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How the Office of Civilian Defense Worked

Organization and Leadership of the OCD

The OCD was divided into nine regional offices, each with a salaried regional director at the helm. Under each regional director, were unpaid volunteer state directors, county and city directors and finally block leaders.

The OCD had four operating divisions:

  • The Federal-State Cooperation division provided a link between the federal government and local governments to help communities respond to the country's war needs and help the federal government more quickly address individual community needs that might result from a war. It included committees on health, housing, volunteers, recreation, welfare and child care.
  • The Protection Services division helped train and organize volunteers in efforts to protect civilians by organizing evacuations, blackouts and auxiliary police and fire services, as well as outfitting protective buildings and managing the demolition of structures damaged by bombings.
  • The Protective Property division loaned protective property and equipment purchased by the OCD to local communities. It was responsible for shipping equipment and sending instructions for its care and maintenance.
  • The Industrial Protection division helped protect industrial plants against dangers such as fire and enemy sabotage.

Fiorello LaGuardia was the first person to head up the OCD. Yet after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, there was a new urgency to the OCD's efforts. President Roosevelt was concerned about LaGuardia's ability to manage the agency under the new threat. In 1942, LaGuardia resigned and Harvard Law School professor James Landis took over.

Landis reorganized the agency, recruited new personnel and moved what he saw as superfluous departments to other governmental agencies (for example, he moved the OCD's physical fitness program to the Office of Defense Health and Welfare Services). When there still had been no air raids or threats apparent by 1943, Landis resigned and recommended that the OCD be abolished. Roosevelt didn't listen. He felt there was still a need to keep the agency afloat.

Deputy director John Martin became acting director for six months. When he resigned in 1944, Martin was replaced by Lt. Gen. William N. Haskell, who led the organization until its demise in 1945.