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Mark Graham ran out branch across the creek on. Highways not some isolated family and community around and taken around like that is a communication crisis. It's time is the present day. It's nature of Flood report from a reconnaissance plane. Here is another such communication. This one of a simpler kind from an earlier day. A light in the tower of the Old North Church. Number one if by land by sea and raising an urgency through the night alone writers spread the alarm. A hoarse voice shout from a flying mount. A report by two way radio to a control tower or wherever and whenever men have lived together these messages of threat and need have flowed among them. Sounding a warning voicing a cry for help. The signs and symbols and signals of getting in touch. Keeping in touch to tell the shape of
danger on the way to spell out the dimensions of catastrophe at hand teletype or telegraph or telephone. A fire or a lantern or a homemade flag. Modern and efficient or primitive and improvised. These are the communications crisis. I do this too. This is one too. The frantic tapping of a trapped and injured man too weak to speak buried six feet deep in rubble. 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 through special studies to find out how we as a people react to a sudden and
widespread catastrophe. With the help of Dr. Harry Moore director of a two year Disaster Research study 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 said. Cooperation with the. National Association of educational walkout. Today's program you can always tell. Do you know what that is. Of course you do. It's a telephone. The sound of it. This side of it are part and parcel of your everyday life as familiar as the hand that reaches for the phone whenever you need to say something to somebody outside your home or your school or your place of business. And this market hogs
20 choice already Oh naturally and accustomed part of the family and ninety eight percent of our homes bringing end to us what others have for us to hear of music news of information and entertainment. This is a teletype machine. And this is the dispatches receiver on a state police transmitter. What is your 10 20. What is your 10 plan. This is a radio receiver in a patrol car somewhere on the highway. Why. This is the motor of an airplane with FM transmitters and receivers. And this is the buzzer light on one of a bank of telephones in a state communication center. Now this is no inventory of irrelevant zones. They all have meaning for those vital meaning in our efforts towards a viable when disaster strikes. Tell us how significant they are.
Here is Dr. Harry Moore re-organization of our modern social life takes as a matter of course a functioning system of communication in society today in most social life been going on and when this regular contact can go on with each of us able to impart to others quickly and directly what he needs to tell with H I was able to receive from others as quickly and directly what he needs to be told. It is essential to our way of life that this mutual taling go on smoothly and continuously sense society as it's being in communication. But so long as some of us couldn't tell others how things are with us what's happening what's needed so long as those others can tell us what to do or what's being done. Things go along pretty well don't they doctor more. That's right and usually that's the case. But sometimes something happens of a flood. But on they go and attack one of the face consequences of such a widespread catastrophe is very often the destruction of the
communication system telephones television sets radios ceased operate the fast and far reaching network for mutual telling of one patient never fall to pieces. And we have left only the basic primitive means of communicating with one another which puts us in a pretty bad spot. Secondly does because then social life fall to pieces to a call for help a shouted command can't be heard very far around and can't cover much ground. So it's wise to realize that modern communication system is it can fail us. We need to prepare for the fact that in a disaster situation where so many people need to be told so many things you can't always tell. Consider this man.
