not finance the
aimed to teach schoolchildren about               construction of new shelters.60 In
preparedness, primarily through civil defense     communities across the country there was
drills.53 In order to effectively educate the     great debate over the necessity of the shelters,
entire youth population, the FCDA                 and Truman himself was not eager to spend
commissioned a movie studio to produce nine       government money on the program.61
civil defense movies that would be shown in       Moreover, FCDA Administrator Millard
classrooms across the nation – among them         Caldwell initiated a public relations fiasco
Duck and Cover.54 The movie, through its main     when he misconstrued the shelter program as
character Bert the Turtle, showed children        a means to protect every person in the
what to do when they saw “the flash of an         country. A program that expansive was
atomic bomb.”55 Newspapers and experts            deemed to be too costly to receive sufficient
generally heralded the film as a positive and     political support; as a result, it never left the
optimistic step toward preparedness.56 The        planning stages during the Truman
New York Herald Tribune, for example, called      Administration.62
the film “very instructive” and “not too
frightening for children.”57 Ultimately, the

Contrary to the outlook offered by Duck and       Truman, actual appropriations were virtually
Cover and the other educational campaigns,        identical to appropriations under Truman.68
early media reports about the possibility of
nuclear war offered grim predictions              In addition to economic concerns, world
concerning the aftermath of an attack. The        events contributed to Eisenhower’s decision
scenarios were horrific, and the association of   to support a mass evacuation policy, instead
civil defense with death and destruction made     of the shelter program initiated under
not only home preparedness and sheltering,        Truman. In 1953, the Soviets detonated a
but the whole self-help preparedness concept,     hydrogen nuclear bomb; and shortly
a tough sell.63                                   thereafter, the effects of the initial U.S.
                                                  hydrogen explosion were released to the
The political, fiscal, and emotional cross-       American public.69 The blast and thermal
currents were reflected in civil defense          effects of these new fusion nuclear weapons
funding. Despite ambitious funding requests,      were so destructive that many experts argued
actual appropriations to civil defense            that American cities would be doomed in the
remained low throughout the Truman                event of a nuclear attack, regardless of
Administration, and throughout the 1950s.         sheltering efforts.70 As a result, new FCDA
For example, from 1951 to 1953 Truman             Administrator Frederick Peterson urged
requested $1.5 billion for civil defense, but     Congress to scale back or completely
appropriations totaled only $153 million – 90     eliminate the shelter program.71
percent less than requested64.
                                                  In strongly supporting mass evacuation,
Despite these practical setbacks, the concept     Peterson noted that successful execution
of civil defense as a purposeful approach to      would depend on sufficient warning time,
the protection of citizens from threats outside   proper training for civil defense officials, and
the Nation’s borders began to take shape          regular public drills.72 Many of the
during Truman’s presidency.65 Though each         responsibilities for evacuation would be borne
leader who followed would focus on different      at the State and local level, which appealed to
programs and approaches, civil defense            Eisenhower’s belief that the Federal
remained an important initiative during the       government should not shoulder the entire
coming decades.                                   burden for civil defense programs.73 Congress
                                                  also was in favor of the shift in attention from
                                                  shelters to evacuation.74 Yet some members,
Eisenhower Administration (1953-                  especially Congressman Chet Holifield of
                                                  California, were adamantly opposed to
                                                  reducing the shelter system.75 Holifield was
                                                  the ranking member of the Joint Committee
President Dwight Eisenhower’s approach to
                                                  on Atomic Energy and later the chairman of
civil defense was quite different from his
                                                  the Military Operations Subcommittee.76 In
predecessor’s. Eisenhower identified the
                                                  support of a federally funded shelter system,
enormous economic commitment required
                                                  he likened the idea of family built shelters to
for military development as one reason not to
                                                  creating “an army or a navy or an air force by
undertake expensive civil defense programs.66
                                                  advising each one to buy himself a jet
Additionally, Republicans in Congress were
                                                  plane.”77 As a well publicized champion for
eager to curtail spending, as the party had
                                                  shelter building, Congressman Holifield
publicly promised to balance the budget when
                                                  consistently and persuasively articulated the
Eisenhower took office.67 Though
                                                  benefits of shelter building to the American
Eisenhower requested less funding than

