Civil Defense

Brass Tacks

Fallout shelters assumed national importance during the Berlin crisis in July, 1961. While announcing the mobilization of reserve troops, President Kennedy declared that he was asking Congress for funds to initiate "a new start on civil defense." In the following months of the year, there arose a shelter industry, a shelter supply service, a shelter controversy, a shelter literature and terminology, and even a form of shelter humor.

Harvard began to show its interest in the problem when Charles A. Coolidge '17, Acting President while President Pusey was touring the Orient, appointed a Faculty committee to examine the possibility of protecting the University from fallout. The committee began meeting in November, 1961, and issued a report of its recommendations last March. While the possibility of erecting blast shelters was rejected, a "modest" fallout program seemed worthwhile. John C. Colburn, an architect in the Buildings and Grounds Department, conducted a survey which seemed to indicate that shelter could be found in present basements for the University's 21,500 faculty, staff, and students. Additional space might house another 25,000 members of the Cambridge community. In April the New England Army Corps of Engineers and the Lockwood-Greene firm conducted a second survey of the College's shelter potential, with similar results.

April was also an important month for the national shelter program. The impetus of the Berlin crisis was gone and the public had ceased to show interest in shelters either through innate wisdom or sheer apathy, depending on which side of the shelter controversy you stand. Congress, already suspicious of the Administration's civil defense proposals, sensed the lack of public interest and finally approved only $113 million of the 695 million program. Shelter builders and suppliers began to go bankrupt after selling only a small fraction of their stock. In October, the Cuban crisis caused a small flurry of shelter inquiries, but little buying was done and the excitement soon ended.

As in most other communities, the Cambridge CD effort is proceeding at a slow rate. The MTA has posted shelter signs in Central, Kendall, and Harvard stations providing "raw space" for 8,106 people. Not all of this space is readily available, however, and none if it has been stocked with supplies. The local authorities have sent out over 200 license forms to the owners of potential shelter space, and, if these licenses are signed, the process of making and stocking the areas can begin. But according to Edmund Burke, Cambridge Civil defense Co-ordinator, the forms "are coming in awfully slowly." To date, the only fully public shelter is at the Carfasner Co., 31 Ames Street. With luck and time Cambridge may be able to provide fallout protection or one quarter to one half of its populace.

M.I.T and Harvard have the shelter license forms. But according to Robert B. Tonis, Harvard's Chief of Police and Security and Civil Defense director, the University is "still in the process of looking the plans over," and "trying to iron out difficulties with the local CD authorities." If the College does sign the papers, the government will mark certain designated areas as public shelters, and proceed to stock them with bulgar crushed wheat) biscuits and other supplies at the cost or about $4 per person. Thus the government expense to provide shelter for the University alone will be $86, dollars. (In addition to the minimal two-week supply of food, medical, and sanitary supplies, the University may wish to add a few other items necessary for survival. Among those considered thus far are ventilation pumps, air filters, emergency water lines from the Adams House and I.A.B. pools, communication facilities, tiered bunks, blankets, emergency lighting, batteries, and emergency power generators. The added cost will be in the hundred of thousands of dollars, and will have to be paid by the University.


(This is the first of a series of articles on civil defense and the problems it presents for the University.)