Saving “East Cupcake”


After Percy Jones Army Hospital closed at the end of the Korean War, there was considerable concern locally about the loss of jobs.  Good news came when it was announced that the national offices of the Federal Civil Defense Agency were being moved from Washington, D. C. to Battle Creek.  In addition, the Staff College of the National Civil Defense Training Center was transferred here from Olney, Maryland.


The Staff College had a unique mission, to educate local civil defense workers across the country about how to protect their home towns from the devastating effects of an atomic blast.  Between 1954 and 1968, over 30,000 resident students attended the Staff College courses in Battle Creek.  In addition, many more volunteers took extension courses sponsored by the Staff College at 52 participating universities and colleges around the country.


The courses prepared by the Staff College included Civil Defense Management, Shelter Management, Radiological Defense and Civil Defense Adult Education.


The first of the off-site training programs conducted by the Staff College was held in Columbus, Ohio, in August 1954, just a few months before the agency moved to Battle Creek. A reporter from the Battle Creek Enquirer and News attended the three-day event and sent back vivid accounts of the education of the 35 volunteers, under the direction of Dr. W. Gayle Starnes.


The problem the students faced was a hypothetical atomic bomb attack on “Big City X.”  This meant that 3,000 citizens had to be immediately evacuated to “East Cupcake,” a small town of 10,000 residents, 35 miles away. The classes included theoretical discussions of organization, transportation, communications and evacuation procedures as well as a series of disaster problems to solve.  The climax of the course came on the final day when the students had to take all their theoretical learning and apply it to the situation in “East Cupcake.”


At this time civil defense planners believed that the best way to assure safety for the majority of Americans in the event of a catastrophic attack was to evacuate the population from the large target cities to nearby smaller towns, which would not normally be vulnerable as targets of attack.  They believed that “it will be the small towns and cities that bring America back” from the devastation caused by an atomic bomb blast.  The big cities would be too badly damaged “to rise without the helping hands of the smaller communities.”


But evacuation posed many logistical problems which had to be resolved by the local civil defense workers.  How does the host town absorb a group a third the size of its existing population?  How are the refugees transported into town?  Where are they housed, fed and treated for possible injuries? 


These were real questions which demanded specific answers, and not just for the mythical “East Cupcake.”  After all, it could be Battle Creek facing this issue, if Detroit or Chicago were ever attacked. 


The instructors from the Staff College had to prepare volunteers to return to their communities ready to galvanize the residents into preparing a plan for surviving the unthinkable.  The doctors and hospitals, the police, teachers, firefighters, block wardens, civic leaders and parents all had to take a role in assuring that their community was prepared to answer tough questions.  What would they do if fires raged out of control, communications were disrupted, hospitals were overrun with victims, the transportation system was in shambles and panic was setting in? 


Only the civil defense workers with advance training would be prepared to deal with this drastic scenario.  The educators of the Staff College, headquartered in Battle Creek from 1954 through 1979, had the primary responsibility for providing this essential training for the nation..