Struggle for Survival

Governing Britain after the Bomb

Steve Fox


File 7    From Civil Defence to Emergency Planning back to contents
New strategies for the 1970s and 1980s – Protect and Survive – Exercise  Hard Rock – new roles for local authorities  
struggleforsurvival AT next file


In 1971, the newly elected Conservative government undertook a review of home defence in the knowledge, following comprehensive reviews by the departments concerned with war planning, that the current state of preparedness meant that civil defence did not exist in any practical form. The review was to be completely cost-driven and the civil servants considered various options based on expenditure. They recommended that the civil defence budget be increased to £15 million which might, just, see the basis of a workable system. However, the Ministerial Committee on Home Defence decided that no increase in expenditure could be allowed even though this would actually mean that the state of preparedness would decline further. A budget of £10 million was decided on and the emphasis was to be directed more to civil emergencies. One immediate result was an attempt to revive civil defence at the local level, but given the political problems surrounding the very idea of civil defence it was now this was to be sold as more politically acceptable “emergency planning”. Emergency Services circulars replaced the former Civil Defence ones and the first, ES1/1972 told County Councils to establish small emergency planning teams to draw up the war emergency plans required under the 1967 Regulations. They could go on to draw up plans for peacetime disasters, but only after the war plans had been completed. Counties also had to “nominate” one wartime headquarters that would normally to be co-located with the peacetime headquarters and a standby one. The word “nominate” meant that no physical preparation was required and reflects the fact that under the Regulations there was no requirement for such a headquarters to be prepared.

An exercise called Survival 1 had been held in 1970 which found that local authorities could cope with any emergency from their own resources which allowed the announcement to be made that “national volunteer force” (ie a re-established Civil defence Corps) would not be set up and local authorities were encouraged to incorporate volunteer bodies such as the Red Cross into their plans. All active civil defence training at Easingwold was stopped and it would become a staff college. It would now only train staff designated to hold administrative and decision-making posts in wartime and was renamed the Home Defence College.


The College, Easingwold

Other Emergency Services circulars quickly followed during the 1970s giving local authority emergency planning officers background information about the government’s home defence plans. An early one[1] outlined, for the first time, some basic assumptions about home defence planning. It was issued to the Clerks of Local Authorities but marked “Restricted – the information given in this document is not to be communicated directly or indirectly to the Press or to any person not authorised to receive it “. Local authority emergency planners were told to assume there would be a warning period of 3-4 weeks. This would be followed, possibly after a few days of conventional fighting, by a devastating strategic nuclear exchange. This would put a stop to any further fighting. For up to 3 weeks after the attack movement anywhere might be restricted by fall out but this would give way to a survival phase “…of many months possibly a year or two in which internal regional government would be established for the provision of services for the survivors, to avoid further loss of life and to improvise a subsistence economy.”. Eventually this would become the recovery phase when policies would be made on a national rather than a regional basis.

The planners were told to assume that between 60% and 95% of people would survive the attack, but the loss of essential services and productive capacity could be up to 80%. The attack would affect everybody and planning should be “…orientated primarily towards measures necessary for the provision of the basic essentials of life for the surviving population…”. The Circular went onto say that “…the war-time structure of local government should therefore be designed to marshal and co-ordinate surviving resources of essential services and to provide, in the longer term within the framework of central government operative at first on a regional basis, the administrative framework necessary for a more stable existence”. In a restricted briefing in 1977, NATO planners were told that the UK expected 80 targets would be attacked with nuclear weapons of within a 48-hour period. This would result in 3-4 million being killed directly and a further 5-9 million seriously injured.

The early 1970s saw a significant change in the structure of local government resulting in the emergence of larger and more competent authorities at county level. It was thought that these would be more able to cope with the planning and operational needs of civil defence than their predecessors. Consequently, in December 1973, revised Regulations were issued under the 1948 Civil Defence Act requiring local authorities to make plans “for the purposes of civil defence”. They came into force the following year as the 1974 Regulations and are covered in detail later in File 12. The new Regulations were debated in Parliament in December 1973, the first time civil defence had been discussed there for five and a half years. However, neither the debate nor the Regulations raised sufficient public interest to merit a mention in “The Times”.

