From October 2006, here's then-Connecticut Magazine editor Charles Monagan in October 2006, summarizing the overall gist of this article: "[B]ack in 1978, [I wrote] a story for this magazine on the evacuation plan Connecticut was then putting into place in the event of an all-out nuclear war with the Soviet Union. At the time, such an Armageddon seemed a real possibility, so the federal government was allocating millions of dollars to figure out a plan by which most Americans would survive. In Connecticut, it meant most of our cities and towns would be assigned 'host' communities in western Massachusetts, Vermont and upstate New York to which we could go for shelter, food and, presumably, a friendly welcome. Among the more obvious holes in the plan: No one had told anyone in Vermont about it, there wasn't room up there for everyone anyway (even if you included barns), the plan's success was to depend very greatly on the heroics of commuter-bus drivers, and the long-term prospects of millions of displaced city dwellers foraging for food and warmth in rural New York and New England could not be viewed as bright."
This article is being posted to the web in August 2021 as part of Connecticut Magazine's 50th anniversary celebration.
In Case of Nuclear War Guess Where We're Going
It seems the boys at CD have been talking with the boys at the Pentagon and now, Nutmeggers, we’re all moving to Vermont!
By Charles Monagan
Regarding that old chestnut, the nuclear holocaust: You can forget Conelrad. They haven’t put those little triangles on radio dials in years. Forget about cowering in a local fallout shelter, getting cracker crumbs in your cot. There are practically no cots, the crackers are mostly awful, and the shelters are often inadequate. Never mind stocking up on shotgun shells, diving into a ditch, crouching under a school desk, or even sitting helplessly in your living room, waiting for the front lawn to blow through the picture window. This is 1978. We’ve been coexisting with the Big One, ignoring its constant tugging at our sleeves, for more than thirty years now. As a result, we’ve become a little too jaded to fall for all the fifties scare stuff. Most of us would rather not think about the matter at all. Annihilation, after everything is said and done (particularly done), is still annihilation. Why bother even considering it, much less making plans for it?
Well, here’s a little surprise for you. The government does not like our attitude. It thinks we’re worth saving even if we don’t. So it’s been sneaking up on us with a massive new survival plan. You probably don’t know about it because the government really hasn’t told many people about it yet. But it’s moving right along. It’s an enormous project. It involves virtually everyone in the country and if they ever pull it off it’s going to make flying to the moon look like a walk around the block. The idea behind the new survival plan is that nine out of ten Americans should be able to live through a full-scale nuclear attack. This goal is to be achieved by moving millions of people around, sending them into the boondocks, until they’re out of the line of enemy fire. The plan in Connecticut, for instance, says that approximately 2.5 million of us will be spending the holocaust in lower to middle Vermont, upstate New York, or northwestern Massachusetts.
The proper name for this scheme is the Crisis Relocation Program. It’s run nationally by the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency and, as you might imagine, it is almost incomprehensibly complex. But before we figure out how to get you to Vermont and provide you with food and shelter, let’s first see why the government thinks the new plan is necessary.
It seems that Connecticut would not fare very well in a nuclear war. According to the latest estimates from the Pentagon, there are thirteen spots in the state that the Soviets figure are important enough to bomb. Except for a small portion of Fairfield County and a large chunk of Litchfield County, Connecticut is considered to be a death zone. The computed bombings begin at Bradley International Airport and run down through Hanford, Bristol, Waterbury, New Haven, and then down the coast through Bridgeport, Norwalk, Stamford, and Greenwich, with one left over for Danbury and a cluster designated for the area around New London and Groton. All these areas would be devastated. In addition, the prevailing westerly winds would carry the fallout from the strikes over the entire eastern part of the state, making survival unlikely or extremely unpleasant in any part of Tolland, Windham, or New London counties.
(There is, of course, a great deal of quibbling over these estimates. There are those who contend that any bombing would be much less severe and even the Pentagon says the figures are based on the worst scenario. But all planning is based on an expectation of the worst, so these are the numbers we will use.)
For years, the United States government has concentrated on protecting its citizens from fallout. Not much regard has been given to the effects of the actual nuclear blasts. Beginning with a $206 million program in 1961, the government has plastered those yellow and black shelter signs on more than 230,000 buildings that have the capacity to shelter about 227 million people. Unfortunately, most of these shelters are in large urban areas and most of them would be utterly destroyed in the event of an attack. This is one reason why the government went back to the drawing board to devise a plan that would move people out rather than move them under. There are several other reasons as well. One is the continued influx of people into the nation's urban areas; more and more citizens are making themselves vulnerable to a nuclear blast. A second reason is the incredible stockpiling of nuclear weapons by both the Soviets and ourselves. Each new weapon, according to the Pentagon, means a new target, and each new target means many more people who need protection.
