CIVIL DEFENSE: THE REAGAN ADMINISTRATION: United States. 1981-1988.  In early 1981 the incoming Administration agreed to accept the Fiscal Year (FY) 1982 budget proposal (based on a real growth of approximately 4%), combined with a National Security Council study to develop a National Security Decision Directive that would articulate Administration policy supporting an enhanced civil defense program.  As a baseline Congress was informed that the Reagan Administration endorsed PD-41.


The National Security Council started its work in June 1981, and the resulting National Security Decision Directive No. 26 (NSDD 26) was approved in March 1982.  This document largely ratified Reagan administration support for PD-41 and Title V.  However, it added two key components to PD-41.  First, it proposed a seven year, $4.2 billion effort to develop plans and deploy a population protection program by the end of FY 89, the first time an administration had set an end date for achievement of an acceptable level of population protection.  Second, it identified the need to develop programs to protect key industries and industrial workers through provision of blast shelters.  This was the first statement of an emerging doctrine that envisioned state survival at a level not previously addressed.


Industrial protection efforts extended to the development and testing of blast shelters and various protective methods for industrial facilities.  However, population and industrial protection were not the only initiatives - requirements were also identified to protect the structure of government.  The Director of the federal Emergency Management Agency, Louis Giuffrida, noted in 1981that previous continuity of government efforts had been restricted to protection of the President and directed that the program be broadened to include protection of the rest of the Federal, state, and local governmental structure.  This included a survey of the capabilities of state and local emergency operations centers presented to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees in 1986 that concluded there were significant deficiencies in the survivability of these facilities.  The end result was a proposal to spend approximately $1.5 billion between 1988 and 1992 to provide 600 fallout protected, and in some cases blast protected, emergency operations centers.  Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency saw upgraded emergency operations centers as vital to the survival of government in a post-attack environment, there was considerable criticism that this was an attempt to create inequitable special protection for government leaders.


In 1981 Congress further formalized the dual-use concept as the basis for future civil defense by enacting amendments to the Civil Defense Act, broadening the definition of civil defense to include peacetime disaster response.  For the first time this legislation explicitly provided for the use of funds to develop peacetime capabilities that were consistent with and did not detract from wartime needs. 


The Administration requested $252 million dollars for civil defense in the FY 1983 budget.  As the first year of the seven-year long enhanced program envisioned by NSDD 26, this request immediately provoked strong opposition on the grounds that it would provoke Soviet fears and that it would make nuclear war more acceptable to the American public.  The House Armed Services Committee authorized the complete request, the Senate Armed Services Committee authorized $144 million based on an assessment that crisis relation was a flawed strategy - and the final appropriation was passed at $147.8 million.  This provided for real growth of approximately 6% after adjustment for inflation.


Experience in the FY 1983 budget process identified the need for a better articulation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s overall strategy – the result was the development of the Integrated Emergency Management System (commonly known by its acronym of IEMS).  IEMS was the first statement of a true all-hazards approach including the complete spectrum of natural and man-made disasters and national security threats, as well as the identification of functions, such as communications, warning, direction and control, feeding, sheltering, and others, that were critical to any response to any disaster.  This resulted in substantive changes to existing civil defense programs and the first movement toward an emergency management focus.  Federally funded state level planners refocused their evacuation planning work to include those hazards most likely to impact given localities.  Shelter surveying expanded to include shelters appropriate to protect populations during and after hurricanes and tornadoes.  Radiological defense expanded to include nuclear power plant and transportation accidents. 


However, the new strategy did not convince Congressional skeptics who saw IEMS as the same old program under a different name.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency FY 1984 budget request was for $253 million to fund the first year of a now shortened six year program to meet the deadline of FY 1989 imposed by NSDD 26.  This request promptly ran into old thinking in the Congress - the House Appropriations Committee criticized it for reliance on crisis relocation plans, and the Senate Armed Services Committee reiterated that funds should not be used for purposes incompatible with civil defense against nuclear attack.  House-Senate conferees eventually agreed to a $169 million appropriation, a 9% real growth after inflation. 


In the second term of the Reagan administration Julius Becton was appointed Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, serving from November 1985 to June 1989.  


Blanchard, B. Wayne, American Civil Defense 1945-1984: The Evolution of Programs and Policies, Washington, DC, U. S. Government Printing Office, 1986.  Dowling, John, “FEMA: Programs, problems, and accomplishments,” in John Dowling and Evans M. Harrell, editors, Civil Defense: A Choice of Disasters, New York, NY, American Institute of Physics, 1987, pp. 33-45.  Vale, Lawrence J., The Limits of Civil Defence in the USA, Switzerland, Britain and the Soviet Union, New York, NY, St. Martin’s Press, 1987.


Entry 0112 - updated 24 November 2004