It's May 11 1953 in Waco Texas. He has a telephone in his hand. He has something of stupendous importance to tell. Why can't he tell an operator OPERATOR What have you that called Austin. I've got to get in touch with Mr. McGill. Mr. Boom again oh it's urgent it is urgent. This man is a civil defense director toward Natal has struck his town leaving block on block of tragic devastation. He's trying to call the office of defense and disaster relief at his state capital. But hundreds of other people are calling hundreds of other places hundreds of anxious people outside of trying to call friends and relatives in the stricken city. The toll lines are jammed and they will be for hours. We're trying. We haven't been able to get it but it's been an hour. I'm sorry. But good heavens girl don't you understand I've got to get through to McGill I've got to tell ame got to town they have got good talent you know. Got to tell him that our business district is a shambles building after building
crushed collapsed torn apart mountains of debris. I've got to tell him that under this rubble there are unnumbered hundreds of injured unguarded scores of dying and darkness and rain and escaping gas and bricks and broken glass and live wires wife got to get up to No. Good and center this woman. It's the same day in the same tone then she too has something to tell. Something routine and consequential but necessary to her pattern of living. And she has a telephone in her hand the same telephone she used with such unthinking confidence 10 minutes ago when she said to her husband just find you here. Oh really well it doesn't look bad out here. A little cloudy maybe but oh yes the grocery list. Well look honey I'm warming the baby's bottle right now. I'll call you about 10 minutes and tell you what 10 minutes have passed so
far. Mrs. Jones has called her husband John. He's on the other end of the Phillies right down here. Why does he want she has to tell you. On a Monday morning. I want to hear you. Want John. John. Can't you hear me. Hello. Hello. John John. This housewife in the symbol of the sense of. All residents of the same tornado devastated city. Both have something to tell. Both are prevented from telling it by sudden prices which is disrupted their lives and their communication channels. And they will be cut off too from the things that they need to be told from the messages that is is essential or desirable for them to hear out of the residential section of Waco at Mrs. Jones
modest home. There is the stunning realisation of crisis but there are no definite clues the word size and shape because there is no communication. Just use two numbers and you get a busy signal. That's the way it's been for an hour now. Looks like there'd be some way you could find out. Look I don't know nothing about whether John was in there Our got out or why not a blessed thing. Just what you heard him yell over the phone. That building was fallen even though that's what she thinks she said. Oh there was so much noise made him shout and so on. Although you reckon it actually Fallon the whole thing no way of knowing. You can't get close enough down there to tail lay him and then he went in the car after floor ran over to tell us and after we'd tried and tried to call somebody but he just gave it up just gave it up and came on home so there wasn't a Chinaman's chance of getting to downtown even though it must be just awful down there. It's worse than
that. From what I hear Mrs. Thompson's Beau is the oldest one. He came from down there. He came on home because his little sister was with him. They wasn't her. That's a miracle. It took him an hour a whole hour they walked all the way scared to death of course and him carrying her and well well he says you just couldn't believe it if you saw it. But he don't know anything about the building where John was you know. You know there was no up in that part. But he says there's plenty of him down where he was. Big buildings too. There's just splinters you might say. Oh that is bad for job. And you'd think if he was all right he took. Don't look for him to be all right. Not strictly All right that is that be asking too much almost. But the might of took him to hospital or somewhere. That's what Limbaugh does. And here in the Thompson boy they come to check on John out the hospitals and the funeral homes.
But of course with everything in such a mess there's no telling. I guess with so many people hurting there's bound to be a lot of them hurt. He could be just about anywhere acai told Flora. You just gotta wait wait and hope and that's what she was doing poor thing blew that front window to the chicks just got to be too much bar and mad in me. We made her go back and lie down you know that turn now. Want to know if we got hold of anything. Nothin yet honey. Not a thing. Now you just try to right past dial that phone you paying the police station the numbers right there and I'll see if anything's coming out of this race yet. Still busy. That's what I thought. Isn't this a pretty come off. We got phones and write you always every day of the world and just when we need them the worst. Hey hey wait a minute I think I've got this thing going when.
Maybe oh my god they got back on they are. But how it was done in the parts of town where we caused catastrophe had to be imagined had to be reconstructed from guesswork and hearsay. The telling was not swift and smooth and complete. For those who needed so desperately to be told it was only a trickle then disjointed tragically in adequate and in many cases it was nonexistent Macao the power of radio and telephone service failures. Waco says and officials alike was slow and learning what had happened. Many of the people did not know anything unusual that taken place until the morning after and part this break in the pattern of communication may have been a blessing in disguise. Already the area was jammed with people
hampering vital rescue saver says. Traffic was so congested that ambulances and rescue vehicles could not get through. I had information of the tornado then broadcast immediately that hampering question of people in cars might have been a waste and it was. But in another sense it was far from a blessing. Let's see what this lack of telling and being told meant in the heart of downtown Waco where the devastation did not have to be imagined or reconstructed from guesswork and hearsay when it could be heard with the ears and seen with the eyes. Communication was oppressiveness. Gonna find you guys somebody with the way I can pull that heavy stuff off and not make it fast with your pal talk to you do you reckon you'll find a somebody with a winch truck. Probably but the question is when you stand around here a good 30 minutes or more before somebody found him. Every minute you stand around just could be the last one for some of those folks down under this mess they have been already in
already. Rock tap and we could talk an hour ago. A quick tap into if we don't get this stuff often here at home. In the code you can cool things off until you've got something. Wolf we're not going ahead. Cool yeah we got some books buried over there live maybe we got some folks buried here too. One of them's alive for sure then how come you just stand there and we can do anything else until somebody shows up with a winch truck you can pull this heavy stuff off there has got to be have to do all golly it's just went up to me and went round a corner and got four trucks just lined up in weight with a drum and cable one of these two of my songs you said waiting waiting for what somebody can scrounge up an engineer tell them how to take what's left of that building apart. They want to bring the whole thing down on top of the people that come in the basement all. Vital rescue work halted for want of a winch truck to move heavy debris in the
next block trucks waiting for debris that must wait for an engineer. One small but typical of a jumbled picture where the communications of crisis travels slowly or not at all. Yes Jim Jim. Yeah. Kevin Gardner in there your eyez you know if he ever got the mayor the chief police on the phone to tell him the highway patrol to provide police services. Chance lens is still fouled up. Anyway I thought that's where he said you guys to find him and tell him that we didn't find him. Well why did you come back then why didn't you just keep on working man we didn't even get to start looking. You can't get there from here. Streets that are full of buildings are so jammed up with cars and people you have to blast your way through and there's not enough City police left over town Jamma.
