AN INCREASING number of Americans realize that the future is uncertain and threatening. Modern technology has wiped out our ocean barriers; the world has become a small neighborhood and not a peaceful one. The military power of the U.S.S.R. is steadily increasing; the total explosive power in their transcontinental missiles surpasses those of ours fourfold. These are weapons of attack, intended to harm the opponent.

The situation is much worse as far as defensive measures are concerned, weapons intended to protect the country and its people. We have no defense against their missiles; they have missile defense at least for Moscow. They also have widely spread anti-anticraft defenses; we have virtually none.

But the gravest disparity prevails in the area of population defense. They have an elaborate civil defense system; ours is tragically ineffective. They spend more than $1 billion annually on civil defense; our civil defense budget is less than one-tenth of this. Will this improve when all of our emergency relief efforts come under the same roof? We hope so.

The U.S.S.R. has elaborate plans for the evacuation oftheir cities. Children receive instruction in schools on this subject and it continues for the workers in factories. They are taught where to go and how, what to take along, what to do at the location of evacuation, how to build improvised shelters and how to act if they see the flash of a nuclear explosion.

All this is very effective: the estimates of fatalities from our missiles after evacuation frange from 2 percent (which may be a bit low) to 6 percent of their population (which we believe to be too high). Our own estimates are around 4 percent.

At the present stage of our civil defense preparations - which are hardly in existence - their missiles could destroy the lives of half of our people.

The evacuation of cities takes time; the Russians claim it could be done in two days, but it may take longer. Hence, the evacuation plans would not be effective in the case of an atomic surprise attack from America. But the Russian leader know there never will be such an attack.

Nevertheless, in the last few years, they started building elaborate shelters which are easily and immediately accessible for those whom the do not want to leave their jobs even for a short period. These shelters would provide protection not only against radiation but also against the other effects of nuclear explosions. The U.S.S.R. also started to accumulate food reserves and to build secure places for food storage.

Russian plans contain blueprints of shelters that protect against fallout and can withstand more than two atmospheres over-pressure, sufficient for a dispersed population. The Russians also claim that people can erect these shelters in two days.

An experiment was tried near Oak Ridge, Tenn. Six farm families who volunteered were given translated Russian blueprints and no other help. They were promised $600 if they built the shelter, with a bonus of $200 if completed in two days. All six families built the shelters; five finished in two days; the sixth took three days.

We have not even informed our people about the Russian civil defense preparations, manifested not only in their school and factory instructions but also by their civil defense handbook, of which more than a million copies were printed. It is easily accessible and has even been translated into English.

How much would it cost us to organize an evacuation plan at least as elaborate as the Russian one? The estimates ae all velow $1 billion, less than 1/18000th of our government's yearly expenditures. To create effective and rapidly accessible shelters would be much more expensive. The cost may amount to about 4 percent or even 5 percent of the yearly expenditures of our government, but it would be a single expenditure, not a yearly one. Our city evacuation would not be as effective as that of the U.S.S.R.: they have more powerful missiles than we have, fewer of their people live in cities than live in ours, their cities are not so close together as many of ours are.

Nevertheless, the evacuation, to be undertaken as a countermove to the evacuation of the Russian cities, would reduce the casualties they could cause to such an extent - by a factor of about five - that our president would not be forced to give in to their demand. This would be recognized by the leaders of the U.S.S.R. and, presumably, the demand would not be made.As the Swiss (who have an excellent civil defense system) say, the greatest advantage of a good civil defense effort is that it never will have to be used. Of course, a shelter system would be even more effective.

Why do we have no evacuation plan and no shelter system? Why are our people not even informed of the Russian measures in that direction? The only explanation that we could think of is that such measures would irrevocably inform our people that a danger exists.It is understandable to want to avoid telling people of the existence of danger. Yet we believe that if one has to choose between pleasantly forgetting a danger but incurring it, and unpleasantly knowing about it but protecting against it, one must choose the latter.

The Alaska Experience

Civil defense, small as it is in our countryy, has proved helpful when disaster struck. In the spring of 1965, the Alaskan legislature in Juneau abolished civil defense in order to save $100,000. On week later, the biggest earthquake in U.S. history struck Alaska. But their civil defense was still in existence, and went into action.

On Kodiak Island, fishermen live along the shore; there is also a small naval station.Minutes after the earthquake, the naval station got a telephone call from a civil defense worker: "Use the radio station, send out sound trucks. Warn the population to leave the shore. A tidal wave may be coming." In half an hour the tidal wave arrived and killed seven people. Without the warning, the loss in human life would have been at least 1/ times greater.

Total property damage in Alaska amounted to $400 million. (in today's dollars that would be $1 billion.) Anchorage, with its population of 50,000, was hit hard, yet the death toll was relatively small, some 150 killed.

The greatest loss of life in San Francisco in 1906 was due not to the earthquake but to fire. In Anchorage, too, there was fire; the danger was there; the earthquake caused big oil spillages. But civil defense personnel roped off the danger zones and erected warning signs. The armed forces also helped in Alaska, but that help came late, eight hours after the earthquake. Civil defense was small, but alert and effective.

The was as happy an ending as there can be after an earthquake: The legislature in Juneau mended its ways. The budget for civil defense was reinstated, even doubled to $200,000.

Civil defense and disaster preparedness belong together. The new organization that is to embrace both has, so far, unfortunately, only an acting head an no significant budget.

Against any kind of disaster, an effective evacuation plan can be valuable. Developing techniques of weather observation make it possible to predict floods further in advance than in the past, and the paths of hurricanes will be predicted with increasing reliability. Even earthquakes need no longer be completely unexpected, although earthquake prediction remains an art, not yet a science.

More lives will be saved if there is organization for evacuation. In our country, of course, evacuation will have to be voluntary. A governor or the president could issue the warning. People could then call an appropriate, preassigned phone number. In each section of a city, callers would be advised where and when to go. All traffic would be one way, and predetermined location would be prepared to receive the evacuees. Food and medicine could be stored in advance; much must depend upon hospitality.

If people know there is a plan, they would be less likey to panic. That enormous emergency, nuclear war, should nevercome; if it does, though, it should find us prepared. If we are unprepared, it is probable that we will be hit; if we are prepared, most probably the preparation will not have to be used. CAPTION: Illustration, Russian poster shows how to build a fallout shelter.