The Doomsday Blueprints

How times change. Though the Soviet Union is gone, Washington was once convinced that World War III could break out without warning. Children practiced hiding under desks, parents built bomb shelters, and in case of nuclear attack the U.S. government hoped to save the President and keep the country running by relying on . . . THE DOOMSDAY BLUEPRINTS

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Company executives discussed with White House officials "how they would assure continuity of corporate management, assess surviving capability . . . and mesh their company plans with those of government." Company officials balked when it appeared the government might take over the firm in wartime. Ultimately, the executives prepared a "unified emergency plan," and were to be provided with radio-communications equipment for the site.

There were also elaborate plans for a national censorship office called the Wartime Information Security Program, or WISP (as in whisper). A CBS vice president, the late Theodore F. Koop, had agreed to be the standby national censor, and about 40 civilian executives had consented to work as the unit's staff in wartime. A 1965 internal government memo notes that censorship manuals and regulations had been stockpiled, and a fully equipped communications center was established outside Washington. Press reports in 1970 exposed the existence of a standby national censor and led to the formal dissolution of the censorship unit, but its duties were discreetly reassigned to yet another part of what an internal memo refers to as the "shadow" government.


Though the threat of a massive nuclear showdown has receded, many government employees must still go through the motions of preparing for disaster. As director of the Federal Register, Martha Girard publishes an official daily record of the Federal Government's major actions and decisions. But in the event of an impending nuclear attack, she is supposed to report to Mount Weather as a member of a Bravo team and publish the Emergency Federal Register, which would inform the surviving public of the crisis regulations in effect and create a chronicle of doomsday actions. "A very important part is to have copies of what happened for when we get back to normal, whether it's one year or 100 years," she says.

In her purse Girard carries a crisis ID card, which lists her height, weight and blood type and declares, "The person described on this card has essential emergency duties with the Federal Government. Request full assistance and unrestricted movement be afforded the person to whom this card is issued." Her card expired June 30, 1984, but she continues to have a standby role in the doomsday scenario. During the 1980s she took part in several relocation exercises at Mount Weather, where for days on end she practiced putting out her crisis publication on an aging manual typewriter. Says Girard: "I felt like I was in a 1950s movie."

Though Girard says she "would do whatever I could to fulfill my responsibilities in an emergency situation," she is uneasy about her part. "Is it a sham," she asks, "for me to participate in this and give other people confidence that there is a system in place that will work, when in my heart of hearts, in the dark of night, I doubt it will work?"

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