In the mid 1970s, many government departments reviewed their home defence plans and these were circulated to the Emergency Planning Officers to incorporate into their local plans. For example, guidance was given on “wartime arrangements for emergency food control…”, “construction work and building materials in war” and “the provision which would be made by central government to ensure that the necessary advice and information could be conveyed to the public…”.[2]. A 1977 Circular[3] told local authorities that the government had given all the necessary policy guidelines. It then added “It is now hoped that all local and other authorities will, within the limitations imposed by financial constraints, move rapidly towards completing and subsequently testing and updating their wartime plans to provide and maintain services essential to the life of the community.”. However, few counties prepared the required plans. Whilst the Regulations required them to make the plans they did not impose any time scales nor did they give any guidance on what the plans should consist of. The Home Office considered that these plans were the responsibility of each local authority and it did not check that the Regulations were being complied with, hence the use of the word “hope”. Some of the central government departments did however restart planning for home defence although this was not on the scale seen during the 1960s and earlier.

The Home Defence College ran short courses for local authority officers who would have wartime roles and for councillors. Its list of course in the 1970s noticeably did not include anything for the staffs of the regional level controls. One accepted but unannounced aim of the courses was to spread the official word about the potential effectiveness of civil defence measures and the College claimed it was successful in this. However, in reality, there was very little interest in civil defence and little was done in a period of great upheaval for local authorities and restrictions on public spending. No politicians championed the cause and to judge from the lack of newspaper coverage there was no public interest in the subject. The impetus was however soon to change and the first half of the 1980s would see the biggest advance in civil defence preparations since the 1960s and arguably the late 1930s.

Towards the end of the 1970s the Cold War began to heat up. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and began to deploy new mobile, intermediate range SS-20 missiles. NATO responded by deploying Cruise and Pershing missiles in Europe. At the same time, NATO began increasingly to adopt a new flexible response strategy to meet a Soviet Union lead Warsaw Pact attack on its member countries. This strategy assumed that a European war might not immediately and automatically lead to the use of nuclear weapons. To a lesser extent Soviet doctrine mirrored this idea. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s NATO and in particular US strategists thought that if nuclear weapons were used escalation could be controlled and limited. The Soviets however assumed that this would be impossible and any use of nuclear weapons would result in an all out strategic and tactical attack as an integral part of the overall war strategy.

The new flexible NATO strategy implied a period of conventional war fighting which would either be followed by the cessation of hostilities or escalate into a nuclear exchange. This would require a strengthening of NATO’s conventional armed forces including its reserves and war stocks. It also implied that there would be time to reinforce Europe from North America. Plans were consequently made to move huge numbers of US troops and millions of tons of equipment through the UK in a matter of days. This would need, under the Wartime Host Nation Support Plan massive assistance from UK civil and military authorities. At the same time, some 125000 British troops would move to the Continent with 21000 vehicles, and 125000 service families would be brought home. These moves would inevitably conflict with civilian "transition to war" measures such as the moving bulk food stocks from ports and preparing the National Health Service for casualties. Of more direct relevance to civil defence planning was the new need to plan for the effects of conventional air attacks, possibly over a long period. Information was given to planners in 1984[4], which warned of small, but widespread air attacks against such targets as sea and airports, rail yards and fuel storage sites. Civilian casualties would be low compared to the last war but “…shipping losses, the disruption of ports and communications, shortages of fuel, the diversion of transport assets to meet military needs and the continued effects of the reinforcement of Europe…could lead to the possibility of a breakdown of essential services and a general atmosphere of strain and disruption.”. The main civil defence tasks for the local authorities during a conventional war would “…probably be to maintain the distribution of food, fuel and other essential supplies to the civilian population, to assist with fire fighting, rescue and other emergency tasks in the damaged areas, to provide food and shelter to those made homeless and to provide information to the public and government on casualties”. In addition, they would need to prepare for a nuclear attack.

