History / Civil Defense

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OEM Civil Defense logoAs the population of Fort Collins increases, so does the threat to its residents from the dangerous natural phenomena which occur here. Fort Collins is experiencing a period of incredible growth. In 1970 the population was 43,000. The population in 2010 was 143,986. Approximately 33% of the population is either under 19 or over 64 years of age. This is significant because certain segments of the population, namely the elderly and the very young, are statistically the most vulnerable to the effects of catastrophic events.

Historically, from its very beginnings as 'Camp Collins' during the Civil War era, our community has suffered the effects of violent weather. In 1864 Camp Collins was inundated by a flash flood, which destroyed the settlement and carried it away under a twenty-foot wall of water traveling at 30 miles per hour. The settlement was relocated to a spot near present-day Old Town and was rebuilt. The new settlement, renamed Fort Collins, flourished despite the occasional catastrophe, and continues to do so today. It is this community pride and determination that it continues to prove itself with each new challenge we face.

Civil Defense - "Nonmilitary measures designed to protect civilians in wartime."

The modern concept of Emergency Management in the United States has developed circuitously from its infancy during the World War II era to what we have today. At the national level we are all familiar with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In addition to this large federal agency we also have the State of Colorado Division of Emergency Management (CDEM), various county-level Emergency Management offices, as well as our local, the City of Fort Collins Office of Emergency Management, or Fort Collins OEM.

How did this vast network of emergency planning and response agencies develop?

To answer that question we have to look back briefly to the early days of World War II, before the United States became directly involved. President Franklin D. Roosevelt described the America as being in "...a state of unlimited emergency" and as a result he advised each city to organize its own "Civil Defense" system to plan and prepare for the dangers looming on the horizon. Of course the dangers of the era that concerned Americans came not in the form of floods and tornadoes, but in the form of sneak attacks from the Axis powers. On May 20, 1941 President Roosevelt created the Office of Civilian Defense to oversee and assist America's communities with this daunting task.

On Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 the Japanese attacked the American naval fleet at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. America went to war, and the concept of Civil Defense now took on an ominous reality.

Americans everywhere immersed themselves in the war effort. People were standing in line to enlist in the military to satisfy their outrage. Many others got involved with the Civil Defense movement. Communities throughout the nation organized themselves into thousands of local Civil Defense chapters.

After World War II ended, the interest in Civil Defense remained. The war was over, but international tension was high and before long we were in the midst of the Cold War. Americans participated in "duck and cover" exercises in school, and were reminded daily to tune radio dials to the Emergency Broadcast System in the event of an emergency. Many people built underground fallout shelters.

Civil Defense underwent many changes during the intervening post-war years. Below is a timeline of its major incarnations. There were also a number of other smaller agencies or offices not listed here.

  • 1941 - Office of Civilian Defense
  • 1947 - National Security Resources Board (National Security Act of 1947)
  • 1949 - National Security Resources Board, Executive Office of the President (EOP)
  • 1950 - Office of Defense Mobilization (Federal Civil Defense Act of 1950)
  • 1950 - Federal Civil Defense Administration, OEM, EOP
  • 1951 - Federal Civil Defense Administration
  • 1951 - Defense Production Administration
  • 1958 - Office of Defense and Civilian Mobilization, EOP
  • 1958 - Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization, EOP
  • 1961 - Office of Civil Defense, Department of Defense (DOD)
  • 1961 - Office of Emergency Planning
  • 1964 - Office of Civil Defense, Department of the Army (DOA)
  • 1968 - Office of Emergency Preparedness, EOP
  • 1972 - Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, DOD
  • 1979 - Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  • 2001 – Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

The creation of FEMA in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter brought the incessant turmoil and fragmentation of services to an end at the federal level; FEMA became an independent agency working at the direction of the President, and the Director was part of the Cabinet. In 2001, in response to the September 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created. FEMA and DHS work together and separately when it comes to disaster management and response. In simplest terms, DHS is responsible for man-made disasters such as September 11 and war-related efforts, whereas FEMA is responsible for mitigation and preparedness for natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. Although the two agencies are very different and operate under different missions they do also work together in many instances.

Civil Defense Insignia

Below are some of the insignia that Civil Defense workers wore during WWII. These insignia appeared on armbands and helmets of those involved in Civil Defense work.

air raid warden
Air Raid Warden
auxiliary firemen
Auxiliary Firemen
auxiliary police
Auxiliary Police
emergency food and housing corps
Emergency Food and Housing Corps
chaplain christian
Chaplain (Christian)
chaplain jewish
Chaplain (Jewish)
citizens service corps
Citizens' Service Corps
civil air patrol
Civil Air Patrol
decon corps
Decontamination Corps
demolition and clearance corps
Demolition and Clearance Corps
drivers corps
Drivers' Corps
fire watchers
Fire Watchers
medical corps
Medical Corps
nurses aide corps
Nurses' Aide Corps
rescue squads
Rescue Squads
road repair corps
Road Repair Corps
staff corps
Staff Corps
utility repair squad
Utility Repair Squads
enrollee 1st class
Enrollee 1st Class
squad leader
Squad Leader
section leader
Section Leader