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August 07, 1973 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1973-08-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

Civil
By CHARLES STEIN
Excuse me gentleman, can
you tell me where the civil de-
fense office is located?
The three county employes
taking their coffee break on the
building's steps lttok up at me
with a sinte pirled look. "Civ
il defense? one asks. "Oh yeah,
yeah. It's it this buldiog as a
mattcr of ftct. Down thc hall
and ocros the gym "
TIlE IA6T thitpoplc sirk
lug ttn t evrca 1 sfires awy v
dt°n't know tte civil dInse- of
fire ,hs- is to a e heat-
titutly rrnac Ftor the PrtpOms( Of
try sisit ti Ito fId tt ttWhat in-
deed has hfpo c th o civil de-
fenar.
gin ttctihps of Stitttik, Khrt-
scheR tad 'ate titan Missile
Crisis t It e detp rtment se a s
charged ilt thc vttal missiton
of prtecttttg the httme frttnt
against the sttssihle httrrors of a
nuclear httlttruust.
The 1-ussians at the time were
a group of irrational war-mon-
gers who banged their shoes on
U. N. tables and shot down
A m e r i c a n reconnaissance
planes.
THE CHINESE, so said our
sixth grade Weekly Readers,
wouldn't hesitate to start a nu-
clear war because they had
plenty of people to spare.
In the new era of rapproch-
ment, however, with President
Nixon on better terms with the
Russians and Chinese than he
is with many members. of his
own party - the threat of nu-
clear attack seems far away.
The civil defense program has
in many ways declined with that
threat, but it is by no means ex-
tinct.
BURIED BENEATH the build-
ings and streets of Washtenaw
County are fallout shelters cap-
aple of holding some 240,000 peo-
ple. Ypsilanti State Hospital
alone has eight acres of tunnels
tinder its floors. Many more are
located right under our own Uni-
versity.
Each shelter is equipped with
sufficient food and water to feed
its population for 30 days -
enough time for the deadly ra-
dioactive fallout to dissipate ac-
cording to the experts. The food
-largely canned goods - is
packed in 35 and 70 pound drums
and sealed with wax to preserve
its freshness.

defense: 60s nostalgia

"It won't make anybody fat,
but it'll sure keep them alive,"
quips John Palmer, the man re-
sponsible for coordinating the
county's present civil defense
effort.
A THIN MAN with a craggy
( eatherheaten face, Palmer
joined the county in 1967 after a
22-year stint as police chief in
Chelsett.
ThKoght n oa It ttltttter
is ittn t tattv it.as relive11 nttve
it lie teat ers iii tail defense.
lHe I ha sinrercly uiout the
s URent apr if yrire sod strrss-
s thi dsparinsst's cocerns
ilt natural rthtter ttn nuclear
disaster. E ena the nsaes if
te shelters ohemselna haise
her chatged frio faleort lt
I tU K I N G THEK hig snusw-
trs this spring we had over
16011 refugees in county fa-
rilities," says Palmer emphasiz
tug the new role.
But the relics of the nuclear
days are still visihle. On the
wall of the office, just ahove
Palmer's desk hangs an enor-
mous strike chart that looks as
if it has come straight ou of a
Failsafe strategy session.
Covering the central and east-
era United States the map has a
large red circle drawn in at a
500 mile radius from Washte-
saw County. n
"IF A BOMB falls in that cir-
cle," Palmer explains, "we set
our activities in motion.''"
SThe t h o u g h t is some-
what frightening. Bombs falling
in points as distant as Harris-
burg, Pennsylvania or Syracuse,
New York could send Palmer
scurrying to the impressive set
of communications gadgetry lo-
cated at the far side of the
Calls would go out to schools,
fire and police departments, na'-
tional guard units and American
Legion memhers who have heen
trained for such emergency sit-
nations. The effort would he
largely a voluntary one as only
Palmer and a single secretary
are as the civil defense payroll.
IN ADDITION to the radio
equipment, the office has a ma-
chine that tmeasutres fallosit in
the atmosphere. "We pick up
some slight reaction after the
Frenrh and Chinese tests," Pal-
mer comments, "hut its nothing

