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Civil Defense: Fear and Safety

Bert the Turtle, Rockland, ca. 1957
Bert the Turtle, Rockland, ca. 1957
Maine Historical Society

Text by Candace Kanes

Images from Maine Historical Society and Maine State Archives

In 1949, the same year the Soviet Union tested its first nuclear weapon, Maine passed the Maine Civil Defense and Public Safety Act.

The Civil Defense and Public Safety Agency probably was a response to the devastating fires of 1947 that swept through York County and Mount Desert Island. The agency had responsibility for educating and protecting residents in natural disasters and other emergencies.

Increasingly, after 1949, the potential emergency that most occupied the new agency was the threat of nuclear war. That threat was never far from the minds of people throughout Maine and the nation as extensive Civil Defense publicity reminded people of their responsibilities to be prepared and to remain safe.

Conelrad radio alerts began in 1951, with frequent test signals that assured the alert system worked. People were urged to build fallout shelters. Children practiced "duck and cover" drills.

Maine's Atlantic coastline and military installations made it one of many targets identified by national Civil Defense efforts.

Maine's Civil Defense agency responded with large publicity and public education efforts.