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Civil Defense (U.S.)

Last modified: 2016-03-12 by rick wyatt
Keywords: civil defense | united states |
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An orange triangle on a white disc on blue is used in many countries as the symbol for Civil Defense.
Antonio Martins, 30 August 1999

You used to see a version of the civil defense emblem Antonio mentions in the U.S. as well--a blue sign with a white triangle, a red disk, and thereon the initials CD. It was posted at air raid shelters, etc. But I don't recall ever seeing it on a flag.
Joe McMillan, 31 August 1999

The 1977 Protocols to the 1949 Geneva Convention provided in Article 66 that the international distinctive sign of civil defense is an equilateral blue triangle on an orange ground. I believe many civil defense organizations used a triangle emblem well before that. U.S. civil defense facilities since the World War II period have been marked by a blue sign with a white triangle and the letters "CD" on the center forming a circle. The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency seal is a variant of the U.S. COA with a white triangle on a blue roundel above the eagle's head.
Joe McMillan, 10 July 2000

Joe McMillan stated: "U.S. civil defense facilities since the World War II period have been marked by a blue sign with a white triangle and the letters "CD" on the center forming a circle." That information now needs to be revised, as of 30 Nov. 2006.

An article in the 1 Dec 2006 issue of the New York Times , page 24, entitled "Civil Defense Logo Dies at 67, and Some Mourn Its Passing" announces that: "The stark insignia of civil defense - a C and D forming a red circle in a white triangle on a blue disk - died yesterday after a long eclipse. It was 67 years old and lived in the mind's eye of anyone who remembers air-raid drills, fallout shelters and metal drums filled with what had to be the stalest biscuits
in the world."
"Its demise was announced by the National Emergency Management Association, the group that represents state emergency managers."

[U.S. Civil Defense / Emergency Management flag]

A new symbol, incorporating the letters EM for Emergency Management, was announced "In it, the letters EM and the words Public Safety and Public Trust are wreathed in blue and gold arcs, symbolizing movement, and three gold stars, standing for the local, state and federal levels of disaster preparedness and response."

The article is currently available online at www.nytimes.com/2006/12/01/washington/01civil.html.

Joe also mentions the use of the old CD emblem on flags during World War II. An image of a pennant-shaped CD flag reportedly from the Cold War era can be seen at www.authentichistory.com/images/1950s/duck_and_cover/duck_and_cover_01.html where the logo is not full color but monchrome.
Ned Smith, 2 December 2006


I did a little digging in the library and found two publications of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense from 1941 and 1942. According to the "Manual of Civilian Protection" (1941), the U.S. civil defense logo (white field, blue disk, white triangle, red initials CD) and related emblems for air raid wardens, rescue teams, auxiliary fire and police personnel, communicators, etc., etc., were all patented in September-October 1941 (patents applied for on September 8, approved October 7). The applicant on behalf of the government was OCD's chief of training, Colonel Walter P. Burn, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was the designer. Also, the emblem was in use before it was patented, as it appears on OCD publications dated in July and August 1941 as well.

Both this manual and a 1942 publication entitled "The United States Citizens Defense Corps" show and describe the CD emblem's use on flags. The 1942 booklet says "This basic insigne represents all civilian defense. Its use in any official form (except on flags or banners) is confined to enrolled civilian defense workers ...." It goes on to state that "On flags for headquarters and official automobiles it [the emblem] can be used 'officially' with stars or pyramids appropriate to the rank of the commander of the headquarters or owner of the car. On flags and banners used for display only, it can be used alone as shown on the cover of this booklet. There is no restriction on use in this manner by any persons."

The flag depicted on the cover and elsewhere in these publications is white, roughly 2:3, with the emblem in the center taking up something more than half of the hoist. None of the rank flags are pictured, and the arrangement of the stars and pyramids is not specified. The uniform insignia by rank were:

4 gold stars: U.S. Director of Civilian Defense
3 gold stars: Regional directors and principal assistants to U.S. director
2 gold stars: State coordinators
1 gold star: Local coordinators
3 silver pyramids: Chiefs of local or state services (fire, police, etc.)
2 silver pyramids: Chiefs of local groups (wardens, etc.)
1 silver pyramid: Captains of wardens, assistant chiefs, zone leaders
There were also black triangles for junior personnel, but these are not mentioned in connection with flags. Finally, there is a somewhat ambiguous statement in both publications that could be construed as contradictory to the authorization of rank pyramids on flags: "On flags using the basic emblem, stars are authorized only for the use of identification of corresponding rank."

Joe McMillan, 27 November 2002