The main reason why the U.S. decided to start its relocation planning, however, is because the Soviets have had a similar plan in effect for some time now. Military experts in this country now say that the Soviets, through their relocation program, believe they can survive a nuclear war. Ominous stuff, eh? This made for a huge psychological advantage that could not be conceded. We needed our own evacuation plan. We got on it right away.
Kevin McCarthy, a nuclear civil protection planner for the state Office of Civil Preparedness, is in charge of relocating the people of Connecticut. He is young and bright and he bristles with competence. More importantly, he thinks the plan can work. He truly does. McCarthy works in an office in the State Armory in Hartford. He began planning the ultimate juggle about nineteen months ago.
The first thing he did was to get hold of the military data that showed what would happen in the state in a projected nuclear war. From that data he determined which of Connecticut’s cities and towns would be“Risk Areas”; that is, areas where radiation or blast factors were such that it made life untenable. Then he designated the remaining towns as “Host Areas." These are areas that would be relatively safe during an attack. There are twenty such towns in the state: Brookfield, New Fairfield, Newtown, and Sherman in Fairfield County; Hartland in Hartford County; and Bridgewater, Canaan, Colebrook, Cornwall, Goshen, Kent, New Milford, Norfolk, North Canaan, Roxbury, Salisbury, Sharon, Warren, Washington, and Winchester in Litchfield County. The job will be to move the people who live in Risk Areas (85 percent of the state’s population) into towns that are in Host Areas either in Connecticut or in the wide-open spaces to the north.
There was a further major breakdown to be made. A number of people in Connecticut have what are called “key jobs.” The jobs cover a wide range of pursuits, including law enforcement, military, transportation, food processing, and certain industrial and commercial positions. These people would be expected to keep working up until the last possible moment. (The relocation plan can work only if there is a protracted period of international tension that seems to be leading up to war; it is obviously useless in the event of a surprise attack.) The key workers and their families, numbering about
600,000 persons in all, would get shelter in Host Areas close enough so they could commute to work. For example, people with key jobs (they will be told who they are) who live in Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Easton, Milford, New Haven, and West Haven would be assigned to a shelter in New Milford, people with key jobs in Danbury would commute from the safe towns of Goshen or Canaan and so on.
There is enough room to shelter about 450,000 people in Connecticut’s twenty host towns. All of these spaces are reserved for holders of key jobs and their families. A lot of key workers, such as those who live in Hartford, will be moved out of state, but not far—Berkshire and Franklin counties in Massachusetts. The rest of us, the 2.5 million who don’t have key jobs, will be herded further north.
How do you like it so far? Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Here are a few major points to make before we proceed:
No one will be forced to move. “We’re not going to have people coming up to your house with guns telling you to get out or else,” says McCarthy. “We don’t do that in this country and I don’t think anyone would suggest that we do." However, there won’t be much to do if you decide to stick around. First of all, you’d be worried about when they were going to drop the damn thing. Secondly, you would be subject to strict curfews and any movement would be “severely restricted.” No looting, in other words. Not much in the way of legitimately obtained supplies either, since “all available food and goods will be used to supply the evacuated population in the Reception Areas.”
Anyone who already lives in a Host Area will not have to move.
No evacuees are going to be forced into private homes. All shelter areas are planned for the usual buildings such as schools, churches, and municipal buildings, as well as slightly odder places like restaurants and non-key industrial buildings. Federal agents are out in the field right now checking out potential shelter sites in Vermont and Massachusetts. They’ll be coming to Connecticut soon.
One of these days you may receive as a supplement to your daily newspaper a twelve-page guide called Evacuation Instructions. Several prototypes of these guides already have been printed and they are fascinating.
On the front is a map of several towns in your region with the words “This Area May Be Evacuated” underneath. Further down the page it says in bold type, “This Information is your key to survival, Read It... Keep It.” Then things really get going on page 2. The main feature is a list of fifty-five things you are supposed to take along in your car for the cruise north. The items range from food (all you can carry) to extra underwear, sleeping bags, pickax, shovel, portable toilet, toothpaste, insurance papers, and a garbage can. It is unclear where all this stuff is supposed to fit (maybe that’s why one of the items listed is a crowbar), particularly if you’ve got some passengers you’d like to take along. Also, judging from the items on the list, we will be expected to do nothing more than dig in and wait for Zero Hour. There is no mention of Monopoly, Yahtzee, or backgammon to while away the tense hours. No mention of a Frisbee, either. There are, however, three things that will not be allowed: firearms, narcotics, and alcoholic beverages.
