The Cold War. A time of uncertainty and, in some cases, borderline hysterical terror in the United States. I love fallout shelters, and find it fascinating that many private citizens have built them in their backyards. Even more interesting is the amount of resources the U.S. Government put into the creation and stocking of fallout shelters meant to protect a select group of citizens from nuclear fallout in the event of an atomic bomb attack by the Soviet Union.
I happened to mention phenobarbital (a barbituate used in some cases to treat seizures in dogs) while talking with my dad one day and he asked me, “Do you have any idea why they would stock pile that in fallout shelters?” I wondered how he knew it was kept in the shelters and he said that my grandfather had once been in the basement of a government building in the 1970s when they had abandoned the shelters and had supplies from them littering a hallway. He saw a box labeled, “Medical Kit” and picked it up casually and walked out with it. Inside he found various first aid supplies, along with a large bottle containing 500 tablets of phenobarbital. There are of course various implications, mostly worrying, for why a first aid type kit would have an enormous supply of barbituates. I did a little reserach into it and found this website:
This is a fascinating look at the fallout shelter plan – including the estimated “2 week stay” that would be required inside the shelter (are we sure it would be safe to go outside only 2 weeks after a nuclear blast? :P) The amount of food provided was only sufficient for 2 weeks, however. Sure enough, under the meidcal kits supplies there were listed in kit A, 1 bottle of 500 pheno tablets and in kit C, 3 bottles with 1000 tablets each! Kit C was for about 300 people, kit A for 50-65 people.
As far I could deduce, the phenobarbital was kept in order to calm down the people who were experiencing hysteria, or “freaking out”. Or, possibly as a last-ditch suicide effort in the event that leaving the shelter was impossible and starvation imminent.
It is both tragic and intensely interesting to study this period in history, and also to relate it to the modern civil defense (*ahem*, “Homeland Security”) tactics, like the TSA. If only Trey Parker and Matt Stone had been around in 1950…