In March of 1954,                                     The FCDA received extensive criticism over
the United States                                     the next few years for not developing a
detonated another                                     feasible plan for evacuating major cities.87
thermonuclear                                         Congressman Holifield called FCDA efforts
bomb, called Bravo,                                   only a façade of civil defense programs.88 He
on Bikini Atoll in                                    also chastised the President for not taking
the Marshall                                          more responsibility.89 At Holifield’s request, in
Islands.78 Due to a                                   1956 the House Committee on Government
major wind shift, a             The 1954 Bravo test   Operations held a series of hearings to discuss
large amount of                                       the viability of the FCDA.90 The “Holifield
radioactive fallout was unexpectedly released         Hearings” constituted the largest examination
over a 7000 square mile area, ultimately              of the civil defense program in U.S. history.91
poisoning the crew of a Japanese fishing boat
in the area and even injuring personnel
involved in the test.79 It did not take long for
Congress and the public to turn their
attention to the need for shelters to protect
the citizenry from such lethal effects.80 The
FCDA was in a tough position. They had just
fought for evacuation policies, at the expense
of the shelter option, and the Eisenhower
Administration continued to support
evacuation as the chief civil defense
objective.81 Faced with this dilemma, FCDA
                                                                    Long Island shelter, circa 1955
Administrator Peterson redirected his policy
toward an “evacuation to shelter” approach,
whereby individuals would be evacuated from           Holifield and his Committee concluded that
affected areas to shelters.82 He even proposed        the FCDA had been myopically focused on
digging ditches along roadsides for those who         evacuation, which they termed “a cheap
could not get to shelters in time.83                  substitute for atomic shelter.”92 The FCDA
                                                      responded by presenting a National Shelter
The Eisenhower Administration had just                Policy, which proposed a $32 billion program
begun work on its massive federal highway             for “federally subsidized self-help” (e.g. tax
program, connecting major cities and in the           incentives or special mortgage rates to shelter-
process providing a means for evacuation.84           owning families).93 Taken aback by the cost
Peterson clashed with the President on the            of the proposal, Eisenhower convened the
program, arguing that Congress should divert          Gaither Committee (named for its first
some of the highway funding to support civil          chairman, H. Rowan Gaither) composed of
defense programs. He believed that the                leading scientific, military, and business
highways should be designed to lead only 30           experts. The committee evaluated military
to 40 miles outside of major cities to rural          readiness and concluded that the United
“reception areas.”85 However, Peterson’s              States could not defend itself from a Soviet
clout did not match the President’s, and thus         surprise attack on the homeland. 94 While its
no money was diverted from the highway                report, released in 1957, emphasized funding
program.86                                            anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defense systems, it
                                                      also acknowledged that a fallout shelter
                                                      system occupied a secondary position in

deterrence, and to that end recommended            the middle of his tenure Eisenhower secretly
adopting the FCDA shelter proposal.95              commissioned the building of an underground
Two subsequent reports advanced similar            bunker in West Virginia that would serve as a
ideas.96 In 1958, the Rockefeller Report,          safe haven for top members of Congress, in
compiled by a board of experts and                 the event of a catastrophe.106 The project was
practitioners directed by Henry Kissinger,         similar in scope and intent to one initiated by
stated that civil defense was one aspect of a      President Truman in 1951. Called “Site R,”
robust deterrent that should also include more     that effort involved construction of an
investment in offensive military capabilities.97   Alternate Joint Communications Center in
That same year, a report published by the          Raven Rock Mountain, Pennsylvania, to be
RAND Corporation emphasized the                    used in case existing centers in Washington,
importance of civil defense as a powerful          DC were destroyed by an attack.107 Like his
component of deterrence.98                         predecessor, Eisenhower believed it was vital
                                                   for the government to ensure continuity of
Despite these supporting reports, the FCDA         operations following an attack on the
shelter proposal continued to run counter to       homeland. The West Virginia bunker was
the views of top officials in the Eisenhower       built under the five-star Greenbrier resort and
Administration. Secretary of State John            was only placed on full alert once, during the
Foster Dulles argued that the nation should        Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.108 The public
focus resources on retaliation capabilities and    remained completely unaware of the
curtail the shelter program.99 Military leaders    operation until 1992 when the Washington Post
also opposed the shelter program, fearing it       broke the story.109
would cut into defense spending.100
Eisenhower himself remained opposed to the
massive shelter program.101 Instead of             Kennedy Administration (1961-1963)
pursuing the National Shelter Policy, he
instructed the FCDA to initiate much more          During the first year of his presidency, John
limited actions, including research on fallout     F. Kennedy made civil defense more of a
shelters, a survey of existing structures, and     priority than at any previous time in U.S.
informing the public about shelters.102            history.110 He was also the first President to
                                                   discuss civil defense publicly, issuing an
Holifield and other legislators were outraged      appeal in the September 7, 1961 issue of
that the President would disregard the             LIFE magazine to all Americans to protect
findings of three separate committees.103          themselves “and in doing so strengthen [the]
Supporters of the shelter system publicly          nation.”111 Kennedy continued the approach
expressed disappointment with the                  of his predecessors of including civil defense
Eisenhower administration, and Holifield           in deterrence calculations, and he believed
commented that civil defense was in a              that the only effective deterrent was a strong
“deplorable” state during this period.104          retaliatory capability. 112 However, he also
Finally, in the face of strong criticism,          believed that deterrence could fail in the event
Eisenhower largely dissolved the FCDA to           one faced an irrational enemy, and thus a
make way for the short-lived Office of Civil       strong and coordinated approach to civil
and Defense Mobilization (OCDM), which             defense was required. As he stated to
began the bulk of its work during the              Congress on May 25, 1961:
Kennedy presidency.105
                                                           [Civil defense] can be readily
It bears noting that for all of his public                 justifiable…as insurance for the civilian
opposition to massive sheltering programs, in              population in case of an enemy