No predictions were given about the scale of a nuclear attack, which might be anything from a single “demonstration” weapon to a full-scale attack aimed at completely destroying the civil and military functioning of the country. Ground bursts of 150-500 kilotons might be used against military targets whilst airbursts of up to 5 megatons might be used against cities. Attacks against civilians with chemical weapons were not considered likely and in practice nothing was ever done to prepare for such an attack after the mid-1950s. In reality, the Soviet Union had a massive chemical and biological warfare capability and was expected to use it.

The new impetus in home defence waned with the return of a Labour government but in a repeat of 1971 when a new Conservative government was elected in 1979 it soon set up a review of “civil preparedness for home defence”. Some of the results were announced in 1981 but despite the government saying that local civil defence measures should be made public this was not to apply to national plans and most conclusions of the review remained secret. Significantly, the warning period was now to be measured in days rather than weeks and accordingly the government considered it prudent to expand the civil defence programme. Emergency Planning Officers were now told that there might be as little as 7 days warning of attack, and “essential plans”, a phrase which was not defined, should be capable of implementation within 48 hours. This meant that the warning period was reduced to the same as it had been in the aftermath of the Cuban Missile Crisis and, as the Principal of the Home Defence College told delegates to Easingwold, that the country was on a permanent two day notice of a world war. Specific measures announced soon after the review were a modernisation of the UK Warning and Monitoring Organisation which organised the Royal Observer Corps, and improvements to the Wartime Broadcasting System, the Green Goddess emergency fire engines and the “sub-regional headquarters for decentralised government”. More money was to be made available to county councils to double the number of emergency planning officers. In an unannounced recognition that civil defence would need some foot soldiers more emphasis was to be put on local involvement in civil defence and Air Marshall Sir Leslie Mavor, the Principal of the Home Defence College was given the additional role of co-ordinator of voluntary effort in England and Wales. Another unannounced change was the re-instatement of the phrase “civil defence” after a decade of “home defence”.


Protect and Survive

Part of the new policy was to be an end to secrecy in civil defence, or at least secrecy at the level of local authority plans. In early 1980 as part of a low-key campaign to publicise civil defence the booklet “Protect and Survive” was put on sale for 50p. Local authorities were sent two copies free but told that if they wanted any more they had to buy them. This booklet and some 20 TV videotapes together with radio tapes and newspaper inserts covering such subjects as preparation of a fall-out room and fire precautions had existed secretly for some 5 years. The main aim of this material would be “…to convince people that although a nuclear attack would have devastating effects, everyone could significantly increase their chances of survival by improving the protection afforded by their own homes and by taking simple precautions.”

The emerging peace movements spearheaded by the revitalized Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament ridiculed the Protect and Survive booklet. The booklet said that it “tells you how to make your house and family as safe as possible under a nuclear attack”. In practice, after saying that “everything within a certain distance of a nuclear explosion will be destroyed” it concentrated entirely on how to improve the fall-out protection a home could provide by preparing an inner refuge within a fall-out room. The family would have to stay in this inner refuge for at least 48 hours. The refuge should be surrounded by dense materials such as “bags or boxes of earth or sand, or books, or even clothing.” The booklet’s attackers lampooned this idea suggesting that the government’s only answer to a nuclear attack was to take cover under a pile of books. In reality, the booklet was a sensible approach to a difficult practical and presentational problem and in fact a 14-inch thickness of books would give the same degree of protection against fall-out as 4 inches of concrete.

Protect and Survive replaced “Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack” which had been published in 1963. This short booklet had given very similar advice but was much less realistic suggesting for example that the window frame in the chosen fall-out room should be removed and replaced by a double thickness of bricks. It also showed extensive use being made of sandbags but Protect and Survive used more immediately available things like bags, boxes and drawers. A smaller pamphlet had been published earlier in 1957. Called simply “The Hydrogen Bomb” it gave as much emphasis to protection against blast, which was not covered by the later two booklets, as fall-out. Whilst mentioning a “refuge room”, “The Hydrogen Bomb” recommended using a slit trench. “Advising the Householder” also suggested a trench could be used but then showed a well built and equipped “trench” 6 feet deep and wide without any suggestion about the amount of labour needed to shift such a huge amount of earth or the subsequent problems of living in it.


