CONELRAD Atomic Hygiene: Cold War Short Subject Films

Title card of Operation Scat: The First ‘Drive Out’ Evacuation Attempted in the United States, a 1954 short subject Civil Defense film produced by the McClain Brothers of Mobile, Alabama for the Mobile County Civil Defense.

OPERATION SCAT

OPERATION SCAT is subtitled “The First ‘Drive Out’ Evacuation Attempted in the United States” and judging from what is depicted in the film, the exercise was quite successful. The test evacuated some 30,000 people from an approximately 480 block radius in Mobile, Alabama. Of course, the planners of this evacuation had a trusting and obedient citizenry that made such an ambitious plan run like a finely tuned Packard.

When CONELRAD asked William C. Sturgeon--who was the Civil Defense Director responsible for OPERATION SCAT--whether he could imagine such an evacuation taking place in 2006, he shook his head and frowned. Sturgeon agreed that a residual World War II “can-do” sensibility allowed for the cooperation necessary for the Scat effort.
William C. Sturgeon, Mobile Alabama Civil Defense Director responsible for Operation Scat.
The film itself is alternately quaint and ominous. It opens with a cheesy, 1950s-era soap opera organ riff (that continues throughout the movie) and aerial views of Mobile’s ports and factories. The authoritative narration credited to George Fuller, Jr. sets up the premise of the test and then states dramatically that those who “fail to act” in an evacuation “are most likely to be injured or destroyed!”

As the evacuation is announced by the wailing of a siren, a montage of reaction unfolds: A man receiving a shave quickly rises to heed Civil Defense’s call; a bank vault is calmly closed (Burgess Meredith is nowhere in sight); employees file out of buildings in an orderly manner. The most antiquated notion contained in the film comes when the narrator states the following as squeaky clean, bow-tied gas jockeys leave their pumps to help the police force manage evacuation flow: “Many service station attendants already well versed in traffic control problems automatically become auxiliary police and take up their traffic positions at key crossroads…”

Over shots of constantly moving DeSotos, Studebakers, Pontiacs, etc., the narrator says proudly “At the normally congested dock area, great hordes of vehicles slowly move forward stopping only for a moment to offer rides to those on foot.” One can only imagine such a neighborly gesture happening during a real atomic crisis.
Automobiles file out of downtown Mobile in the 1954 Civil Defense exercise Operation Scat.
As a convoy of busses is shown, the narrator explains that this is the last (well, almost last) contingency for rounding up those who have not already evacuated: “Last to leave the target area, these giant Greyhounds, lumbering along like circus elephants. No tickets needed for this ride—they’re picking up the last of the stragglers.”

Soon after the shots of the busses is footage of Jeeps carrying military personnel that queues this dire narration: “300 National Guardsmen on special duty move out to control the evacuation area. These men are armed with live ammunition. Looters will be shot on sight!”

The film winds down with a direct warning to the audience: “Without Civil Defense protection, enemy jet bombers could have easily maimed or killed 75,000 Mobilians, but with planned operations such as Scat, casualties can be reduced to as little as 7,000. Why 7,000? Civil Defense officials explain that because of a strange quirk in human nature there are always a few that must be classified as non-cooperative. Are you one of these?”

The October, 1954 Federal Civil Defense Administration Interim Film supplement (FCDA-14679) issued from Battle Creek, MI offered this backhanded compliment to the filmmakers: “…While OPERATION SCAT lacks certain refinements of a professional film production, it is interesting and entertaining…” CONELRAD concurs!
The last car out - in Operation Scat, 1954 Civil Defense short subject film about the first automobile evacuation of a major US city.

OPERATION SCAT
1954
10 min. / B & W
Produced by McLain Brothers of Mobile, Ala. for Mobile County Civil Defense

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