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Here are three ordinary men. They speak in ordinary words but in what they say they are profound and out of the ordinary implications for thousands of people in their communities. When Disaster Strikes. It all went exactly like an exercise. That is a British civilian in 1940 a civil defender trained for months to meet anticipated dangers to cope with possible hazards to face a military of minutes that could only be guessed at. Now the test had come. The real article. The phone Fiore of the London Blitz. What those other towns do is their own lookout. But the word from Austin is get going. And that's what we're going to do. Now what do you say to a dry run. Make out like something big is ahead of us and all of us do exactly what we do and it dead. That's the mayor of a Texas town in 1051 a city official who took seriously the governor's directive to every mayor in his state to activate a
civil defense organization. I. Can't make that committee meeting this afternoon. A couple of things came up. Maybe next week. Sure thing by. A bunch of complicated nonsense anyway. Who's going to drop a bomb on a place like this. People here are going to go for all that rigamarole. It's too high falutin for a town this size that's a member of the disaster preparedness committee in a middle sized American city in 1953. To this man an A-bomb attack is a damn and amusing fantasy all around him a typical American community is going its placid well-organized way. Who would ever dream that a win could blow it away. Radio television the University of Texas presents when disaster strikes
a series of programs designed to show how present day Americans meet the crisis of a disaster situation. All over our nation. Social scientists are seeking special studies to find out how we as a people react to sudden widespread catastrophe. With the help of Dr. Harry at the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas and the Hogg foundation for Mental Health we're going to share some of the things these scientists have found when disaster strikes is produced and recorded by radio television. The University of Texas under a grant from the educational television and radio set in cooperation with the National Association of education brought. The day's program who is in charge here. Disaster sets no timetable it promises no advance notice of its
approach. It does not exceed to our witnesses. It does not countenance our delays catastrophes ultimatums are given in minutes given for keeps it in terms of injury and death destruction and chaos. Its demands are pitiless and urgent and the questions the relentless questions begin counts did in terms of crisis piled up on simultaneous crisis. How do you rescue 200 people trapped under buildings with gas mains broken and water rising. How do you get ambulances and fire trucks and rescue vehicles through streets six feet deep in rubble. Ten thousand Oh hundred house Jack. What do we find. As I said Where are the
answers. Let's ask Dr. Harry more professor of sociology at the University of Texas and director of a special disaster study which covered two years of research. Who does know the answers to the questions of crisis Dr. Moore who's supposed to know them who is in charge. What a disaster strikes. I'll have to say that sometimes unfortunately and nobody knows the answers to those questions. It depends on whether the questions have been asked calmly and rationally before the crisis. When I was still at time and somebody took the trouble for realistic answers whether the questions are now being raised only on the urgency of the crisis itself. Well I'd say they're being posed for the first time in the desperate press of disaster itself. Then the stricken community is likely to find that time nobody is in charge and they find that nobody knows even who should be in charge including the people who might be expected to assume authority.
That's hard to believe isn't it. Yes it is. It's natural and far more reassuring to assume that the same forces of authority and control we have custom to rely on. Well I automatically take care of us when disaster strikes. So you may be reluctant to take my word that we can't depend on that. Well let's not take just my word. Let's take the words of history man we heard at the face of this program faced the British civil defense and it all went exactly like an exercise. Let's listen to the mayor of the Texas town now. What do you say to a dry run. Make out like something big is Harris and all of us do exactly what we do with it dead. Now let's show once more what the members of the disaster preparedness committee in another city had to say. A bunch of complicated nonsense anyway. Civil defense ABC warfare. Who's going to drop a bomb on a place like this. People here are going to go for all
that rigamarole. It's too high falutin for a town this size. Here are three adn every man members of three different communities. One had prepared for probable crisis one had prepared for possible crisis and one had prepared for no crisis at all. Let's see what the words of each implied for the fate of his community. When the crises came they did. Let's look back to September 1942 in England braced for crisis. On September 7. An enemy general told his countrymen this and I am a force for the first time and never. For the first time the first ever attack of many many that were to
come. Leaving 13000 dead 20000 seriously injured in the London region alone to the sight of every bomb fall in wartime London and 30000 fellow there had to come and come quickly rescue parties to release the buried casualty workers to care for the injured wardens to point the way for both. There had to rally without delay ambulance drivers and litter bearers. Cars for the lesser ends are doctors and nurses and First Aid workers. But the utility repair could not wait until Faye's stayed was down and face stay did not tarry until the rescue work was finished. Everything comes at once in a disaster. My chintzy every job is urgent. It will not wait for the news ational quibble a question all along. When the heat in the noise would come everything in my insides turn it over something frightful and self. All right girl I'd say there are people and there's always such a never drip there in
exercises but the job and you've learned what there was to be done. That was a stabilizing thing for the people of London. Between time. And the horrors of. That from the instruction to the bottom and solid knowledge of the. World was gone. They had those killers built in from the days of preparation when catastrophe was a threatening likelihood. When sound planning had specified what would need to be done and by whom and conscientious training at them how.
