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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

CIVIL DEFENSE IN GREATER CLEVELAND

CIVIL DEFENSE IN GREATER CLEVELAND

CIVIL DEFENSE IN GREATER CLEVELAND can be divided into two distinct periods. It was first activated after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 to protect the local area from enemy air raids, although it was not probable that German or Japanese bombers would reach America's industrial heartland. After WORLD WAR II, the development of nuclear weapons carried by intercontinental ballistic missiles made Cleveland a realistic bombing target, but the magnitude of destruction they carried inhibited any realistic preparations to defend the area.

Local civilian defense planning was implemented when the Cuyahoga County Council for Civilian Defense was established 20 January 1942, with WILLIAM A. STINCHCOMB as Executive Director. This was followed by the formation of the Ohio State Council of Defense to coordinate state and local activities with the national defense effort. The county council, which was responsible for protection against air raids and sabotage, established a uniform plan of operation for the city and suburbs, dividing the county into 29 air raid report areas linked to a warning center at Cleveland's Central Police Station in District 1. It also assembled and trained a corps of volunteer air raid wardens, auxiliary fire and police personnel, emergency medical teams, and other personnel. Although uncertainty, controversy, confusion, and rivalry accompanied its hasty formation, the council began holding regular air raid alerts and blackout drills in the spring of 1942. It also conducted trial smokeouts in which local businesses and institutions with smokestacks generated a pall of black smoke over Cleveland thick enough to obscure a bombardier's vision and interfere with his aim.

The council's second area of responsibility was to coordinate all non-protective phases of the war effort, including the meat, sugar, and other rationing programs, the local scrap drives, and war savings bond promotions. As the initial sense of emergency diminished, the council's war services program took precedence over its civil defense function, and in 1943-44 it accelerated the collection of scrap metal, waste paper, household fat, and other materials for the war effort. Before it was disbanded near the end of the war, the Cuyahoga County Civilian Defense Council had 80,000 workers and an annual budget of $151,000.

After World War II, nuclear weaponry and the means to deliver it via intercontinental ballistic missiles made all U.S. cities vulnerable to attack. No comprehensive national defense plan existed until the Korean War in 1950, when the U.S. organized Office of Defense Mobilization, reviving the need for local civil defense programs. Instead of reactivating Cuyahoga County's wartime council, individual municipalities contracted with the county to oversee the local civil defense program. Utilizing World War II defense strategies, air raid alerts and test drills were revived under coordinator John J. Pokorny. Food and medical supplies were stockpiled, public buildings were designated as fallout shelters, and a city evacuation plan to escape radiation fallout was drawn up to increase the rate of survival. Cleveland was also defended by NIKE MISSILE BASES built by the Federal government. By 1958, 55 member communities shared the cost of civil defense, with state and federal governments providing matching funds.

Greater Clevelanders, however, were generally fatalistic about the prospects of surviving a nuclear war. Citizens, familiar with daily traffic jams, considered the evacuation plans unworkable, and the utility of self-built fallout shelters endorsed by the federal government in the 1960s was met with skepticism. Municipalities gradually lost interest in financing the program, and in 1971, county commissioners terminated the civil defense agreements. The county civil defense office officially closed 30 Nov. 1972.


Cuyahoga County Council for Civilian Defense Scrapbooks, WRHS

Anthony Celebrezze Papers, WRHS