Old school Civil Defense programs live on with new names

2012-08-23T21:45:00Z 2012-08-24T23:55:16Z Old school Civil Defense programs live on with new namesDeborah Laverty deborah.laverty@nwi.com, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2223 nwitimes.com

Hobart's Civil Defense, a program first formed during World War II, has taken a new direction.

The 70-year-old program that once entailed air raid drills and patrols marching down Hobart streets has been dismantled, Police Chief Jeff White said.

"We've pretty much dissolved the unit. We'll rely on our reserve police officers. ... They do the same thing as the Civil Defense," White said.

The reserve officers, who are volunteers and receive training, assist police with traffic and crowd control at summertime festivals and football games.

Change to Civil Defense, whether going under a new name or new formation, is not particular to just Hobart.

Crown Point's Civil Defense, also formed during World War II, now is under the direction of Emergency Management Director Kelly Miller.

Miller has 20 volunteers who direct traffic during the summertime Car Cruise and assist with festivals and other events.

"Crown Point's Civil Defense was founded in 1942, and we've been active ever since," Miller said.

Threats of Japanese invasion during World War II led to the formation of the initial programs. Most folded, but returned in the 1950s and '60s with the threat of the Cold War, officials said.

Russ Shirley, newly named director for Porter County Emergency Management, said Civil Defense groups aren't particular to the U.S. They were active in Great Britain and other European countries during World War II.

Volunteers under Shirley's direction are called out to assist in a number of emergency situations, including traffic control during a hostage situation in Valparaiso earlier this summer.

"We have a volunteer staff of about 20, and they're great. They've donated thousands of hours a year," Shirley said.

Although pleased by the work of Civil Defense workers in Hobart, White said it's time to move on.

"They've served the community, but times have changed, and now we're more worried about terrorists than about any threats from the Soviet Union," White said.

The name Civil Defense is old school and isn't even used in most local communities anymore, said Herbie Cruz, East Chicago Emergency Management Agency director.

Most communities refer to the programs as Emergency Management. The programs also have been referred to as Homeland Security following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Cruz said.

Under Cruz's direction, East Chicago has eight volunteers on its Emergency Management list, the majority of whom can be counted on to assist with any type of emergency services in the city.

Cruz said his volunteers were there for him on Sept. 11, 2008, when East Chicago had a citywide water main break.

"We went into homes and pumped out water and carried out furnishings. We concentrated on helping those with special needs. ... You have to have it in your heart to help the community," Cruz said.

Helping people was the main reason Hobart resident Keith Patterson signed up to work as a part-time Civil Defense worker.

Patterson performed the job, with a minimal hourly stipend, until earlier this summer.

Patterson had hoped Hobart officials would work something out to retain him and others like him who don't have aspirations to be part of the police reserve unit.

"It's pretty much over with. ... If they needed us they'll call, but I guess not," Patterson said.

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