Communities. Started. Sastre had been. It's bound to be coming but when and what about all west Texas town whose authorities had said to themselves in the summer of 1951 it could happen here. Well on May 11 1953 less than two years later it was a reality. 20 orders patrol 20 20 decided. Chester's package store on the big spring highway from west of town. Something big was on its way. Captain Ray Buckner of the Texas State Highway Patrol had sent four patrol men into squad cars racing to the suburbs of San Angelo to find out what that way was.
And now those in charge of public safety moved immediately to ensure that safety with the communications warning system planned for the trial red alert from the Highway Patrol headquarters to the local news. It's sure to get somebody else from the newspaper office to those who had to know everybody. The tornado did not miss Lakeview because the residential area demolishing or severely damaging every building in a pathway one half mile wide and three miles long. Ten minutes later to those picking themselves up out of the wreckage it was plain that something big
had hit hit here. Decides to routines practice for the imaginary crisis of war dictated quick and efficient procedures in this weather bred crisis of peace time at the heavily damaged lakeview school getting all the children assembled in the auditorium so cars can take them to the community to the family reunion center. Nope not one of them seriously hurt. Or more to wonder. But I'll tell you if it hadn't been for that warning. If these folks hadn't had that warning and if these folks hadn't been trained to safety drills we'd have had three maybe 400 injured or killed. Still the emergencies were many where we crawled under the bed we had a home and plenty we did nothing. Cooking vessel not a loaf of bread not just your clothes but just what we stood up in and then soaked through from the right. But those in charge moved swiftly taking their cues in large part from the
trial red alert troops doctors nurses and ambulances from Goodfellow Air Force Base were on hand soon after the news was relayed there at 2:35 at 3:15 the local unit of the National Guard arrived in the disaster area. Five minutes later its commander at the request of the San Angelo mayor assumed control of all operations in the stricken area. Let's see what all this meant for the stricken community of Lakeview with two hundred and eighty of its homes demolished. Eleven of its people dead. Two hundred fifty six injured hundreds. With the crisis less than an hour old a specified chain of command had been established where there was a job to be done. A recognized authority was in control then dictate what that job was and who was to do it. The fruits of this organisation and dispatch were not alone and Mike in themselves with them. Good thing you fellows got here and put up those markers so fast I couldn't a pheromone street much less my lot. They all look alike underwater.
If it hadn't been for the Air Force being so proud of those floodlights we could've found those last two guys not till morning anyway and had been gone as by then. Disaster was having his teeth drawn and sometimes yellow. The tornado had come it could not be prevented. This lack of any really adequate safeguards is one of the elements which makes it down they go into science stuff but other elements the unexpectedness of the event like a preparation. One good measure nullified by foresight a fairly adequate warning system and constructive action before the fact to realize it's full of frightening and disorganizing potential disaster would have to look elsewhere and look elsewhere it did. And now. Two hundred miles away two hours later to Waco Texas at the height of the afternoon rush hour with hundreds of shoppers and employees still in the business district with family drivers waiting in cars outside their disaster
found another town not so well prepared. Not so heat full of its danger. Hey fellow what you doing still downtown. Why aren't you home get ready for the storm. I hear there's a tornado coming. Yeah I heard something like that too. I don't put any stock in it. You know how the Indians figured no storm is going to get down in amongst these hills so why get ready for something that never has happened. Well when you put it that way no reason I guess. No reason at all. But there were reasons lots of them. How many depended on how you counted and what after the tornado had cut its path of death and destruction through the heart of Waco and 10 tragic minutes that very afternoon. 114 persons dead one thousand seriously injured two square miles of business establishments completely destroyed. Eight hundred and seventy five houses wrecked. You could count these reasons for preparing in advance of this Master. Or you could count the crises that mushroom the one upon
the other in this stunned and stricken city where it became more evident with every urgent moment that there was in these first desperate hours of catastrophe. Nobody really definitely John. Here is where you take the mystery. You in charge of this loudspeaker thing depends on what you mean by in charge. Some guy told me over here and said When I send out a commercial message just for the next hour I saw looked down of plasma at the first aid station over by the bank. You're sending out a message saying that there's this emergency and I can't do that. Cancer not anything else. Just around here. I got picked up on the radio. I don't know where all the highways are with people trying to bring those things and I just can't send out any more calls to go to have that plasma. What am I going to do I wish I could help your son. I guess you just have to find somebody that knows somebody that knows something. Things the way they are that's all you can do.