Text Box: “Your survival kit” 
What Protect and Survive tells you to put in your survival room 
Drinking water. Enough for at least 2 pints a day each for 14 days
Food for 14 days which can be eaten cold.
Portable radio and spare batteries
Tin opener, bottle opener, cutlery and crockery.
Warm clothing
Bedding, sleeping bags.
Portable stove and fuel, saucepans.
Torches with spare bulbs and batteries, candles, matches.
Table and chairs.
Toilet articles, soap, toilet roll, bucket and plastic bags.
Changes of clothing.
First aid lit.
Box of dry sand, cloths or tissues for wiping plates and utensils.
Notebook and pencils for messages.
Brushes, shovels and cleaning materials, rubber or plastic gloves, dustpan and brush.
Toys and magazines.
Clock (mechanical) and calendar. 














The government did little to defend or explain Protect and Survive or its policies and met a significant defeat in the propaganda war waged by the “peace” groups. It was about to suffer another.


Exercise Hard Rock        

During the 1970s, the military conducted a series of home defence exercises[5]. The main ones were Scrum Half held in 1978, which considered the post-strike situation at sub-regional level and Square Leg in 1980 that concentrated on transition to war and the post recovery phase. They had small civil elements mainly to raise problems at the local level for the army to respond to. Also, Royal Observer Corps exercises sometimes used civilian facilities such as the SRHQs to pass fallout information. None of these exercises really tested the civil defence systems but in May 1981 the Home Office wrote to County Councils inviting them to take part in a major home defence exercise called Hard Rock. According to the exercise specification prepared by the Joint Exercise Planning Staff of the UK Commanders in Chief Committee and the Home Office Hard Rock was to be a national civil and military home defence command post exercise with conventional warfare and post-strike phases. The aim would be to practice and test civil and military plans and procedures for home defence in the UK in conventional and nuclear war. It would consist of 2 phases –

Phase 1

This would start with a short lead-in period to allow for the setting up of headquarters and then a response to conventional warfare within the civil community. It would allow the testing and evaluation of local authority and military plans, consideration of self-evacuation by the general public and prioritising the allocation and deployment of resources[6]. This phase would involve 54 hours of real time play.


The invitation to take part in Exercise Hard Rock



Phase 2

This would follow a nuclear attack with survival and recovery periods to exercise all levels of regional government, UKWMO, the military in support of civil authorities, resource allocation and voluntary effort at local level. The survival period immediately after the strike would look at the first 24 hours and be played real time. This would be followed by play for 30 hours on a recovery period starting 28 days after the strike.

Detailed background and lead-in scenarios were prepared. Play for the conventional attack period would start on 30 September 1982, which was assumed to be 3 days after fighting had actually started. The nuclear attack started at midnight on 2 October. The original scenario envisaged 104 nuclear bursts but this was whittled down to 54. These were predicted to have caused 1.5 million deaths immediately or within a month and a further 400000 would die within the next 4 months. These very low figures have lead some people to describe the “bomb plot” and the level of casualties as totally unrealistic and produced more for political than practical purposes. Some of the bombs were certainly predicted to fall on very odd places such as Mersea on the Essex coast and Bideford in Devon.

However, Hard Rock became a public relations disaster for the government. CND attacked it with a publicity campaign called Operation Hard Luck. But more direct impact came from the growing Nuclear Free Zone movement among local authorities. This had started in November 1980 when Manchester City Council passed a resolution calling on the Government to refrain from manufacturing or positioning nuclear weapons within the boundary of the city. By October 1981 119 local authorities had declared themselves nuclear free zones and a National Steering Committee had been set up in time to respond to the planning for Hard Rock.