miscalculation. It is insurance we trust   President emphasized the importance of
        will never be needed – but insurance       fallout shelters as a means to save lives.
        which we could never forgive ourselves
        for foregoing in the event of              He stressed that identifying and stocking
        catastrophe.113                            existing shelters with food and medicine
                                                   should be made a priority.117 McNamara
He concluded by proposing “a nationwide            explained that this approach was not a major
long-range program of identifying present          departure from the Eisenhower shelter
fallout shelter capacity and providing shelter     program; however, the scope was larger and
in new and existing structures.”114                thus required more money.118 The goal was to
                                                   provide maximum protection through cost
                                                   effective means by utilizing existing buildings.
                                                   Some members of Congress, notably the
                                                   ranking Republican of the House
                                                   Appropriations Committee, John Taber,
                                                   worked hard to limit funding to the shelter
                                                   project. However, most underscored the
                                                   importance of the shelter program as a
                                                   rational response to the growing threat of a
                                                   nuclear attack.119 Congress ultimately
                                                   approved more than $200 million that
                                                   Kennedy asked for the project, which was
               The October 7, 1961 issue of
                                                   twice as much as Eisenhower had ever
                    LIFE Magazine                  requested for civil defense.120

                                                   With the appropriated funds, OCD began a
To accomplish these goals, Kennedy issued          nationwide survey of all existing shelters.121 In
Executive Order 10952 on July 20, 1961,            order to be designated a public shelter, a
which divided the Office of Civil Defense          facility had to have enough space for at least
and Mobilization into two new                      50 people, include one cubic foot of storage
organizations: the Office of Emergency             space per person, and have a radiation
Planning (OEP) and the Office of Civil             protection factor of at least 100.122 The
Defense. OEP was part of the President’s           materials division of DOD, called the Defense
Executive Office and tasked with advising          Supply Agency, furnished shelter supplies to
and assisting the President in determining         local governments, which were then
policy for all nonmilitary emergency               responsible for stocking all shelters in their
preparedness, including civil defense.             regions.123 By 1963, 104 million individual
OCD was part of the Office of the                  shelter spaces had been identified;124 and of
Secretary of Defense, and was tasked with          those 47 million had been licensed, 46 million
overseeing the nation’s civil defense              marked, and 9 million individual spaces had
program. The responsibility for carrying           been stocked with supplies.125
out the fallout shelter program was among
the program operations assigned to                 The President also decided to distribute
Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.115           booklets to the populace that would outline
                                                   the purpose of the shelter program and the
The 1961 Berlin crisis gave Kennedy renewed        steps that every American should take during
urgency to improve US civil defense.116 The        an attack. The booklet, created by a team of
                                                   Madison Avenue writers, was to be sent to