And that was with few plans made and those papers that authorities could not function effectively. The dishonest I had destroyed the social organization of the city for a time and I can plan the direction single places and groups had no choice but to move and tackle whatever problems they saw and whatever ways they could. Three of them all alive. We've got to move this timber to get them out. Can't move that dam it's cold enough the whole mess looks to me like you don't know anything about construction. Not much me there but you see that slab there my guess is it's wedged under that beam and my guess is if we moved this timber that slab will hold up the rest of that stuff overhead. OK Buster whatever you say. But those people down there they've had it.
Nobody had to tell them what or how. But on every hand the grim and desperate evidence of things that must be done. That was the dilemma that faced the people of Waco. Yes this was no dream. This was a grim reality that might say new even if they still could not see the situation clearly. The creation of the strange and frightening wild was a real the destruction and suffering in it were real and something must be done to set things to rights. Then answer that was do something. Try to put things back to NaMo by sheer strength and pivoting. That's right. Just keep up that to happen so we can tell where you are on all this stuff. We're going to get doing it all. Don't you worry about that. And it's going to take some doing. Do you ever see so many
bridges nor want so many. No place to pull just over the war like we've been doing I guess. That sure is the hard way and slow when I really made a dent in this thing yet. That poor guy down there can't last forever. Oh. Well come on. Hey wait a minute somebody is throwing the bricks back over here. You gotta throw them things back over here. Was just wrong. Yeah yeah. Yeah. When you're marrying a man we never going to get dug out if you don't quit throwing them bricks back over here. What do you say. I say get to it if you gotta get to it but keep out of the way. There's some bricks coming down. If you want to happen Fran. And keep on hoping. We're coming to you. Young. People worked like Damon's weather friended zeal and the dedicated selflessness.
If I had my ration but because an undirected and uncoordinated in many cases futile and over and over again in this climate of feverish but disjointed activity those with vital jobs to do found themselves able to cope. MR Yeah but are you real busy. Well I'm just trying to clean up their mess around like there's this guy over yonder National Guard guy who's trying to direct traffic. I saw all those cars jammed up for blocks. We just got on his own clothes Yeah so they won't pay any attention to him and he says go get somebody on a you know good luck Sunny I'm just a filling station operator they said you had a kind of uniform come on Mister we got to show you how to run right over the guy before we get back. Here with you officer I've got to get to this lady. I haven't but I know that he gets through to city hall without a plan. Look I'm not without a past. City Hall was the center of the emergences I know that offices but I'm a registered nurse.
