The role of the Department of Public Works in Civil Defense

Tuesday, September 19, 1950

This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.

Sixth in series.

Commissioner of Public Works Frederick Zurmuhlen joins Commissioner Arthur Wallander to discuss the role of the Department of Public Works in the Civil Defense effort.

Zurmuhlen describes his department as the engineering arm of the city, charged with the design, construction and maintenance of city owned buildings, bridges, and sewer treatment facilities. Included are 62 buildings, 49 toll free bridges, and 13 sewage treatment plants.

At Wallander's direction the Department of Public Works Emergency Division was established which includes all the Borough Works departments, Departments of Sanitation, Housing and Buildings, Water Supply, Gas and Electricity, Parks, and Marine and Aviation. Liaison with Port of New York Authority have also been established. The utility companies have also been contacted.

The division will remove debris and unsafe structures in the event of an emergency to allow rescue workers to reach the injured. They will also shut down water, make street and sewer repairs. If needed they will design and construct shelters.

Zurmuhlen discusses the system by which all potential emergency equipment has been cataloged and transferred to IBM accounting cards which will be broken down into lists. Lists will be distributed to borough offices so mutual help will be possible. Items inventory include everything from cranes to pickaxes.

He also describes report centers which will be manned by field officers who will report on the situation in the field.

Wallander reminds listeners that this series is intended to enlighten, not alarm.

Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection

WNYC archives id: 71596
Municipal archives id: LT1795


Frederick H. Zurmuhlen

Hosted by:

Arthur W. Wallander


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About Report on Civil Defense

From public welfare to firefighting to water safety, this program updates the public about disaster preparedness.

From 1950 to 1952, Arthur J. Wallander, Civil Defense Director for New York City, interviewed the heads of city departments about the steps their departments had taken to meet the needs of the city's civil defense system.

These programs provide an interesting vantage point on beliefs and fears about what many assumed were imminent attacks.  While providing exhaustive details about the municipal systems, they also ask the implicit question, what is your plan in the case of nuclear attack? 


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