The 1974 Civil Defence Regulations required local authorities to make plans for civil defence but there was no requirement to take part in exercises like Hard Rock. As well as ideological objections, many had no realistic plans in place and the government made no extra funds available for them to take part. In the end, 20 out of 54 county level authorities declined to take part in Hard Rock and a further 7 would only play on a limited basis. This effectively killed the exercise and in July 1982 the Home Secretary announced that Hard Rock would be postponed. In practice, the central government was as ill prepared to take part in the exercise as most local authorities. It was envisaged that all 17 SRHQs would take part and be at least partially manned, although in reality, many were not operational and temporary accommodation would have been used for some. A few senior SRHQ staff had been appointed and took part in Scrum Half and Square Leg but no other staff were appointed or trained and no operating procedures existed. In fact the peace movements may have saved the government from having to admit that its own planning was in the same lamentable state as that of most local authorities. However, it did not have to and the Home Secretary laid the blame firmly on the local authorities. He announced to Parliament “I am not satisfied with the state of local planning for Exercise Hard Rock and have decided that it should be postponed. I am considering urgently with my Right Honourable friend the Secretary of State for Scotland the need to amend the planning regulations made under the Civil Defence Act 1948”.

Matters then moved surprisingly quickly. New regulations were drafted and consultations started with the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Association of County Councils in December. They were then laid before Parliament in April 1983 and came into force 6 months later. According to the Home Secretary the new Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations 1983 put “...stronger and more precise obligations on all authorities.”. The impact of these new Regulations is discussed in File 12 on the role of local authorities.


Emergency Planning Guidelines

In July 1984, the draft of what was initially called the “Consolidated Circular” was sent to the local authority associations for their consideration. It was eventually published in June 1985 as the “Emergency Planning Guidelines for Local Authorities” although it was usually called the EPGLA. In the spirit of making civil defence an open subject the councils were recommended to make copies available to the public through their libraries, and the public could buy a copy for £4.00. EPGLA was also called Emergency Planning Guidance Handbook No3 and at the same time EPG Handbook No2 on communal shelters was issued. Handbook No1 on “The Protective Qualities of Buildings”, dealing largely with the protection factors provided by buildings against radiation had been issued in 1981.

EPGLA was intended to be a guide for local authority plan writers and the bulk of it was taken up with the background to the government’s assumptions which had been previously issued as Circulars and the outline plans of various government departments and agencies covering, for example, inland transport, construction work and emergency feeding. There were 4 short sections on peacetime emergencies but the bulk of the book dealt with planning for wartime.

EPGLA however gave very little practical assistance to local authorities in drawing up the plans required by the 1983 Regulation that they had been asked to complete by the end of 1985. In practice, many county councils were slow in compiling the plans or they were incomplete. As a result, the government introduced a monitoring system called the Planned Programme of Implementation that is discussed in File 12.


Civil Protection

Whilst the emphasis as far as the councils were concerned was on preparing civil defence plans by the mid-1980s planning for peacetime emergencies was receiving increasing attention. In its 1983 election manifesto, the Conservative Party announced that they would introduce legislation to enable civil defence resources to be used in peacetime emergencies. This became the “all hazards” approach to emergencies and resulted, with the assistance of the Chernobyl accident, in the passing of the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act in 1986. The EPGLA revision which followed said that there were common features in plans for wartime and peacetime emergencies and the Act allowed a local authority to use its civil defence resources including the emergency planning staff, emergency centres and communications equipment for peacetime emergencies. In the days of the Civil Defence Corps such resources were quite often used as for example at the Aberfan disaster in 1966 but this was not strictly speaking allowed for in the provision of the Civil Defence Grant that the local authorities received. However, there were still restrictions on the use of these resources, which were largely funded by central government. The primary task of the emergency planning teams would continue to be the preparation of civil defence plans and the civil defence grant could not be used for any activity directed towards purely peacetime emergencies.

The Civil Protection in Peacetime Act was followed in December 1986 by a professionally produced public relations package called “Civil Protection” consisting of a video called “When Disaster Strikes: Civil Protection in Action”, an accompanying leaflet, a booklet “Civil Protection” and the first edition of a quarterly glossy magazine called “Civil Protection”. One apparent aim was publicly to move civil defence into the less controversial area of civil protection and the all hazards approach. The peace groups attacked the package as government propaganda but the vast majority of the public did not notice it. Research by the peace groups showed that around 90% of the public knew absolutely nothing about civil defence, took no interest in protesting about it and generally did not care.

