Boulder, Colo. — Remember the civil defense days of yesteryear: air raid sirens that wailed piercingly once a week at noon; yellow and black fallout shelter signs; backyard bomb shelters?
The Reagan administration is trying to bring those days back, at least in a limited form. The President has proposed major increases in civil defense planning, something that has been carried out at an extremely low level since the 1960s. Part of the civil defense effort the White House hopes to accelerate is evacuation plans for 380 cities considered prime targets in case of nuclear war. While most of the plans that have been completed have been approved by local governments without a political ripple, in at least two areas they have become political footballs.
The most recent area of controversy is here in Boulder.
The final ''crisis relocation plan'' for the Denver metropolitan area was routinely ratified in four out of the five counties. But antiwar activists in Boulder - a politically liberal town where bumper stickers reading ''Split Wood Not Atoms'' are commonplace - found out about the plan. They demanded that the county commissioners hold a public hearing. Then they publicized the meeting and jammed so many people into the small hearing room that the commissioners, obviously nonplussed by the crowd, adjourned the meeting until a larger auditorium could be scheduled.
Petitions to place a measure on the ballot to amend the Colorado state constitution to ban production of nuclear weapons in the state were eagerly circulated. Rocky Flats, which makes plutonium ''buttons'' for nuclear warheads and lies between Boulder and Denver, is the focus of a long-standing controversy here.
''A broad spectrum of the community, from university professors to physicians , has concluded that the (crisis relocation) plan is unworkable, misleading, and a gross misdirection of resources that could better be used to develop real civil defense,'' reads a press release handed out by Ellen Klavier of the American Friends Service Committee.
''I think these people are mixed up,'' grumbled Commissioner Jack Murphy who chaired the meeting. ''They think this is about nuclear weapons or nuclear power or something.''
Mr. Murphy is right in as much as those organizing the turnout see a strong link between civil defense planning and nuclear weaponry.
''Civil Defense planning of this sort is a belligerent act,'' declares John Irwin, a mutton-chop-sideburned physicist who helped orchestrate the protesters. ''Also, it's an exercise in futility,'' he adds.
This summarizes the objectors' position. On the one hand, they say the evacuation of some 100 million people would never work. On the other, they object that plans of this sort give the public a false sense of security and that the government's efforts should be directed toward forging an arms reduction agreement with the Soviets rather than toward civil defense.
''(Nuclear war) is like any natural disaster: We need a plan. We should have as many options to save lives as possible,'' rebuts -David Lawton, Chief of Operations of Colorado's Disaster Emergency Services office.
According to officials at the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA), last year the US spent $0.56 per person on civil defense as opposed to $ 12 per person in the USSR. Switzerland, which experts say has the best civil defense system in the world, spent $32. In the US last year the federal government spent $6.5 million in this fashion. This year the expenditures are estimated at $8.6 million. And the White House has proposed $14.3 million in fiscal year 1983: $1.10 per person.
''These plans are just paper plans. They must be fleshed out with upgrading of fallout shelters and similar measures. Right now we are just trying to identify how much effort will be required,'' explains Russ Clanahan of FEMA. Ultimately, they would like to ''reactivate'' the old fallout shelter program, which was discontinued in 1973.
Phil Stern, a Boulder City councilman, says that the city is likely to follow the lead of Cambridge, Mass. Crisis relocation planning is funded jointly by federal and local government. Instead of appropriating money for this effort, Cambridge used an equivalent amount of money to produce and distribute a pamphlet entitled ''Cambridge and Nuclear Weapons: Is there a place to hide.''
This pamphlet graphically describes the effects resulting from detonation of a nuclear weapon in the Boston area.