It was a tense time for Americans in the fall of 1962 as the nation faced the Cuban Missile Crisis. President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on Oct. 22, saying the U.S. would use force if necessary to prevent Soviet arms from being sent to Cuba. While that set the public on edge, prompting questions of national security and civil defense, The Associated Press reported in The N&O that North Carolina joined the country in backing its president.
Gov. Terry Sanford wired President Kennedy Tuesday that he has the backing of all North Carolinians.
He said, “Tar Heels who traditionally have been in the front-lines for freedom in every defense of democracy since the American Revolution are rallying this morning behind the Commander-in-Chief of the United States armed forces.” The N&O Oct. 24, 1962
The crisis passed, but questions about the country’s future and preparedness lingered in the public’s mind for years to come. In 1966, N&O readers learned that in the event of a nuclear attack, the state could provide public shelters for only 31.5 percent of the State’s 4,556,000 residents, according to a State Civil Defense official.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The News & Observer
James Denning, operations officer, said most of the fallout shelters are in cities and would offer “acceptable protection” against radiation from a nuclear explosion.
“We’re not as well off as some northern states in the number of public shelters available because they have bigger and more buildings in metropolitan areas,” he said. “But we’re on par with Southern states.”
The big problem in event of a sudden attack, Denning noted, would be the movement of residents to areas containing public shelters.
“That problem is prevalent in all states,” he said. “All we could do would be to try to save as many lives as possible.”
Denning added, “Civil Defense is actually a game you play before the whistle starts. It’s like a coach preparing his attack for a game. Anything can happen after the whistle blows, but you hope for the best. Let’s put it this way – Civil Defense is like insurance. It’s good to have, but you hope you never have to use it.”
Denning released figures showing there are 1,752 public shelters throughout the State. Of these 1,111 are stocked with water and other provisions for use in an emergency.
“A goodly number” of homes in North Carolina have fallout shelters, Denning said, “but we have no way of knowing the exact number.”
He added, “We have encouraged families to build fallout shelters. We also have encouraged people who are designing and erecting buildings to provide shelter space in basements for use in an emergency. Many new buildings in the State have underground parking facilities that could be used for shelter space.”
Denning said Durham is the only county in the State with a surplus of shelter space for its total population.
“The reason,” he explained, is that a great many Durham County shelters are in Duke University buildings and tobacco plants in Durham. The type of construction in these buildings offers adequate protection.
The old concept of mass evacuation from cities in event of an attack is obsolete, Denning pointed out.
“Today the thinking is to get the people into shelters regardless of where they are,” he said. “Our surveillance or warning system is good enough that it would detect an approaching attack in time to enable us to begin moving citizens to safety. If an attack should come, my feeling is it probably would be in the form of an intercontinental missile and not a manned aircraft.” The N&O Feb. 10, 1966
Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/pasttimes.