Was. Hampered in the process of telling him strong in the processes of being towed. This is the dilemma that faced the people of Waco Texas in the first critical hours following the tornado of 1953 when there was almost total breakdown in communications to solve the problems of communications and crisis. We need to know specifically what those problems are and no one can tell us better than the people who dealt with them face to hand who had to wade through these problems to bring them back in that shouted weld when the sastra struck. We went to Waco and talked to Mr. M.M. Bostic managing director of radio station k w t x in Waco. Mr. Bostic would you describe for us exactly what you did immediately following the tornado. Of course it took a minute or two for me to realize that a real emergency had occurred. I was in the fifth floor of the Amoco building
when a tornado struck I was right in the heart of it. Across from the seven story building that was completely demolished and I ran down the five flights of stairs out into the street and saw they complete havoc that had been run. They cars demolished and some people in jeopardy. So my first thought was rescue operation. Then I realized that there were enough people around for that. So I then turned to my own media radio. And the first thing that I did was to find a telephone that would work and call an out of town radio station that would cover the area. I asked them to broadcast that a tornado had struck and urged the people of Waco not to go into downtown Waco leave the streets clear for emergency vehicles. And calling the out of town station of course was because you had no power for your own facility. That's correct. We had no power supply and therefore we were off the air for about an hour. Half a what was your biggest problem. The biggest problem you had to overcome in
order to establish communications following the tornado. Well of course we had to have power. And there the Texas Power and Light Company. Put all of their men and to service and restored power as quickly as possible. It seemed like an interminable period of time because power was needed so badly. But they did get right on the job. The other problem was telephone lines. So we really had two principal problems. Power and telephone lines. What would you say was the main function of radio communication as it worked out following the tornado the first function was to appraise the people what had happened and urge those who were in the outlying areas to stay away from downtown Waco. We cleared some streets for our. Rescue vehicles and for ambulances. Then we began to
directly direct. Rescue operations from a remote truck that had been established in downtown Waco. We dispatched our own public address system which was mounted on an automobile at the time right down. To the heart of the rescue operation. And by that time the Conley Air Force base personnel had come in and we were able to more or less direct through proper officials they. Activities at that time. What lessons do you feel were learned about communications in times of disaster. From what you observed in Waco. Well first of all your radio stations and TV stations need power supplies for standby operation. Next you need remote units mobile units that can go to any emergency spot and broadcast back direct information so that you then can broadcast to the people.
