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Home Research Guides Duck and Cover: Civil Defense in North Dakota

Duck and Cover: Civil Defense in North Dakota

This online exhibit is a companion to the display currently in the NDSU Main Library. It provides some additional information, and links to documents about Civil Defense and the nuclear age. See a short video about the exhibit here.

Duck and Cover

During the Cold War the threat of nuclear attacks were a national concern, especially after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. There were two public saftyissues to consider; the direct damage from a missile attack, and the resulting fallout that would spread over hundreds of miles.

While the public was told to duck and cover, the Department of Defense was developing what President Eisenhower called “a massive capability to strike back.”  The Minuteman missiles at Minot were installed in 1962 to deter nuclear attack with the threat of mutual assured destruction. By the 1970s over 1000 missiles were scattered across the Midwest.

Read More:

Minuteman Missile Sites, Ellsworth Air Force Base (link is external), South Dakota: Special Resource Study

Radionuclides in North Dakota Soils

Dietary levels of fallout nuclides in food, Hearings, Joint Commission on Atomic Energy (link is external), Appendix B, June 29-30, 1965

Revised fallout estimates for 1964-1965 and verification of the 1963 predictions (link is external)

May 25, 1961 - President John F. Kennedy's Special Message to the Congress on Urgent National Needs

Secrets on the Prairie (link is external)


Cold War Solutions: Vigilance

What do you do when you’re afraid of a nuclear attack? Before advances in radar the public was asked to join the Ground Observation Corps. These volunteers took shifts watching the sky to report planes that could be Russian bombers. As technology to track planes and later missiles evolved the Ground Observation Corps were no longer needed.

In 1955 there were 527 observation stations in North Dakota (Annual Statisitcal Report, June 30, 1955).

Read more:

Bert The Turtle Says Duck and Cover (link is external), Civil Defense, Federal Civil Defense Administration, FCDA, 1951.

Your Chance to Live (link is external), Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, 1972.

Build your own Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer.

Logo of the Civil Defense


Cold War Solutions: Fallout Shelters

Fallout was a major concern since the radioactive particles could spread for many hundreds of miles. To prepare for this possibility the public and industries were encouraged to build shelters where people could stay for two weeks until the danger had passed. These shelters would also provide some protection from a nuclear blast depending on the location of the detonation. Ironically, the public was not informed of fallout events that occurred from nuclear tests.

One industry was informed in advance of nuclear tests. Manufactures of photographic film, such as KODAK were notified since radiation from fallout would expose the film.

[Man and woman in fallout shelter pantry, Bismarck, N.D. State Historical Society of North Dakota (00080-4-17-04)]

A well-provisioned shelter would have blankets, a battery powered radio and flashlight, water, canned food, candy, nuts, sanitation supplies, first aid kits, cooking utensils, fire fighting equipment, clothing and general tools.

Read more:

Protection in the nuclear age (link is external)
United States, Defense Civil Preparedness Agency 1977  

Aboveground Home Fallout Shelter (1983)

Belowground Home Fallout Shelter (1983)


Politicians used threats of nuclear war in their campaign advertisements. This example, ‘Daisy’ (1964), is the most famous. It only aired once, but was influential and very controversial.

Duck and Cover! Public Service Announcements

Duck and Cover warns students to seek shelter during a nuclear attack.
Fallout: When And How To Protect Yourself, produced in 1959 by the U.S. Office Of Civil Defense

Are you prepared?

Although a nuclear attack and fallout isn’t as much of a threat as during the Cold War, there is still a need to be prepared. Fire, floods, earth quakes, hurricanes, tornados and man-made disasters are still a threat.  Since 1996 there has been an average of 120 declared disasters each year.

There are steps you can take to protect yourself, and many are similar to what was recommended in Duck and Cover.

Know what disasters could affect your area and learn what to do before, during and after each type of emergency. (Nuclear explosions are included.)

Read More:

State Emergency Response Commission (SERC)

North Dakota Disaster Procedures Guide

CDC zombies
Like a nuclear disaster, being prepared for a zombie apocalypse means you are also ready for many other disasters. Don’t join the walking dead, be prepared!

Thunderstorms, tornadoes, lightning ... nature's most violent storms : a preparedness guide including tornado safety information for schools.

Taking shelter from the storm : building a safe room for your home or small business : includes construction plans.
United States. Federal Emergency Management Agency, issuing agency.  2014

Disaster Declarations by Year (FEMA)


Video interview with Governor Sinner about Red River flooding, 1989.



A tornado awareness and preparedness animation

Fallout Legacy: media

Comic Books

Using radiation exposure to explain special powers or abilities was commonly used in comic books. Previously powers were associated with aliens (Superman, 1933), exceptional skill or wealth (Batman, 1938), chemicals and science experiments (the Flash ,1940, Captain America, 1941), or mystical sources (Captain Marvel, 1939).  With radiation regular humans were given extraordinary powers.  The Incredible Hulk (1962) character is physicist Bruce Banner turned into an incredibly strong but uncontrollable creature after exposure to radiation from the detonation of a gamma bomb. Creator Stan Lee describes the character as part Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but the Hulk can also be interpreted as the personification of the destructive force of radiation.


In movies radiation leads to huge monsters like Godzilla which was inspired by a fallout incident in 1954.  In March of that year a Japanese fishing boat, Lucky Dragon No. 5, was covered in fallout from an Operation Crossroads underwater nuclear test. This reminder of destruction was one aspect which inspired film maker Ishirō Honda to create the destructive monster who, in latter movies, becomes a hero.

