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How the Office of Civilian Defense Worked

The End of the Office of Civilian Defense
A 1943 poster advertised the Civil Air Patrol.
A 1943 poster advertised the Civil Air Patrol.

The OCD was formed with the aim of protecting American citizens during a turbulent and dangerous time in world history. Yet within a few years of the agency's establishment, it became very clear to government leaders that there would be no need for blackout drills or emergency medical services to treat bombing victims. World War II would not be coming to America's continental shores.

Even before that realization set in, the OCD became the subject of great criticism and controversy. Members of Congress and the media charged that the organization was poorly run --indecisive and disorganized. They criticized that the agency was spending millions of dollars with the main objective of getting President Roosevelt reelected for a fourth term. Many of the OCD's programs were deemed to be entirely frivolous -- for example, when Eleanor Roosevelt hired her friend Mayris Chaney to boost children's morale by teaching them dancing at a salary of $4,600 a year (the equivalent of about $62,000 today) [source: Time].

It's difficult to confirm or deny whether the OCD was an effective organization, because it was never able to act upon any of its plans. With the exception of Pearl Harbor, any incidents that did occur on American soil during World War II were minor, and quickly contained. However, the organization did establish important civil defense measures, including sandbag stockpiling, which later proved useful for natural disasters.

By June 30, 1944, the nine regional offices of the OCD had closed. President Harry Truman signed an executive order to terminate the organization on June 4, 1945, and the OCD officially shut down on June 30, 1945.

All of the OCD's programs came to an end, with the exception of the Civil Air Patrol, which had been transferred to the War Department a few years before. However, civil defense was not entirely finished. In 1950, President Truman established the Federal Civil Defense Administration (FCDA) to oversee states' civil defense efforts, such as building shelters to protect against the growing nuclear threat. Under President Richard Nixon's administration, the government established the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency (DCPA) to replace the OCD, but the focus shifted from armed conflict to natural disaster preparedness.

The volunteer army that President Roosevelt launched no longer exists, but remnants of its spirit of cooperation could be seen after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The Department of Homeland Security now leads the charge against attacks on American soil, but local communities continue to play an important role in emergency preparedness efforts.