every household in the nation.126 In an                   The topic began to fall slowly off the public
unintended twist, the booklets themselves                 radar, and President Lyndon B. Johnson
created new controversy. Some presidential                allowed it to slip further by not pressuring
aides felt that the pictures used were too                Congress to pass the Shelter Incentive
graphic, while others felt that they indicated            Program bill,132 which proposed to give every
the booklet was meant only for the upper                  non-profit institution financial compensation
class.127 Ultimately the Kennedy                          for each shelter it built.133
Administration decided to tone down the
content, so as not to cause unnecessary                   Earlier in the decade, Secretary McNamara
alarm.128 The booklets were then sent to post             had begun to describe the concept of “mutual
offices throughout the nation, so people could            assured destruction” (MAD), which essentially
pick up copies.                                           meant that the Soviet Union and the United
                                                          States had the capacity to effectively annihilate
The means of                                              one another with the weapons in their
communicating the                                         arsenals, such that this constituted an effective
Administration’s civil                                    deterrent to offensive action.134 Congress and
defense message to                                        the public began to accept the doctrine of
the public was not the                                    MAD. As a result, a growing percentage of
only target of                                            the population began to wonder if civil
controversy during                                        defense programs could adequately protect
this time. Reviving a                                     citizens from a large scale nuclear attack.135
long-standing debate,                                     However, when the U.S. military began
                                                          expanding its ABM defense system,
some prominent             The fallout shelter sign was
                                                          McNamara re-emphasized the importance of
members of Congress, introduced        by DOD in
                           December 1961 to indicate      a shelter system because he questioned the
including Albert           Federally-approved shelter
                                                          wisdom of relying solely on an ABM
Thomas, the                                               defense.136 He argued that “the effectiveness
Chairman of the                                           of an ABM defense system in saving lives
House Appropriations Subcommittee in                      depends in large part upon the availability of
charge of civil defense, felt that the Federal            adequate fallout shelters for the
government should not be undertaking such a               population.”137 The belief was that the ABM
massive sheltering project when civil defense             defense system could be beaten by detonating
responsibility belonged to State and local                nuclear weapons upwind of large
governments.129 Kennedy convened a                        metropolitan areas and outside the range of
meeting with eighteen of his top advisors at              the defensive missiles. The result would be
Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on the day after             radioactive fallout spreading across America’s
Thanksgiving in 1961 to discuss the                       cities.138 Large numbers of people would die
appropriate next steps for civil defense.130              from the exposure to the fallout, unless there
There, consensus evolved that the Federal                 were a sufficient number of shelters.
government’s primary role was to provide                  Congress opposed financing a shelter system,
community shelters.131                                    and McNamara continued to be pessimistic
                                                          about an ABM defense system saying,
                                                          “Whether we will ever be able to advance the
Johnson Administration (1963-1969)                        art of defense as rapidly as the art of offensive
                                                          developments…I don’t know. At the
Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963                  moment it doesn’t look at all likely.”139
marked the beginning of a drastic cutback in
funding of the Nation’s civil defense program.

In an ironic twist, attention to civil defense         Nixon Administration (1969-1974)
was also undermined by a series of major
natural disasters that rattled the Nation.             By the time President Nixon entered office,
Hurricanes Hilda and Betsy devastated the              public and government interest in civil
Southeast, an Alaskan earthquake caused a              defense had fallen precipitously from its peak
damaging tidal wave in California, and a lethal        in the early 1960s. According to the New York
tornado swept through Indiana on Palm                  Times Index, in 1968, only four articles on civil
Sunday in 1965.140 Senator Birch Bayh of               defense appeared in that publication
Indiana sponsored legislation that granted             compared to 72 in 1963.145 However, the new
emergency Federal loan assistance to disaster          administration did make a major contribution
victims.141 The bill passed in 1966, and Bayh          to civil defense by redefining civil defense
urged Congress over the next few years to              policy to include preparedness for natural
provide even more disaster assistance to               disasters. In no small measure, the President’s
citizens. The concept of all-hazards assistance        thinking resulted from the Federal
was gaining adherents, at the expense of civil         government’s lack of preparedness to handle
preparedness for attack.142                            the horrific damage wrought by Hurricane
                                                       Camille (see discussion below). Upon
The Vietnam War struck a further blow to               entering office, Nixon immediately tasked the
civil defense during the Johnson years. As the         OEP to complete a broad review of the
war progressed, it required increasing                 Nation’s civil defense programs.146
amounts of time, money, and resources.143
Although civil defense efforts continued to            In June 1970, the OEP released the results of
receive modest funding, and would for the              its comprehensive assessment in National
next twelve years, no major steps were taken           Security Study Memorandum 57. 147 The
to enhance overall capabilities.144 A                  study concluded that the Nation’s
transformation in the way the Federal                  preparedness for natural disasters was
government viewed the task of protecting the           minimal to nonexistent.148 The
public had begun.                                      Administration responded by introducing two
                                                       of its most significant domestic policy changes
                                                       in National Security Decision Memorandum
                                                       (NSDM) 184. NSDM 184 recommended the
                                                       establishment of a “dual-use approach” to
                                                       Federal citizen preparedness programs and
                                                       the replacement of the Office of Civil
                                                       Defense with the Defense Civil
                                                       Preparedness Agency (DCPA).149 President
                                                       Nixon would later implement these
                                                       recommendations, placing the new DCPA
                                                       under the umbrella of the Department of

