The DEFCON Warning System™

Ongoing GeoIntel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.  DEFCON Level assessment issued for public notification.  Established 1984.

The sorry state of civil defence in the UK​

Nowadays in the UK, the topic of civil defence is rarely uttered in the chambers of parliament. In neither of the two main parties’ manifestos & pledges was a single mention of civil defence (1)(2). Politicians talk of maintaining Britain’s strategic deterrent, but that is the extent to which nuclear war is discussed. Presently, the UK government has four official nuclear bunkers; one of which is for controlling Britain’s airspace and air defences and is unsuitable for civil defence purposes, in reality the only true bunker which could be used for government co-ordination of recovery efforts would be the PINDAR bunker under Whitehall, London. It would be naïve to presume that there are no others, there are probably a few more bunkers but they will likely be solely for military defence, intelligence and co-ordination purposes. It is highly doubtful there are large networks of bunkers for civil defence, at least, not anymore.

To understand how Britain’s civil defence efforts got to this point, we need to look at the past.

In the Cold War, to give Britian some semblence of a chance of recovery 19 regional command bunkers were set up to co-ordinate food distribution, enforce laws, and organise recovery & relief efforts. Britain would have essentially devolved into 11 different autocracies each with a regional commissioner. These commissioners would have acted as judges and juries, with absolute power. Staff in these bunkers would use Britain’s network of observation bunkers to accurately determine yields, detonation altitudes and ultimately fallout distribution patterns across the British Isles. They would have disseminated this information to the public as to which locations had heavy fallout. This was done in conjunction with a widespread public information campaign called “Protect and Survive”, despite it being labelled as “Neglect and Die” by some critics as the advice contained therein wasn’t brilliant, it would have likely have saved some lives (4). Make no mistake though, the whole system was flawed. Many civil servants who were to man these bunkers likely wouldn’t have made it to them in time. Some didn’t even know they were selected to work in these bunkers, and many would have refused to go as their families were not allowed in. Relief efforts would have been futile and food stocks would have run out quickly (5).

However, it could be argued that even an attempt at civil defence, despite it being inadequate, is significantly better than the modern apathetic approach successive British governments have taken, as all of those bunkers were sold off and privatised one by one after the fall of the Soviet Union. This picture summarizes the dismantalling and privatisation of Britain’s civil defence best:

Although it’s disheartening to see Britain’s civil defence programme in tatters, there is a flicker of optimism on the horizon. The Russian invasion of Ukraine gave the government the proverbial ‘kick up the posterior’ it so desperately needed, finally building a public warning system, similar to the USA’s wireless emergency alerts. Although the government has not specifically stated this system would be used to warn the public of impending nuclear attack, it is likely one of its functions. However, it would be disingenuous to say civil defence is back on the agenda, especially when you consider the last test of the alert system failed to notify millions of people due to “technical issues” (6).

Considering the world is in another cold war (7), attitudes in the UK may change going forward, and if that happens, Britain’s bunkers may be rebuilt.

(2) Conservative Party Manifesto 2019
(3) CIVIL DEFENCE today – where are the nuclear bunkers today?
(4) Protect and Survive
(5) BBC Newsnight
(6) UK emergency alert could be tested every two years
(7) Second Cold War – Wikipedia

Ongoing Geointel and Analysis in the theater of nuclear war.


© 2024 The DEFCON Warning System. Established 1984.

The DEFCON Warning System is a private intelligence organization which has monitored and assessed nuclear threats by national entities since 1984. It is not affiliated with any government agency and does not represent the alert status of any military branch. The public should make their own evaluations and not rely on the DEFCON Warning System for any strategic planning. At all times, citizens are urged to learn what steps to take in the event of a nuclear attack.