Page 3 of the relocation guide spells out where you are supposed to go and the routes by which you are supposed to get there. You are also told what your “route identification letter” is. You are supposed to cut out the letter that applies to you and paste it on the windshield of your car. If you do this, the friendly police officer on duty along your route (and not at all concerned about personal safety) can simply glance at your letter and send you along the right road. At the bottom of the page is notice of a sort of Holocaust Chauffeur Service. If you don't have a car you should go to the nearest public school and you will be put on a bus. And if you can't get to the school, fear not. Just call Civil Preparedness and someone will swing by and pick you up.
Page 4 shows detailed maps and evacuation routes. Pages 5 and 6 outline the horrors of fallout and tell why you shouldn't go out and play in it. Page 7 is directed at people who live in the Host Areas. “This is the most serious crisis our country has ever faced,” the text reads, “As a resident of the Host Area you can help save the lives of your neighbors... Will you share with another family?” Below is a list of telephone numbers. “Call now to share your basement.”
Pages 8, 9, and 10 are chock-full of instructions and diagrams on how to build your own fallout shelter. There are five different kinds and they all look pretty swell. The last two pages of the supplement are taken up by the windshield sticker cutouts.
Of course, a great deal of planning still needs to be done. McCarthy says the work won't be completed in Connecticut for another three years; about the same amount of time it'll take the whole country to be readied to go into seclusion at the president's bidding. There are immense problems in the planning everywhere, but the greatest difficulties are expected to be in the area between Washington, D.C., and Boston. We have the greatest concentration of population, the fewest Host Areas, the worst transportation problems, and the highest damage forecast. It is expected that Host Areas in the Northeast would have to accommodate five refugees for every one resident. In other words, New Milford, with a population of some 17,000, would have to fit 85,000 evacuees.
McCarthy doesn't think that will be a great problem. Nor does he think it will be terribly difficult to transport everyone to an assigned relocation center. “We’d need seventy-two hours to move everyone, but I think we’d be able to do it," he says. “We can move the people and park their cars and put a roof over their heads, but that's all I'd be willing to guarantee at this point. Of course, a lot of people won't believe it. They'll argue that Hartford gets clogged up during rush hour every day. But this plan calls for three straight days and nights of moving traffic through. I think it can be done.”
It does seem possible on paper, but there are any number of factors that could easily throw the whole thing into chaos. Most obviously there is the time factor. Seventy- two hours is a lot of time to count on, especially since the president would wait as long as possible before calling the plan into action. And it's unlikely that the enemy would give us seventy-two hours to get out of town.
Also, McCarthy admits that the relocation program is a one-time proposition. "There would be no rehearsals for the
plan,” he says, "and if people went through it and the crisis was settled peacefully they’d never go a second time."
A bit of the old l-don't-trust-the-government-because-of-the-swine-flu-shot program mentality. Don't the Soviets realize this? Wouldn't it be possible for them to bluff a crisis, start evacuating their people, send our country into the total chaos of relocation, and then pull back peacefully and apologetically? They could always evacuate again if they had to. We probably never could.
Then there is the weather. Relocation efforts during a snowstorm would be pitiful. The same might be said if the exercise took place during a scorching summer heat wave. Parking millions of cars in Vermont and upstate New York might even be impossible during the muddy days of March and April. Also, the relocation plans for Connecticut are heavily dependent upon those westerly winds. What if the wind is blowing in a different direction? End of ball game.
Would there be enough gasoline for the travelers? McCarthy says the major oil companies have agreed to position tank trucks along the major routes. Okay, but how about mass transit? Do you picture buses running smoothly and heroically through the weaving traffic, or do you picture them bogging down and breaking down and spilling out their passengers in the middle of nowhere? Trains would be a natural asset in any such evacuation, but not our trains. Most rails northward are long overgrown and useless.
Quickly, a few- sticky moral questions: What happens to people in jail? Are they left behind to face the holocaust from their locked cells, or are they set free? How about the helpless people in hospitals and rest homes? Is triage a possibility? Will pet owners be willing to leave their pets behind? This is a serious question. Could alcoholics and drug addicts function in a crisis situation?
For that matter, how would everyone else function in such a crisis? Some people begin to panic in a two-inch snowfall, others head for the pillows during a thunderstorm. Who knows how many would go around the bend when faced with the threat of a nuclear firestorm? All the planning in the world can’t predict and make provisions for the screwball vagaries of human nature. Think about this the next time you're in line at a stoplight. Planners working on paper might figure that all the cars will move forward simultaneously when the light turns green. We know this isn’t true.
Let’s just say that through brilliant planning everyone in Connecticut gets to where they are supposed to be. What can, say. the people of New Britain expect to find when they get to Vermont?