           In Time of Emergency was quietly released   For the first time in the history of civil
           in March of 1968, when the Vietnam          defense, Federal funds previously allocated
           War and domestic unrest effectively
           overshadowed civil defense planning.        for the exclusive purpose of preparing for
                                                       military attacks could be shared with State and
                                                       local governments for natural disaster
                                                       preparedness. This dual-use initiative

subscribed to the philosophy that                   U.S. foreign policy considerations. In order
preparations for evacuation, communications,        to reinforce the doctrine of MAD, Nixon was
and survival are common to both natural             deeply involved in negotiations with the
disasters and enemy military strikes on the         Soviet Union to limit defensive weapon
homeland. From a practical perspective, the         capabilities. 155 The first Strategic Arms
dual-use approach allowed more efficient            Limitation Talks treaty (SALT I), signed on
utilization of limited resources, so planners       May 26, 1972, froze the number of strategic
could address a larger number of scenarios. 150     ballistic missile launchers and allowed the
Given that civil defense funding during             addition of new submarine ballistic missile
Nixon’s first term barely exceeded the low          launchers only as replacements for dismantled
$80 million per year level of the Eisenhower        older launchers. 156 Perhaps most significantly,
Administration (when adjusted for inflation),       SALT I limited the superpowers to only two
scarce resources likely played a part in the        ABM defense deployment sites. 157 Advocates
decision to adopt the new approach.151              of SALT argued that such agreements were
                                                    necessary because any increase in defense
A series of natural disasters during Nixon’s        capabilities would spur another arms race for
tenure also increased the pressure to expand        improved offensive capabilities. 158 The Nixon
civil defense to include preparation and            Administration felt that the SALT I advances
response to natural disasters. Several major        would be jeopardized if either side continued
hurricanes and earthquakes exposed                  to build up nuclear attack-related civil defense
significant flaws in natural disaster               programs. This concern helped justify the
preparedness at a time when no centralized          decision to turn more attention toward civil
system for disaster relief existed.152 Perhaps      preparedness for natural disasters.159
most significantly, in August 1969 Hurricane
Camille wreaked havoc in the greater Gulf           The dual use approach was attractive to State
Coast region, highlighting major problems           and local authorities. While in the past State
with disaster response.153 In response,             and local officials had been reluctant to
Congress passed the Disaster Relief Act of          participate in nuclear attack planning, the
1969, which created the concept of a Federal        ability to deal with attack preparedness in the
Coordinating Officer (FCO). The FCO was             context of a particular hazard in a specific area
an individual appointed by the President, who       (e.g. floods in coastal or riverine areas,
would manage federal disaster assistance on-        hurricanes in coastal areas, tornadoes in the
the-spot at a given disaster area.154               Midwest and Plains States, and civil unrest in
                                                    urban areas) encouraged new coordination
                                                    and participation.160

                                                    The change of focus also garnered public
                                                    support. The interest of the American public
                                                    in attack planning had waned considerably.
                                                    There was little enthusiasm for ambitious
                                                    shelter building projects or evacuation drills.161
                                                    A number of historians attribute this lack of
                                                    interest to a diminished perception of risk,
        In 1972, the United States and the Soviet
                                                    psychological numbing to the destruction of
        Union signed the SALT I treaty, an          nuclear weapons, and a growing belief that
        important arms control measure.
                                                    civil defense measures would not ultimately be
The President’s decision to increase focus on       effective in the event of nuclear war.162
natural disaster preparedness also aligned with     Planning for natural disasters was perceived to