Them! (1954)  is another example of a “nuclear monster” movie. The film starts in Alamogordo, New Mexico (near the site of the Trinity bomb test) where giant, irradiated ants threaten communities across the country. One character, D. Medford states: "When Man entered the Atomic Age, he opened the door to a new world. What we may eventually find in that new world, nobody can predict."


Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky (1965), where on a generation ship –a slower then light craft where people live for multiple generation on the way to distant planets or galaxies– some of the population on the spaceship suffer from mutations resulting from radiation exposure. Those with mutations live separately from those without deformities.  Among the crew of the ship mutants are killed at birth. One mutant, Joe-Jim Gregory has two heads.

Another science fiction author, Ray Bradbury, wrote "There Will Come Soft Rains" which explored the possible result of nuclear war. You can hear the story read my Leonard Nimoy.


The videogame series, Fallout, draws heavily from the images, themes and topics of Civil Defense.


Mini nuke, a weapon from the Fallout games.

The design of the Mini Nuke is based on Fat Man, the nuclear bomb that was detonated over the Japanese city of Nagasaki by the United States on 9 August 1945. The idea for the Mini Nuke is very similar to the M-28 or M-29 Davy Crockett Weapon System which fired a nuclear device.


The design for Vault Boy, and the short S.P.E.C.I.A.L. films for Fallout 4, are visually similar to the PSA “Fallout: When And How To Protect Yourself.”


Civil Defense poster, 1956 Serving you in time of emergencyFalllout 3 poster, Where will you be when the holocaust comes?

Posters seen throughout the Fallout games are inspired by popular culture, cars, and civil defense posters of the 1950s. The stance of the figure in the Fallout 3 poster is also similar to a 1917 Soviet propaganda poster.


Detail from a Fallout 3 poster showing the Civil Defense logo

The Civil Defense logo is used in this billboard from Fallout 3.

*Fallout poster images, and other images are taken from the video game Fallout 3, Fallout 4, or from websites created and owned by Bethesda Softworks, the copyright of which is held by Bethesda Softworks. All trademarks and registered trademarks present in the image are proprietary to Bethesda Softworks.

Fallout Artifacts

Sen. Milton Young’s missiles, ca 1963
1:200 scale models of the four United States and seven Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) deployed or under development in 1983.
Credit: NDSU Archives, Sen. Milton Young Artifact Collection


Fallout shelter model based on the publication:  Belowground Home Fallout Shelter (1983).  Model by Susanne Caro

Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer, 1977

Lovelace Biomedical and Environmental Research Institute Inc. This calculator was included in the book The Effects of Nuclear Weapons, 3rd ed. U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy.

You can Build your own Nuclear Bomb Effects Computer. (link is external)


CD V-700 Model 5 Survey meter and Dosimeter and Charger, ca. 1962

The CD V-700 Model 5 Survey meter was intended to be used as a way to measure radiation intensity while the dosimeter shows the total amount of radiation.


Radiation Detector Kit, ca. 1962

Typical kits marketed toward family fallout shelters included a ratemeter, dosimeter and charger.


Shelter Supplies, 1963-1964

The Department of Defense advised citizens to have two-weeks’ worth of supplies to be fully self-sustaining within fallout shelters. Items such as a can opener, food rations and water were considered vital to life. A minimum of one quart of water per person was required in fallout shelters. Water, food, a pocket knife, can opener, bottle opener, first aid kit and an emergency toilet were considered most essential for a fallout shelter.

Right to left: Survival biscuits, Carbohydrate supplements (candy), Can opener. Manufactured in 1963.


Civil Defense helmet, 1961-1970

Air Warden symbol not original.

Senator Milton Young



“The Soviet Government has been working feverishly to surpass us in both the number and effectiveness of inter-continental missiles. …We believe, however, that our Minuteman, which we think has a more modern and sophisticated warhead, is still superior for the time being. ... While the Russians are about equal to us in the number of intercontinental missiles, we still believe that we have a narrow margin of superiority in this area. This superiority could easily be over-come if we failed to continue the modernization of our missiles.”

- Congressional Record, Dec. 8th, 1970, 40391


Senator Young receiving the Minute Man Award, 1979.
Credit: NDSU Archives, Sen. Milton Young Photograph Collection.

Senator Milton Young was a strong supporter of national defense.  He supported the building of two Air Force bases in North Dakota (Minot and Grand Forks), and of the Anti-ballistic Missile site known as Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex near Nakoma. The bases and the large Nakoma project brought many jobs to the state.

In June of 1970 he strongly supported the building of an OMEGA Navigation Site in La Moure, ND. He touted the location as providing superior recreational and housing opportunities.  His arguments were persuasive and the insulated tower antenna  was constructed.  The OMEGA system used low radio frequencies for submarine navigation.

That year the Senator also gave La Moure a decommissioned Minuteman Missile which still stands as a monument in that community.



Senator Young at Minot Air Force Base.
Credit: NDSU Archives, Sen. Milton Young Photograph Collection.

Senator Young was one of the longest serving senators, serving from 1946 to 1983. He was a member of the Defense Appropriations Committee from January 6th, 1947 to January 2nd, 1981.

During his time in the senate, Senator Young was very involved in the development of military defense in North Dakota. His efforts on the behalf of the state and the country were recognized by his constituents. On February 23rd, 1979 the Reserve Officers Association presented Senator Young with the Minute Man of the Year Award for his efforts and for contributing “the most to the National Security shared by every American citizen in these times.”






Secretary of Defense McNamara and Senator Young. Armed Services Committee and Defense Appropriations, Aug 4th, 1965.
Credit: NDSU Archives, Sen. Milton Young Photograph Collection.








Senator Young receiving a Minute Man award from his Washington DC staff. 1979
Credit: NDSU Archives, Sen. Milton Young Photograph Collection.