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Context of 'August 8, 1958: Federal Government Takes Larger Role in Civil Defense'

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President Harry S. Truman signs the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950. The Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA), established weeks earlier within the Executive Office of the President (see December 1, 1950), is transformed into an independent agency headed by a presidential appointee. The FCDA is placed in charge of providing emergency aid and assistance to local communities affected by disasters. The act also provides special emergency powers to the FCDA and the President in the event of a national crisis. According to President Truman, the act establishes a “basic framework for preparations to minimize the effects of an attack on our civilian population, and to deal with the immediate emergency conditions which such an attack would create.” According to the New York Times, “The measure directs the Federal Government to provide leadership to states and communities in developing arrangements to protect civilian life and property in the country’s 150 critical target areas against possible enemy attack by atomic bombs, biological or bacteriological warfare or any other technique.” The new civil defense plans are estimated to cost $3.1 billion. The FCDA will distribute brochures and produce television and radio segments aimed at preparing the general public for a nuclear attack. The FCDA will also stage drills and exercises to test public and government readiness for such a disaster. The agency will become infamous for encouraging civilians to “duck and cover” in the event of a nuclear strike. (Statement by the President Upon Signing the Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 1/12/1951; Lawrence 1/12/1951, pp. 7; Greenberg 2/20/2003; Henry B. Hogue and Keith Bea 6/1/2006, pp. 10 pdf file)

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 10346, ordering the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to coordinate “continuity” plans within the federal government. The plans will be designed to ensure the continuation of essential government functions in the event of a major disaster, such as a nuclear attack on Washington DC. According to the order, “each Federal department and agency shall prepare plans for maintaining the continuity of its essential functions at the seat of government and elsewhere during the existence of a civil-defense emergency.” In addition to the FCDA, the National Security Resources Board (NSRB), established by the National Security of Act of 1947, (See July 26, 1947), is to play an advisory role in the emergency plans. (Executive Order 10346 4/17/1952)

The Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950 is amended, redefining the role played by the federal government in civil defense plans. Prior to the amendment, civil defense was primarily the responsibility of state and local authorities. The amendment, according to the New York Times, “sets forth a broadened program of Federal responsibility in support of local defense efforts.” The plan places the federal government in charge of providing “direction, coordination, guidance, and assistance to the states in administering and financing their civil defense effort.” Although programs set forth in the amendment will not be funded for several years, the legislation will eventually lead to the creation of a nationwide civil defense cadre. As a result, civil defense offices are established in counties, towns, cities, and states across the country. (New York Times 11/9/1958, pp. 1; B. Wayne Blanchard 2/5/2008, pp. 11, 12)


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