Sunday, March 05, 2006

Civil defense do's and don'ts

One of my local PBS stations (NYC-TV of, surprisingly enough, New York City) runs ancient public service videos and what-not as fillers. The other night they ran a vintage 1952 Civil Defense instructional program called "The Injured Can't Wait."

What a classic. It features blank-faced CD personnel -- wearing white pith helmets, colorful CD arm bands, much crisp poplin, and, for the ladies, skirts and sensible stacked heels -- pantomiming the correct way to wrap up nuclear blast victims in wool blankets, strap them onto litters, methodically pop them into UPS truck-like vehicles, and ship them off to "improvised emergency hospitals" a safe distance from ground zero.

The city's infrastructure is miraculously in tact and the power grid undamaged, judging by the fact that all the CD sites are still standing and there's abundant electricity. There's no panic, no dazed and confused citizenry wandering the streets, no massive vehicular exodus. The injured are unmarked, unbloodied, and almost all helpfully unconscious. One man, a walk-in to the CD site, is given a pill -- aspirin? -- for his flash burn.

At one point, a rather annoyed looking Fred Mertz -- I swear -- emerges from some artfully arranged rubble. That's when Mr. Nearing cracked: Damn it, Ethel, I told you I smelled gas.

It's hard to reconstruct the 1952 civilian mindset. Did people really think that was how it was all going to go down?

And you just know that in 50 years people will be hooting at vintage Department of Homeland Security instructional material, like the great DHS advice on how to deal with a biological threat: Just casually stroll in the opposite direction.

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