The Vault

An Evacuation Plan for White House Dependents During the Cuban Missile Crisis

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During the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the government made alternative plans in case of war, Tazewell Shepard, an aide to President John F. Kennedy, wrote this memo to White House staff. This copy of the memo is addressed to Evelyn Lincoln, Kennedy’s longtime secretary.

As the crisis developed, officials in charge of emergency planning for government continuity found that their system suffered from “a cascade of problems,” as historian Alice L. George writes. Some of the bunkers meant to house government officials didn’t have protection from fallout. Communication between the bunkers was inadequate. And officials from the various departments were poorly apprised of the meanings of the various alert statuses and unsure of when or how they should evacuate.

Bill Geerhart, on his blog Conelrad Adjacent, writes that Shepard was tasked with coming up with a plan for the dependents of White House staff after aides began to receive their own evacuation plans, which didn’t include their families. Staff members were understandably concerned about the welfare of their spouses and children, and the Shepard memo was meant to assuage those fears.

Close readers, as Geerhart points out, might not have found the plans outlined in the memo very reassuring: “Captain Shepard does not include a Plan B to address the inevitable D.C. evacuation gridlock and general panic.”

National Archives.