be more effective, less resource intensive, and    Ford Administration (1974-1977)
able to deliver tangible benefits at the State
and local level.                                   At first, the Ford Administration supported
                                                   its predecessor’s approach to dual-use
Nixon’s broad policy changes were                  preparedness. In March 1975 President Ford
accompanied by equally sweeping                    strongly endorsed the policy, stating: “I am
organizational changes. Following the              particularly pleased that civil defense planning
replacement of the OCD with the DCPA,              today emphasizes the dual use of
another major reorganization took place. In        resources…we are improving our ability to
1970 and 1973, Reorganization Plans 1 and 2        respond…to national disasters…”170
abolished the Office of Emergency Planning         However, less than a year later, the Office of
and delegated its functions to various             Management and Budget (OMB) rescinded
agencies.163 Executive Order 11725 of 1973         DOD’s use of civil defense funding for
solidified the new organizational structure by     natural disaster mitigation and
distributing preparedness tasks to a wide          preparedness.171 Civil defense was returned to
variety of new agencies including the              the original orientation of nuclear attack
Department of Housing and Urban                    preparedness, as seen during the Truman and
Development (HUD), the General Services            Eisenhower years.
Administration, and the Departments of the
Treasury and Commerce.164 In total, the new        There were several motivations for this policy
bureaucratic structure placed responsibility for   change. Perhaps most importantly, the
disaster relief with more than 100 federal         United States had just resumed its intelligence
agencies.165 Not surprisingly, this                observations of Soviet civil defense after a
reorganization is perhaps best known for its       five year break.172 Reports from these
ineffectiveness.166                                operations detailed significant Soviet progress
                                                   in civil defense, compared to relatively small
Despite the suggestion of great activity, real     U.S. efforts. Massive Soviet expenditures
progress on civil defense, both in the             (estimated at $1 billion per year in 1977) on
traditional sense and its new dual-use             preparedness initiatives, such as evacuation
direction, was limited during the Nixon            plans, contributed to a growing concern that
Administration. One illustrative example is        the United States was falling behind.173
the signing into law of the Disaster Relief Act    Whereas in the United States, civil defense
of 1974 (Public Law 93-288). While the             was considered “an insurance policy,” the
Disaster Relief Act sought to remedy               Soviets considered it a “factor of great
bureaucratic inefficiencies and provide direct     strategic significance.”174 The most alarmist
assistance to individuals and families             American commentators concluded that the
following a disaster,167 funding remained low,     entire U.S. nuclear arsenal could not inflict
with levels comparable to spending in the pre-     significant damage on the Soviet Union, due
Kennedy years. The Act did succeed in              in large part to its increased civil
involving State and local governments in all       preparedness.175
hazards preparedness activities168 and
provided matching funds for their                  Developments in Cold War diplomacy likely
programs.169 However, soon the federal             also contributed to the temporary end of all-
government’s emphasis on all-hazards               hazards planning. Gradually the doctrine of
preparedness would lessen.                         MAD was replaced with new ideas, such as
                                                   limited nuclear strikes against strategically
                                                   important military and industrial targets,

rather than population centers. As early as        support for relocation, food distribution, and
January 10, 1974 Secretary of Defense James        medical care.181 Under the CRP, urban
Schlesinger stated during a press conference       residents would be relocated to rural host
that “the old policy [of MAD]…was no               counties, with a target ratio of “5 immigrants
longer adequate for deterrence” and should be      for every native.”182 The focus on
replaced by “a set of selective options against    preparedness through the CRP was continued
different sets of targets.”176 Over the next       throughout the Ford Administration by
decade, these ideas of flexible targeting and      incoming Secretary of Defense Donald
limited retaliation developed into the policy of   Rumsfeld, who strongly opposed the dual-use
“flexible response.”177 Flexible response was      approach. Rumsfeld believed that the Federal
based on the idea that both the Soviet Union       government should address only attack
and the United States had the capability for       preparedness, while peacetime disasters were a
small-scale nuclear attacks that could be          State and local responsibility.183
answered by similarly-sized acts of retaliation
by the other side.178 Theoretically, instead of    Though Administration officials and
massive retaliation against population centers,    policymakers defended the CRP as a set of
targets would be specific, highly-strategic        simple and highly effective procedures, the
sites.179 Since some of these sites could be       program suffered widespread criticism.184 The
civilian in nature, some level of civil defense    Plan’s reliance on a relatively long warning
and nuclear attack preparedness was deemed         time (1 to 2 days), compared to the shorter
necessary. Thus, U.S. policy makers renewed        notice necessary for sheltering, meant it could
their attention on civil defense, as a means of    only be effective in a situation of rising
protecting against targeted highly-strategic       tensions in which the launch of missiles
attacks.180                                        against the country could be predicted.
                                                   Additionally, vocal critics from Congress and
                                                   the public doubted the feasibility of such
                                                   large-scale evacuations through bottlenecked
                                                   transportation routes.

                                                   Organizationally, the fragmentation of civil
                                                   defense responsibilities begun under Nixon
                                                   became increasingly apparent. Nixon’s
                                                   reorganization plans prescribed that the bulk
                                                   of the responsibility for civil defense fall to
                                                   three different agencies: the OEP would
                                                   advise the President, HUD’s Federal
             Public relations officer
                                                   Disaster Assistance Agency would manage
             presenting a crisis                   disaster relief, and the DCPA would
             relocation plan.
                                                   coordinate State and local preparedness
                                                   efforts.185 Though these bureaucratic changes
One result was a new initiative called the         were not complete until the Carter
Crisis Relocation Plan (CRP). Begun in             Administration, some Congressional
1974 by Secretary of Defense James                 committees were already beginning to
Schlesinger, the CRP favored a strategy of         investigate the problem of disjointed civil
evacuation rather than sheltering. Directed by     defense. In 1976, the House Armed Services
the DCPA, CRP evacuation planning was              Committee recommended that an office
conducted at the State level with Federal          within the Executive Office of the President
funds and encompassed all of the necessary         (EOP) be tasked to manage civil defense,

