Planning for the Worst

With Halloween right around the corner, October is great time to be frightened. Everyone likes a little scare every now and then, right? During 1962, the October scare was very real, though. Nuclear war with the Soviet Union seemed like a distinct possibility and people’s greatest fears were on the verge of coming true. Fortunately, the event we refer to as the Cuban Missile Crisis did not result in direct military conflict with the Soviet Union, but in many ways the fear remained.

Khrushchev visits Iowa State, 1959

This image shows a scene from when Nikita Khrushchev, leader of the Soviet Union, visited Iowa State in 1959. Things were a lot less cheery in the fall of 1962. (University Photos, Box 12.1)

During this time, Iowa State was not complacent in preparing for potential war. In September 1961, the State Board of Regents requested that Iowa State prepare a Survival Plan in the event of a nuclear attack in the Midwest. President Hilton asked George Burnet to lead the committee to prepare such a plan. Based largely upon the National Plan for Civil Defense and Defense Mobilization, Iowa State’s plan designated fallout shelters on campus, provided shelters with enough food and supplies for two weeks, and identified key personnel to take leadership roles in the event of such an attack.

Iowa State University Bulletin 133, Survival Plan

The Iowa State University Survival Plan was finished in June 1962 and published as Bulletin 133 by Engineering Extension in 1963. (this copy can be found in the Survival Plan Committee records, RS 8/6/90)

Extension was also hard at work helping prepare rural communities with plans to deal with nuclear fallout. If you ever wanted to learn how to build a barn to help livestock survive nuclear war, Extension gives you the answer. One particular publication, “Protecting Family and Livestock from Nuclear Fallout” (RCD-16), provided farmers with examples of farm structures that would help livestock survive as well as instructions on how to construct fallout shelters for people. It’s rather fascinating to look through the publication. I would be curious to know how many farmers actually built or modified their barns to take into account this possibility.

Extension publication on Protecting Family and Livestock from Nuclear Fallout

Interior pages from an Iowa State University Extension publication titled “Protecting Family and Livestock from Nuclear Fallout” published in 1968. (Extension Rural Civil Defense collection, RS 16/3/5)

If this hasn’t frightened you off and you are interested in learning more about how the University prepared for a nuclear attack on the Midwest, please feel free to stop by the Special Collections and University Archives. Information on the ISU Survival Plan can be found in the Survival Plan Committee records, RS 8/6/90, while publications prepared by the Extension service are available in the Extension Rural Civil Defense collection, RS 16/3/5. We look forward to scaring, I mean, seeing you!

One thought on “Planning for the Worst

  1. Diana

    How very interesting. Some of these same kind of things were revealed in the Ken Burns Vietnam documentary. How different some of my memories of these events as compared to the added perspectives of the documentary. This and the documentary were extraordinary.

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