The relocation shelters give each person twenty square feet of floor space, six-and-a-half feet of headroom, and air to breathe," says McCarthy. “We can’t promise things like heat, sanitation, or even water. They may exist at the host sites, but its possible they won't. It's not going to be plush. After all, it’s a nuclear attack we're talking about here. It's war. All we’re aiming for is survival."
Food is naturally a key in any such talk of survival and it is here that McCarthy says the planners are having the most trouble. “We’re going to ask people to bring as much food and water with them as they can," he says, “We’re going to do everything we can to keep agricultural areas going, but obviously there are going to be difficulties. We're going to be working very hard on the problem in the coming years. Maybe technology can give us a hand, I don’t know."
And how friendly are the hosts going to be? Will kindness and generosity prevail, or will things turn a little tough? McCarthy points out that in initial meetings on the project in Vermont and Massachusetts, residents were wary of any influx of outsiders. Some people in Massachusetts wanted to know if they would get to make the rules even when they were outnumbered five to one by exiles from Connecticut. In dealing with these questions, the Civil Preparedness people smile tightly and use the words "emergent leadership.” No one really knows what that means, though. It probably has something to do with whoever sneaks in the firearms, narcotics, and alcoholic beverages.
Even Civil Preparedness people from various key areas differ in their opinions of the plan. Some think it’s sheer absurdity and don’t even want to hear about it. Others are willing to give it a shot.
Aldo Manfredi is the Civil Preparedness director for Rutland, Vermont—an important area for fleeing Connecticut residents. “The plan is going to receive a lot of flak from the public and they'll probably say we’re crazy but, given cooperation, it could be workable," Manfredi says. “We'd try to live up to the task that’s required. How the people get here isn’t our concern, but once they were here we'd try to house and feed them. We know we can handle small emergencies, but this seems to be a larger plan.”
Good Vermont understatement. Manfredi says the Army Corps of Engineers has already been through Rutland, checking out possible shelters, but that he hasn't really run into much else regarding the relocation plan. He admits that he doesn't fully understand the scope of the project. “It’ll probably look good on paper, but it'd be a Herculean task to perform. It would depend upon generosity and caring for fellow human beings. I'm sure Connecticut people would help their countrymen from Vermont and I'm sure the people from Vermont would do the same.”
Bernard Shelton is the former director of Civil Defense for New Milford and is currently an assistant area coordinator for Civil Preparedness. “The thing sounds like a fairy tale to me,” Shelton says. “I don’t think the people of New Milford would go for it. The town fathers are anti- Civil Defense, They won't even appoint a local director because they're stubborn and they’re afraid of losing power in an emergency situation. They might listen to someone describe the plan, but I doubt that they'd give it a chance."
Clearly, it will take a tremendous effort on the part of the government to sell this relocation program to the public. That’s one reason why it isn’t saying much about it now. The planners would prefer to have the answers or at least something to say when the public begins asking questions. That is only fair to people like Kevin McCarthy who has been given a job to do and seems to be doing it as well as possible.
There will always remain one enormous question that they will never be able to answer: Let's say all the planners are right. An international crisis arises and points irrevocably toward nuclear war. The Soviets begin evacuating and we follow suit. There follows six days of desperate negotiations, allowing everyone to get to a relocation area where, in a miracle of total cooperation, shelter is provided and food is spread around. Then the negotiations sour, the national leaders go into hiding, and the warheads are deployed. They fall exactly where the Pentagon computers had predicted, the cities are destroyed, but 180 million Americans are saved.
What happens then?
Food producing and processing centers have been ruined. Water not carefully stored has been tainted. In our case, most of Connecticut has been destroyed. There is nothing to go back to, nothing for the evacuees to do but begin the struggle for their lives. Just in Vermont, millions would be out fighting for food and water and then, soon, even the last of the food would be gone. What then? Even the most stable mind reels at the sickening possibilities. Yet, this is the situation set up by the relocation plan. If we evacuate and there is no war, our economy and our people will have been thrown into total and costly chaos. If we evacuate and there is a war, the survivors turn into beasts clawing each other for sustenance.
The Pentagon believes that the final disgrace would be for Americans to be killed outright by the Soviets. We cannot allow them that sort of satisfaction, so instead we will hit and run and hide because that's what we think they would do to us. It’s a big game of hide-and-seek and when you’re found you’re dead. If you're not found, you stay behind the tree until you have to eat the bark.
And until it all happens you pay. The cost of the game is pretty low now—only a few million dollars a year. But according to a “Survival Blueprint" from the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency, the cost of the Crisis Relocation Program is pegged at $30.65 per survivor. With the estimated 180 million survivors it means the program eventually will cost billions of dollars.
And that's what's been happening on the nuclear holocaust front.