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Awesome/morbid Cold War era Civil Defense poster

Craft & Design
Awesome/morbid Cold War era Civil Defense poster

This wall-mounted flyer titled IN CASE OF NUCLEAR ATTACK was produced by the city of Portland, Oregon, some time between 1981 and 1985. Thanks to step #7, I now know the international stick-figure symbol for “Comfort the dying.” Those were the days, eh? [via Geekologie]

30 thoughts on “Awesome/morbid Cold War era Civil Defense poster

  1. Maker says:

    “Place newspaper over head??”

    1. Jeff Ward says:

      I’m pretty sure this is a fake; the work of a prankster(s) some years ago. It may be written about in the Re/Search book “Pranks”, in fact. Either way, it was definitely a precursor to plastic and duct tape protection.

    2. maha says:

      hahah, i know, i had to laugh about the newspaper as well.

      Also, step two (the flash) is what notifies you of the explosion. The next step being: Close eyes, drop to the ground with your head towards the explosion. Cover your head best you can.. because here comes the shockwave/debris! After the initial blast you should find cover because cruft/rocks/junk will be falling from the sky for several minutes (if not longer).

      If you were indoors? you probably wouldn’t know until the blast hit you.

      Also, the baby corpse in the last frame is saddening.

    3. Inventorjack says:

      I suspect the newspaper over the head is to prevent being contaminated by nuclear fallout, which is a valid concern if you weren’t close enough to the bomb to be incinerated or blown away.

      In the past, personal protection from fallout was a major concern, but as Wikipedia suggests, in a global thermonuclear war short-term survival is generally considered futile. (

      The military still teaches methods of decontaminating the body of fallout particles, but I’ve never gotten any such education in school. I wonder if any schools teach this kind of stuff these days? I suspect they did at least in some places in the 50’s-early 80’s

  2. Anonymous says:

    If it is a “fake” then it’s a needless one. I’m old enough to remember the “duck and cover” practices; and there were handouts very similar to this one. Even so young we knew it was kabuki safety measures… we would’ve been ash packets neatly underneath each desk.

    Hmm… #8 “isolate corpses to prevent spread of disease” was just being somewhat debunked on the BBC today:
    Do dead bodies in Haiti pose a health risk?

    1. rahere says:

      The current thinking is “not more than they were alive”. However, bodies in an advanced state of putrefaction release some very nasty cadaver poisons which I would not want getting into my system through an open cut or blister, quite apart from the pollution they can cause to water supplies.

  3. Elexorien says:

    Don’t forget step #9: Shoot all corpses in the head to prevent spread of radioactive zombies.

  4. rahere says:

    It’s a fake because it misses the fire-wave which follows the flash and precedes the blast. Putting a newspaper on your head would just be asking for it. Added to which, the protocols in use were c1970 – by 1984-5, we were fairly certain we were past the worst risk, and this would have been considered unnecessarily provocative. A real UK public information leaflet from this period is to be found here – it was treated with derision by most of the population.

  5. You says:

    It looks official; the seal and the mayor’s name are accurate.
    Also, the guy in #5 is missing a leg.

  6. Nate says:

    …he said they had a similar poster. Except Step 4 was “bend over”, Step 5 encouraged additional bending, and the Final Step was “Kiss your a– goodbye.”

  7. Tim says:

    What do you use if you get your news on a Kindle?

  8. sburlappp says:

    Hey you in step #2 – no peeking!

  9. Karl Anderson says:

    This is a fake. If you ride the BART, look at their “in case of emergency” signs, this design mimics those. Also note that the “isolate corpses” panel takes place in a stylized train. The original fake was the same size, had the BART/MTA/whatever logo, and was made to be stuck over the actual signs.

  10. EdMcMuffin says:

    This sign is very similar to one handed out in my school in the mid eighties. The setting of mine is in a bathroom and has one final step, “Remain cheerful to the end.”

  11. Lee says:

    Put a newspaper over your head? I thought you were supposed to put a tinfoil cap on to keep death rays out of your brain, lol.

    On a more serious note though, there was an E-mail circulating right after 9-11 some of you probably saw, purported to be from a Colonel about what to do in the event of a nuclear detonation, first is get down (yes I know, it makes no sense because if you see the flash, even through a wall it’ll burn your eyes out, and if you hear it, the blast wave will likely already be upon you) the blast wave can apparently go right over you if you’re flat on the ground or in a shallow hole or ditch, for fallout, just move upwind from the blast and you should be OK. (which by the way, if you were in the blast radius, you probably got radiated anyways, go figure) I’m not stating this as fact but it was an interesting E-mail

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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