The first amendment to EPGLA was made in 1988. It included minor changes to take account of the Civil Protection in Peacetime Act. More importantly, after a long battle with the local authority associations and the NFZ movement it gave guidance to local authority planners as to what to include in the plans and how to compile them. It also allowed “planning assumption studies” to be made as part of the plan writing process.

One of the stronger arguments advanced by the NFZ movement was that EPLGA did not give sufficient background detail on which to base plans. Their response was to commission a series of “planning assumption studies” for regions or counties covering the background to civil defence as they saw it, public opinion, possible targets, etc. The biggest study was made by the Greater London Council and was published in book form as “The Greater London Area War Risk Study”. This Study considered the effects of various types and scales of attack on London and conducted extensive opinion surveys. These suggested for example that 70% of Londoners would try to leave the city if there was a threat of nuclear war and 63% would stay away from work. Such figures would make the government’s “stay put” and “business as usual” policies in the crisis period meaningless and would mean the London would be effectively paralysed if the public thought there was a danger of war. The Study also raised the question of the psychological impact of a major nuclear attack. This was sometimes considered by the Home Office but did not appear in any plans. It was assumed, as the Study said, that the survivors would simply dust themselves off and carry on without being affected by psychological problems. Overall, the Study concluded that civil defence measures could be useful against a limited attack but would be of no assistance to London if it were subjected to a direct nuclear attack of any size.



When the Home Secretary announced the end of Exercise Hard Rock in 1983 he said it was only to be postponed. However, such a national exercise was never to be repeated and there was never a serious attempt to exercise the regional level parts of the Regional Government system. Instead, a series of “table top” exercises were held which although called regional were in practice limited to county level involving the individual counties in a region with some of their subordinate district councils together with local utility companies, government departments and uniformed services. In November 1983 Exercise West Wind was held to test transition to war planning in Region 7 (South West). But the first of the larger exercises called Exercise Vireg[7] was not held until 3 years later in Region 6 (South East). Its main aims were to evaluate the counties’ transition to war plans (i.e. the 1983 Regulation plans) and to examine the relationships between the districts, counties and the Regional Emergency Committee (see File 9). It did not deal with the post-nuclear strike situation. The exercise was held in November 1986 after nearly 18 months of planning which clearly shows the amount of effort put in, mainly by the county Emergency Planning Officers in the region to prepare for such an exercise. Detailed plans were produced showing the situation at “startex” and the players were lead into their roles with a series of briefings and then in the week prior to the 3 days of actual real time exercise play they were given simulated “newspaper” reports giving the background to the developing crisis. (See overleaf for a sample of theses reports issued as part of the later Exercise Ninex). All 9 counties in the region played to some extent, as did many of the districts although the levels of involvement were very variable. The exercise was essentially a “desk top” one with the “directing staff” feeding in various incidents which the local authority and other players had to react to by making decisions, preparing situation reports, etc. The exercise was judged to be a success and a lot of lessons were learnt although its main finding was probably to bring home to the Home Office as well as the players in the counties the huge range of problems that would be met in a transition to war period and the inadequacy of the plans that then existed 

Vireg was followed in 1988 by Heptad in 7 Region and Ninex in 9 Region. Triex and Ivy were held the following year in 3 and 4 Regions respectively but by 1990 the international situation was changing rapidly. All the exercises held up to this time had used the same basic Warsaw Pact v NATO nuclear war scenario, and it might be added all ran into the same basic problems showing that whilst lessons were being learnt they were not being passed on. This scenario was now obsolete. Exercise Norex in 1990 was held against an unrealistic scenario and the planned Exercise Nexus never came to terms with the requirement implement war plans in a world where the Cold War had ended.

