Cold War-era kits on surviving nuclear fallout unearthed by historian

Cold War-era kits on surviving nuclear fallout unearthed by historian

Cold War-era kits on surviving nuclear fallout unearthed by historian

Updated 11 June 2017, 6:10 AEST

In the early 1960s, the threat of a nuclear attack was so real that boxes of medical supplies were distributed across America, intended to aid survivors of a blast.

In the early 1960s Washington was a city on edge and the threat of a nuclear attack was not far from the minds of the powerful.

It was a threat considered so real that boxes of medical supplies were distributed across America — intended to aid survivors of an attack for the days and weeks after the blast.

But the blast never came and for decades the supplies that officials hoped would save their compatriots gathered dust, forgotten in an attic in the nation's capital.

Until they caught the eye of Senate photo historian Heather Moore.

Ms Moore was with a colleague cleaning out their storage space when dozens of boxes stacked in a neighbouring locker were about to be thrown out.

"These were just stacked in the attic in this locker, and we didn't know really what was going on," Ms Moore said.

"The door was open and things had been rifled through.

"We came back the next morning and literally the crew was there to throw out these boxes. Historical finds are often discovered because people forgot about them."

Supplies for up to 325 people in each box

The boxes, produced by long-closed Office of Civil Defence, dated back to the early 1960s.

They contained medical supplies and instruction manuals to help survivors fend for themselves.

"They would have certainly been intended to support a shelter for a couple of days, to perhaps up to a couple of weeks," Ms Moore said.

"And depending on the shelter, there would certainly be food and water and sanitation facilities."

Each box provides supplies for up to 325 people and is filled with scores of smaller, individually packaged medical aids.

'There was a real sense of fear'

The looming threat of nuclear war prompted government agencies to build fallout shelters right across the city, many of which still exist today.

On my route to the office in Washington DC I pass four of them, each one signposted with fading yellow sheet metal featuring the universally recognised triangles of a nuclear threat.

"If you asked people that were alive then and knew what was going on, I think that they would say there was that sense of fear," Ms Moore said.

"Kids even in elementary school would go into the hallway, cover their heads, get under their desk, thinking that would provide protection in the case of a nuclear attack"

Today, the threat of an attack has resurfaced amid escalating tensions between Washington and Pyongyang over North Korea's missile capabilities.

It has prompted lawmakers in Hawaii to express concerns that the state's shelter facilities and emergency planning need to be updated.