while the Joint Committee on Defense                 combined into one coherent agency in direct
Production recommended combining the                 contact with the White House.191 In response,
three agencies into one body.186 These               Carter issued Presidential Directive (PD) 41 in
recommendations, coming during the final             September of 1978, which sought to clarify
months of the Ford Administration, were              the Administration’s view of civil defense.
evaluated in the subsequent Carter                   However, it did not offer any particular plan
Administration.                                      for implementation.192 According to PD 41,
                                                     civil defense was an element in the strategy to
Overall civil defense funding during Ford’s          “enhance deterrence and stability”. Civil
tenure did not change significantly from the         defense still did not become a priority for the
Nixon years. With the implementation of the          Administration, which concluded that it was
CRP, Secretary of Defense Schlesinger made           not necessary to pursue “equivalent
modest increases in the 1975 budget to               survivability” with the Soviet Union.193
develop city evacuation plans and implement
population defenses.187 However, as in               Meanwhile, in the midst of a lengthy debate
previous Administrations, civil defense still        regarding the creation of a single disaster
competed for funding against more traditional        preparedness agency, an unprecedented
military expenditures, and the 1975 increases        civilian nuclear accident unfolded on March
were nullified the following year in favor of        28, 1979 at the nuclear energy plant on Three
spending on offensive military capabilities.188      Mile Island, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.194
                                                     By highlighting the slow response, poor local-
In sum, despite ambitious claims of progress         Federal coordination, and miscommunications
by the Ford Administration, civil defense            that occurred; the accident dramatically
programs within the United States remained           demonstrated the need for more effective
less than effective. U.S. nuclear deterrence         disaster coordination and planning.195
plans still emphasized offensive capabilities.       Partially in response to the near nuclear
In its evaluation of the state of civil defense in   disaster, on July 20, 1979 the Administration
1976, the Congressional Research Service             issued Executive Order 12148, which
unconditionally labeled the efforts “a               established the Federal Emergency
charade.”189 It would be another five years          Management Agency (FEMA) as the lead
before significant progress was made.                agency for coordinating Federal disaster relief
                                                     efforts. FEMA absorbed the Federal
                                                     Insurance Administration, the National Fire
Carter Administration (1977-1981)                    Prevention and Control Administration, the
                                                     National Weather Service Community
Upon taking office, President Carter                 Preparedness Program, the Federal
immediately began a review of the disjointed         Preparedness Agency of the General Services
system of bureaucracies that managed civil           Administration, and the Federal Disaster
defense. An interagency study led to                 Assistance Administration activities from
Presidential Review Memorandum 32 in                 HUD, and combined them into a single
September of 1977.190 The study concurred            independent agency. At the time, the creation
with the 1976 recommendations of the House           of FEMA represented the single largest
Armed Services Committee and Joint                   consolidation of civil defense efforts in U.S.
Committee on Defense Production that the             history.
various civil defense agencies must be

It is likely that the Carter Administration’s
                                                       focus on evacuation was also affected by Cold
                                                       War diplomacy. The continuing SALT
                                                       negotiations created a conflict between the
                                                       desire to advance U.S. civil defense, and the
                                                       desire to avoid upsetting the delicate strategic
                                                       balance required for successful threat
                                                       reduction negotiations. With this balance in
                                                       mind, maintaining the status quo by
                                                       continuing to support evacuation policies may
                                                       have been deemed the best option.201

