Project Hideaway

Project Hideaway Powner famil.
Thomas and Madge Powner, sons Scott, 6, and Torry, 3 1/2, and daughter Hilary, 2, lived in a 8-by-9-foot simulated fallout shelter in the basement of Princeton University's Eno Hall for 14 days in 1959 for the psychology experiment Project Hideaway.

Project Hideaway was a research project conducted by Professor Jack A. Vernon in the Department of Psychology at Princeton University. The report from the study, Project Hideaway: A Pilot Feasibility Study of Fallout Shelters for Families, was published in December 1959 and was prepared under a research contract with Princeton University and the Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (OCDM). Several researchers from the National Academy of Sciences, including Dr. Harry Williams, Dr. George Baker, and Dr. Jeanette Rayner, were also involved in the project. The project team at Princeton included psychologist Jack A. Vernon, pediatrician S. Robert Lewis, child psychiatrist Shirley VanFerny, Princeton medical officer W. H. York, and research assistants Michael Horn and Thomas Clark.

The project aimed to investigate the feasibility of nuclear fallout shelters. It focussed on a family living in a simulated fallout shelter for fourteen days. The shelter utilized in this project was in the basement of the Princeton Psychology Department and was based on the OCDM bulletin MP-15 fallout shelter recommendation. The Project Hideaway shelter was 8 feet by 9 feet (72 sq. ft.) with an 8-foot ceiling. The simulated shelter included bunks, a chemical toilet, a refuse can, a ventilator or blower, storage space, food and water provisions, a card table and folding “tv” table, and a first aid kit. It had no electricity, radio, or communication with the outside. A family of five (husband, wife, and their three children) lived in the shelter for the duration of the project. All participants were given medical and psychological examinations prior to their participation in the project. Throughout the project’s duration, air was analyzed for carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, and humidity. Team members maintained constant audio monitoring of the participants in the shelter throughout the fourteen-day period.

The researchers contended that the family was capable of “easily” sustaining their fourteen days of confinement in this simulated fallout shelter and emerged with no ill effects. The official report even states that the family "seemed to have profited by the experience,” explaining that the father got to know his children better, one child made vocabulary gains, and the family experienced a strengthening of its family structure. The report mentions that the family emerged from the simulated shelter with a “very positive attitude toward shelter life” and that  the family “felt it had not been difficult, that it had been worthwhile, and that there had been no ill effects.” Although the report claims that the medical exams performed after the fourteen days revealed “no ill effects,” it proceeds to enumerate a slew of non-life-threatening health impacts the family members experienced as a direct result of being in the simulated shelter.

According to the report, at no point did carbon dioxide and oxygen levels, temperature, and humidity become a serious problem. While the report notes that odor from the toilet was undesirable, it argues, “The presence of odor did not become a serious problem due to the fortunate capacity of human olfactory sense organs to adapt.” The report contains a set of recommendations for the most appropriate foods, foods that families “should stockpile in their own fallout shelters.” It also weighs the advantages and disadvantages of other products. Finally, the report makes entertainment recommendations, and it discusses bathing, personal hygiene, use of the bathroom, and daily routine. Images of the living spaces and of the participants accompanied the discussions.

Jack A. Vernon, Project Hideaway: A Pilot Feasibility Study of Fallout Shelters for Families, Department of Psychology & the US Office of Civil and Defense Mobilization (1959),