The local authorities were however not the only bodies preparing for war in the 1980s. Behind the scenes, quite a lot of other plans were being made. Working parties were set up to consider volunteers and their training, civil defence communications and the role of industry in civil defence. The Ministry of Agriculture devised a rationing system and published a booklet on “Civil Defence and the Farmer”. Other departments reviewed their war plans. For example, the department of Transport now planned to establish a Surface Transport and Shipping Co-ordinating Centre in the transition period. The Department of Health revised its procedures and investigated stockpiling medical supplies. The water industry in particular received attention. It was told to draw up war plans and several water companies built small control bunkers. The army also appears to have revised its plans to establish Armed Forces Headquarters in the mid-1980s and built or refurbished several bunkers for example at the barracks in York. At the same time, the armed forces updated much of their national home defence communications infrastructure. In the very late 1980s the BBC also started to build protected control centres at several of their transmitter sites although none were completed before the end of the Cold War.

In 1980 a Home Office working party reported that it would cost £70 billion to provide shelter spaces for the whole population. Needless to say this was out of the question and apart from issuing some guidance on domestic shelters little was done. In 1986, the Home Office set up a pilot study in which 9 local authorities were sponsored to carry out local shelter surveys. This was done in two parts – a residential survey looking at the protection factors afforded by dwellings and a communal shelter survey to identify buildings that could be used as communal shelters such as large basements and underground car parks. This related solely to the protection they had against fallout and not blast. One main aim appears to have been to see how cheaply the surveys could be done. In practice, they were done simply by looking at the outside of buildings, sometimes of whole streets and then slotting the buildings into standard types for which the protection factors had been calculated. In 1988, the Home Office issued some further guidance and instructed local authorities to submit shelter plans by 1989. The surveys generally found that some 60% of dwellings had a protective factor of 20 or less although this ignored the effects of any “protect and survive” measures. The communal shelters would have provided some protection for people whose homes offered very low protection.

While people were not given any special protection this did not apply to the nation’s art treasures. At the start of the last war many of these had been dispersed to safe places in the country. Many large country houses were used but the most important works were lodged in specially converted mines at Westwood, near Corsham and Manod in north Wales. These two sites were retained after the war although little active planning was done until Operation Methodical was drawn up in the early 1960s and included in the Treasury War Book. This plan required 12 pantechnicons to be filled with works of art from the major London museums and galleries and then driven under military escort to the refuges. At the same time the Domesday Book would be taken from the Public Record Office in a suitcase. However, as with so many plans whilst parts of it were considered in detail such as the actual routes to be taken it was completely impractical. It was decided, for reasons of morale that the art should stay on view until the start of the Precautionary Period. This would then give the galleries 2 – 3 days to chose and pack the works to be saved, arrange transport (including guards to be provided by the army), load the lorries and drive them to  Westwood or Manod. The plan then stopped at the entrances. There was no mention of any consideration about what would happen when the lorries arrived, how the art would be stored or who would look after it. The two mines were in any case poorly maintained and unsuitable for the task. Nevertheless, the plan was retained until at least the early 1970s and the mines were not abandoned until the early 1980s. In 1985, replying to a Parliamentary Question the Home Secretary said “arrangements exist for safeguarding the most important of the nation’s art treasures against the risk of damage or destruction in the event of war” adding that the directors of national collections had been asked to arrange for the earmarking of items to be moved in an emergency and to arrange for transport and accommodation. This was an oblique reference to the revised plan to move art treasures from the main London galleries to the tunnels at Rhydymwyn in north Wales which had nominally been the reserve Central Government War HQ in the late 1950s. The curators of provincial galleries were expected to make their own arrangements.

 The role of the now renamed Civil Defence College at Easingwold was also reviewed. In the mid-1980s the College had a tutorial staff of about 19 and was running a variety of courses usually lasting 2 or 3 days to introduce some 3000 people a year to the background of civil defence and to give them some exposure to their wartime roles. Most of the tutorial staff had a military background, as, at this time, did most of the county council emergency planers. Following the review, the College was given a greater analytical and development role in civil defence planning. It would now concentrate its training effort more at the higher levels and would also start courses on purely civil emergencies. As a result in 1989 it was renamed the Emergency Planning College. A review of civil emergencies was made in 1989 that resulted in the appointment of a Civil Emergencies Advisor to replace the post of Civil Defence Adviser.