The mighty mushroom cloud

we have to worry about."
That Palmer is a dedicated
public servant who takes his
job seriously can not be disput-
ed, but there is unmistakeably a
certain romance missing from
his work.
Only in 1968 when there was
some concern over China's par-
ticipation in the Vietnam War
did the department experience
anything approaching genuine
excitement.
"TRAINING DRILLS were
stepped up a bit," Palmer re-
calls dryly, "but that was about
it."
It wasn't always that way,
however. Col. Gerald Miller who
held the county's top civil de-
fense post from 1958 to 1965 re-
members his years in office as
"incredibly hectic."
During that period there were
three secretaries to handle the
mountains of paperwork that
threatened to crush the office.
"AS FAST AS we could work,
we just couldn't keep up with
the things that were coming

down from Washington", re-
marks Miller.
Now retired and living in Ann
Arbor, Miller looks more like
the kind of friendly old grand-
father you'd meet on a golf
course than a top-ranking mili-
tary man. Yet it was this ex-
pertise - acquired as a regi-
ment commander in both WWII
and Korea - that made him an
attractive candidate to a county
in search of a civil defense
leader.
Working with military people
from Battle Creek, Miller drew
up many of the plans that were
used as models for defense op-
erations around the country.
ACCORDING TO the colonel,
the Battle Creek office was one
of five regional centers around
the country designed to take ov-
er the functions of government
should the government in Wash-
ington fall to enemy bombs.
The thought of high level of-
ficials in Battle Creek determin-
ing the fate of a war-ravaged
America over bowls of Kellogg's
cereal" is enough to boggle the
imagination. But here we di-
gress . . .
Convincing people of the im-
pending disaster was rather
easy in those days Miller remi-
nisces. "We had some films and
slide shows that pointed up the
horrors of nuclear war. They
were very effective," he adds in
classic understatement.
THIS ATMOSPHERE of ten-
sion that Miller describes per-
vaded the entire nation in the
early 60s - largely in reaction
to the Russian atomic tests in
the atmosphere.
One Virginia realty firm, try-
ing to cash in on the crisis ran
an ad which read: "Buy a home
in beautiful Virginia. Safely out-
side the Washington target
area."
Businessmen also tried to
make a quick buck by selling
pre-fabricated home fallout shel-
ters. Miller remembers one such
firm operating out of Pontiac.
"When the spring rains came,"
he jokes, "their shelters just
floated right out of the ground."
M I L L E R HIMSELF built
a sturdy home shelter to show

fellow residents what a shelter
was supposed to look like. A
photograph in the living room
dated July 1959 shows the colo-
nel up to his chest in dirt, shov-
el in hand, working on that shel-
ter.
The structure is still there but
Miller readily concedes "it's
used mostly as a wine cellar
these days." About 18 feet long
by 8 feet wide the shelter holds
several bunk beds and clorox
bottles filled with water - all
appropriately dated.
"It wouldn't take much to get
this back in shape" Miller is
quick to add.
YET THIS HIGH pressure
period of the early 60s was not
to last forever.
With the signing of the test
ban treaty and the deposing of
the irascible Khrushev in favor
of the cool and mechanical
B r e z h n e v, the world's nu-
clear tensions began to ease.
One firm in California that
had switched from swimming
pool to home shelter construc-
tion in 1961 was back to swim-
ming pools by 1963 - the mar-
ket appeal of the shelters sud-
denly on a par with the Edsel.
WORDS LIKE CIVIL defense
and target area began to acquire
a strangely anachronistic ring.
By 1965 convinced that he had
done all he could, and tired of
trying to deal with politicians
who were just not interested,
Miller decided to call it quits.
"When a long time passes and
nothing happens," he muses,
"you just have to expect people
to lose interest. It's only human
nature."
TODAY MILLER is content to
spend his time "tending the
flowers and travelling."
The system Miller built, how-
ever, is still very much intact.
And we can all rest a little eas-
ier knowing that should an er-
rant nuke somehow stray in the
direction of Washtenaw County-
we'll be ready for it.
In this modern age of ten-
sion and uncertainty, who could
ask for more.
Charles Stein is a co-editor of
The Summer Daily.

'A

s

a

THE
Summer Daily
Summer Edition of
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Edited and managed by students at the
University of Michigan
Tuesday, August 7, 1973 News Phone: 764-0552

W Ilh Dn't / sE Mi'
'Atomic waste peril? Don't be silly!'

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