I needed the emergency room. It was I couldn't get out past the city. Oh. Valiant and misdirected effort where swift and coordinated action was so vitally needed and all the while hard working but unprepared officials playing a grim game of. But hey have you seen the city director Mr. What's his name. Not lately he's all over the place. Try trying to see everything at once no way to get in touch with any place but to hop over there. Well if you run into I'ma anybody that knows where he is. Tell him is a guy here federal representative says sit down to help out. He's been here six hours already while I tell him to meet this fellow in case I do see him I don't know. There was some talk of headquartered in a city hall but it's crowded to the rafters. No windows lights. I just don't know. Just telling us fellows looking for him I guess for him to start looking for this fella. But more and more it became distressingly evident that strength and they were not
enough that the frenzied effort involved in doing something was not by itself going to put things back to normal then mazing out based of energy on the part of officials and says it needed to be harnessed. It needed to be controlled and directed. Shortly before midnight on Monday the day of the tornado a meeting was held at the state police headquarters in Waco. Today Captain Sam Gardner of the Texas State Highway Patrol recalls it this way there came a time when someone had to step out and say we will wire the money. Someone with the power to make the decisions must say we've got to do it one way or another. Right or wrong we'll do it this way. What finally boiled down was a central control committee and they had let's say the authority to give or pass final judgment on any particular question. No one man could do it all. Every man in a position of authority was intensely busy at the time. There had to be an organization that could operate in a new situation
but it was not until Tuesday afternoon three meetings and 24 hours after the tornado that the key question who's in charge here was at last resolved. Oh and. The inner door. Here is Mr. Rolfe Wolff mayor of Waco at the time of the tornado. Tell us how this question was resolved by the time of the first meeting on Tuesday afternoon. We the Waco city officials were convinced that this whole disaster problem was more than we could cope with. However I did not know at that time that the man was supposed to take charge. And as the meeting was called the military authorities were there. The businessman of the town members of the Chamber of Commerce and they asked me to take charge. I tried to get the military to do that. I had done such a terrific job and we all
knew how much we had depended upon their help already. Let General dissuade who represented the Air Force said no. Since martial law had not been declared the air force did not have legal authority to take over. He said that it was my responsibility so I accepted it. We immediately then set up an organization and the Air Force officer drew up the organizational plan for this central disaster Committee. The Air Force officer drew up an organizational plan after the creation of the disaster committee with the mayor as its head central control was gained by the city of Waco disaster activities proceeded more smoothly and the order was gradually restored. On May 20th nine days after the tornado when emergency operations were over the committee was disbanded. Members of the Waco disaster committee were mostly city officials. The Post titled on the committee were not necessarily those which official tailored to one set of government function normally and the whole when you are organizations have been added to the city's
structure still by and large do time those who had been in charge before this Astra struck were once again in charge. But it is important for us to remember this did not happen immediately and it did not happen automatically. It did not happen in Waco and it may not happen in other cities until many vital hours have been lost and much of vital effort has been wasted. So tell us why this is so. Here is Mr. William L. McGill director of defense and disaster relief for the state of Texas. A modern community as we know it is a very complex and. Crucial to its welfare to its very survival. Although many private commercial or governmental organizations the agencies you know the way which provide particular public service to the people of the. City government is one of these agencies. It is in fact the agency do which we normally look for overall control and authority in meeting our
basic needs. But sometimes a second stances on not ordinary. A situation arises in which the customary procedures for meeting our vital needs. Are neither the right. Nor adequate. Then strict devotion to the usual regulations is not deficient in the least. And officials who know no other course of action are highly ineffectual. The uncommon condition may even become so extreme. That our very survival depends on how well and how quickly the rules can be changed and modified. To fit. The new situation. More and more. As we look carefully to see what happens to communities when disaster struck. We find evidence that planning is a crucial fact we find compelling indications that improvised efforts of individuals and groups. And courageous. Are no
substitute in terms of survival for the swift and sure knowledge. Of. When Disaster Strikes. Radio television the University of Texas has brought you the third in this series of programs designed to show how Americans react to the crisis of a disaster situation. Today's program who's in charge here was prepared with the cooperation and assistance of Dr. Harry Moore of the Department of Sociology at the University of Texas and the Hogg foundation for mental health. I special guest today was Mr. William L. McGill. Director of defense and disaster relief for the state of Texas. We're indebted to the division of defense and disaster relief for the governor's office the state of Texas for material from its files
and to the British Information Services for material from frontline. The official story of the civil defense of Britain. Published by The Macmillan company. When disaster strikes is directed by Arsinoe writes from scripts by the Durham twins under the supervision of Robert F.. Special Music is under the supervision of Elena Pate who composed the original score. Your narrator is Jimmy Martin. Cactus Pryor speaking. Who's in charge here was produced and recorded by radio television at the University of Texas under a grant from the Educational Television and Radio Center. And is being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end i.e. Radio Network.
When disaster strikes
Who's in charge here?
Producing Organization
University of Texas
KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
Problems of command and direction. Dilemmas of control and coordination. Sources of leadership. How disaster affects customary controls and authorities.
Series Description
This series focuses on disaster preparation, as well as the effects wrought by disaster.
Public Affairs
Tornado damage
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Composer: Page, Frances Eleanor
Director: Norris, R. C.
Guest: McGill, William L.
Narrator: Morriss, Jimmy
Producing Organization: University of Texas
Producing Organization: KUT (Radio station : Austin, Tex.)
Speaker: Moore, Harry E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 59-15-3 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:00?
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Chicago: “When disaster strikes; Who's in charge here?,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 29, 2024,
MLA: “When disaster strikes; Who's in charge here?.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 29, 2024. <>.
APA: When disaster strikes; Who's in charge here?. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from