In 1987, changes were made to the way local authority civil defence activities were funded through the annual civil defence grant. Now, central government, through the Home Office, would now pay the whole cost of emergency planning staff. Up to this point central government assisted local government by paying 75% of the costs of emergency planners and approved costs of setting up, but not maintaining emergency centres. Figures for the total expenditure on civil defence are not readily available as they are spread across numerous government departments and dozens of local authorities but overall annual expenditure amounted to a only a few pounds for each member of the public. Salaries took up most of the costs. The biggest spending department was the Home Office whose civil defence budget in 1987/88 was some £69.2 million. At the time it had 166 full time staff engaged on civil defence most of whom would have been at Easingwold. In contrast, the Cabinet Office’s budget was only £350000. The local authorities in England and Wales were employing 659 Emergency Planners in 1987/88 who were spending some 51% of their time drawing up plans under the 1983 Regulations.


The beginning of the end again

By now, momentous events were happening on the world stage. In 1989 the Soviet Union began withdrawing its troops from Eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was effectively over. The Government soon started to receive representations to repeal the civil defence legislation and in October 1990 the Home Secretary initiated a “review of future options for civil defence arrangements in the light of developments in East–West relations”. It was then quickly announced that the Planned Programme of Implementation would continue but all civil defence building and other capital work would cease.

The results of the review were announced in July the following year as a Statement on Civil Protection. The basic planning assumption was now that there would be at least 3 months rather than just 7 days in which to bring civil defence plans to readiness. The Government would pass most of its responsibilities for civil protection onto local authorities and abandon or downgrade its own arrangements. UKWMO was stood down and arrangements for wartime regional government abandoned. From now on central government would only fund one emergency centre for each county and none for the districts. One conclusion was that “a new, more flexible approach to civil defence planning should be developed” but “...the overall aim is to maintain a civil defence preparedness based on an extension of the arrangements for civil emergencies” within an “integrated approach to emergency management”.

Local government pressed for more guidance and in November 1992 further changes were announced which amounted to the complete abandonment of civil defence. New regulations were promised and there would no longer be any funding for emergency centres. What remained of the national systems – the RGHQs, which were referred to as “special protected administration centres”, Royal Observer Corps sites and air raid sirens would be sold or removed. In future, TV and radio would give any air raid warnings. In 1993, new Civil Defence (General Local Authority Functions) Regulations were introduced to replace the 1983 Regulations. From now on counties only had to “make, keep under review and revise” plans for what were referred to simply as “civil defence purposes”. There was no longer a requirement to maintain a “protected emergency centre” and central government would no longer fund the training of local Scientific Advisers.

Further information about the thinking behind the integrated approach to emergency planning was given later in 1993. Whilst the threat from the Warsaw Pact had gone other unspecified states with “objectives inimical to the interests of the UK...” could still offer a threat “...consequently, there is a need to maintain a basic framework of civil defence arrangements in peacetime both as an insurance policy and as a contribution towards deterrence...". Therefore, "core plans for civil defence…should be linked to peacetime plans” as “effective civil defence is best secured by building on arrangements which are tried and tested in times of peace...”. The Planned Programme of Implementation would be scrapped but as the civil defence grant would still be available to fund emergency planning teams the Home Office would continue to monitor plans but by questionnaire and “review visits”. Although it was never officially announced, civil defence was now dead. Local authorities developed plans for civil emergencies such as floods and industrial accidents without reference to civil defence. All pretence at central government planning for civil defence was also abandoned. The Civil Defence Act 1948 however remained on the statute books until 2004 when it was replaced by the Civil Contingencies Act.



[1] ES3/1973

[2] ES4/1974, ES4/1975, ES2/1975.

[3] ES6/1977

[4] ES1/1984

[5] There was also a series of exercises called Torchlight examining military “aid to the civil power” during peacetime crises.

[6] A list of military targets to be attacked in this phase is given at Appendix 3. These attacks would require responses from local authorities and would put additional strains on them.

[7] Vireg is made up from the Roman numeral for 6 + Region.

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