                                                       Though the creation of FEMA and the goals
         Conflicting official statements, skepticism   of PD 41 signaled renewed interest in civil
         about the nuclear industry, and even
         unfamiliar terminology fed the
                                                       defense, funding throughout the Carter
         sensationalist media frenzy surrounding       Administration remained historically low.
         the Three Mile Island accident.
                                                       The 1980 request for $108 million was less
                                                       than adequate for implementing the new
Despite the reorganization and move toward             plans.202 In the following year, Congress did
greater mission clarity, civil defense planning        not meet a higher request for funding, instead
on the ground did not change dramatically.             choosing to allocate funds to other
Practical plans continued to reflect traditional       priorities.203 As had been the case many times
civil defense programs and did not adopt the           before, funding levels did not match the
dual-use approach, though Carter did urge              ambitious plans for program improvement.
FEMA to direct more of its efforts to coping
with peacetime disasters.196 Evacuation                In keeping civil defense funding low,
continued to be the focus of Federal planners,         Congressional leaders had little public
and Secretary of Defense Harold Brown                  opposition to fear. In contrast to generally
reaffirmed his predecessor’s crisis relocation         widespread public participation and
strategies.197 When FEMA assumed                       acceptance in the peak years of civil defense
responsibility for citizen preparedness, the           during the early stages of the Cold War, most
agency called on civil defense planners                people by this time had little faith that any
nationwide to create area-specific CRPs. 198           government civil defense planning could
                                                       lessen the impact of nuclear war.204 Some
The decision to continue to pursue evacuation          local communities refused outright to
as the primary civil defense policy was                cooperate with Federal civil defense mandates
influenced by several factors. Well-funded             because they did not believe the CRPs would
and extensive Soviet evacuation programs               be effective if a nuclear attack were to
continued to worry key U.S. decision makers,           occur.205 This public attitude would continue
including Brown.199 Evacuation also made               throughout the remainder of the Cold War
sense in the context of continued resource             period.
limitations. According to a 1979 FEMA
report, since effective and cost-efficient
sheltering in large cities had proven difficult,
“the U.S. nuclear civil defense program
developed into an evacuation program…as a
low-cost survival alternative.”200

Reagan Administration (1981-1989)                   the primary strategy for civil defense. During
                                                    this period nuclear preparedness became a top
It would appear that Ronald Reagan entered          priority for FEMA.212
office with the intention of building upon the
civil defense foundations set by his                Congress and the Administration came into
predecessors. In December 1981, Congress            conflict in February 1982, when the President
acted dramatically in favor of the dual-use         requested $4.2 billion for a seven-year plan to
approach by amending the 1950 Civil Defense         massively boost civil defense programs.213
Act. In this milestone decision, all future civil   Congress did not react positively to this
defense funds would be allotted for natural         request, particularly because it seemed to be
disasters, as well as attacks on the                part of Reagan’s hawkish stance on Cold War
homeland.206 The amendment did stipulate            diplomacy.214 For example, the House
that funding and planning for peacetime             Committee on Appropriations criticized
disasters could not overtly detract from attack     FEMA’s dependence on evacuation planning
preparedness programs. Nevertheless, dual-          at the expense of other preparedness
use preparedness was promoted with much of          programs and suggested that more attention
the same language and reasoning as it was           be paid to peacetime disaster preparation.
during the Nixon Administration. 207                Expressing their disagreement with FEMA’s
                                                    plans, Congress allocated only $147.9 million
Though Reagan was in favor of the dual-use          to cover FEMA’s 1983 budget, about 58% of
approach, his civil defense strategy was largely    what the agency had requested.215 In 1984
a continuation of Carter’s. In the midst of         and 1985, Congress again blocked requests for
deliberations regarding the 1982 budget, the        funding increases.216
National Security Council (NSC) compiled
National Security Division Directive (NSDD)         In 1983, FEMA responded to the
26, which spelled out the objectives of             Congressional push for more peacetime
Carter’s Presidential Directive 41 and was          disaster preparation with plans for an
designed to promote deterrence, improve             Integrated Emergency Management System
natural disaster preparedness, and reduce the       (IEMS) to develop full all-hazard
possibility of coercion by enemy forces.208         preparedness plans at the Federal level.217
The unclassified version of NSDD 26 states:         Under the IEMS, State civil defense planners
“it is a matter of national priority that the       would facilitate the development of multi-
United States have a Civil Defense program          hazard preparedness plans based on threats
which provides for the survival of the U.S.         faced by specific localities.218 According to
population.”209 However, NSDD 26 went               the IEMS, this all-hazards approach included
further than PD 41 by stipulating a concrete        “direction, control and warning systems which
deadline in 1989 for plans to protect the           are common to the full range of emergencies
population, and it mandated that civil defense      from small isolated events to the ultimate
leaders investigate and enhance protection          emergency – war.”219 Despite this innovative
measures for critical industries in case of         attempt to integrate civil defense and disaster
attack.210 Furthermore, NSDD 26 for the first       preparedness concerns, Congress was not
time supported research into the development        sufficiently convinced that the IEMS would
of strategies to ensure economic survival in        effectively address the management of all-
the event of a nuclear attack.211 However,          hazard preparedness, and therefore never met
drawing upon the CRPs of his predecessors,          requested FEMA funding levels.
Reagan continued to promote evacuation as

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