That people need a. Radio. That will work from a dry cell battery and not depend upon your normal power supply because most people have those in automobiles. The principal lessons that we learned. Where. Another power supply. Whatever alternate source that might be. A method of communication. Either with your own mobile unit. Are with some kind of setup with a telephone company whereby they would have a mobile unit available and the telephone company here in Waco really came to the rescue and our tragedy here. The third one is that you really need a central source. For disseminating emergency messages something like a filter center. That's correct. And did you also discover that a plan in which all of the stations all of the radio stations in the community
might be tied together to broadcast on one frequency would be desirable if that plan could be set up beforehand. It would it would work very well and the people wouldn't have to tune back and forth fearing that they might. Miss a message. Actually we found here in Waco where we have two radio stations and people were had two radios tuned on listening to both of them for fear that they might miss an important emergency announcement. Thank you very much Mr. mastic. From KW ATX I don't buy ski Boulevard. We went downtown to the Southwestern Bell Telephone building. Here we talk to Mr. George Hudson district manager of Southwestern Bell and he gave us this account of communications in Waco following the tornado. Mr. Hudson would you tell us what your first actions were when you learned that a tornado had hit downtown Waco. The first indication I had that a major disaster had. Struck
Waco was at 5:00. P.M.. I immediately went up stairs to second floor where our dial switches are located. And found that there was a tremendous overload on the equipment which meant that a great number of people were trying to use their telephone. I. Took a test and for a month and cut in on the local radio stations lines. And asked them to broadcast in urgent appeal to the public. To please not use their telephones except in an emergency. And they did so they did a fine job of that. Immediately after I did that I came downstairs and with the district manager got into one of our mobile telephone equipped vehicles and drove around on to Austin street and down the three blocks to where the center of the tornado had
struck. I parked the vehicle on the sidewalk in front of the First National Bank directly across the street from the RTA Denis building which was. To us the most seriously damaged part of the area. What was the biggest problem you faced in helping set up communications for this disaster stricken city. To us the most important thing that stood out at the moment was that there were no overall plans. Either for rescue or a communication center. There were none functioning. And with the telephone lines in the immediate area knocked out. We were hit. We were the. Message Center. For the. Immediate steps taken for rescue and also for alerting other agencies we immediately contacted the Red Cross civilian defense police and other agencies and notified them that we were on the spot and that you were ready
to work as a communication center. When they came into the function. Yes sir. Well now I have noted in what you have told me that you didn't rush out and start rescuing people from under rubble yourself but what about the job of setting up communications Why was this. Well it's because we felt like we were doing the job that we had been trained to do which is serving the emergency area with available communications. You were trained communicators not trained rescue workers and so you did what you were trained to do that try. But what would you say are the consequences for a community that's been hit by a disaster and is deprived of communications. Well I would say that chaos is the inevitable answer or result panic. Or lack of direction or effective action. Perhaps the. Total rescue effort hinges on
effective well-functioning communications following such a disaster very definite. What lessons do you feel were learned about communications in disaster from the Waco tornado. Well I think it was emphasized again in a very harsh way. That there must be a plan to cope with any emergency. It must be rehearsed. Or understood by all concerned and the participants are the people taking part must stick to that job. Thank you very much Mr.. Thank you sir you have heard these firsthand accounts from the visuals of a disaster stricken city leaders who found the crises of sudden good times trophy multiplied a thousandfold by the problems of communication failure. They are part of the growing evidence that when the sastra strikes a measure of the threat to ourselves and our way of living is the extent of damage done to our communication system. Disaster takes his toll and chaos and
confusion and minutes loss and needs no help not given. Manpower wasted. And supplies down the street. That toll can be diminished by swift and purposeful action. My vital information flowing smoothly from agency to agency mine integrated answers to the challenges of crisis. But only if we see to it that out channels for telling and being told are kept intact. Only if we start with the base realisation that in times of grave this crisis you can't always tell where. The room was. Rude. A ringing. Noon. News. When Disaster Strikes. Radio television the University of Texas has brought you the fourth in the series of programs designed to show how modern Americans
react to the crisis of a disaster situation. Today's program you can't always tell was prepared with the cooperation of Dr. Harry Moore of the Department of Sociology of the University of Texas. And the Hogg foundation for mental health. We're indebted to the division of defense and disaster relief for the governor's office the state of Texas for material from its fires. I'm Dr. Harry be what you as technical director. Disaster Research Group NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES National Research Council for advice and counsel. When disaster strikes as directed by R. C. Norris from Scripps by the door and whens under the supervision of Robert F. sing. Special Music is under the supervision of Ellen the page who composed the original school. Your narrator is Jimmy Morris cactus Pryor speaking. You kept always tell us 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. For blood. This is the Emma E.B. Radio Network.
When disaster strikes
You can't always tell!
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 communication and problems arising from lack of communication. Obstacles in the process of sharing vital information. Difficulties in telling and being told.
Series Description
This series focuses on disaster preparation, as well as the effects wrought by disaster.
Broadcast Date
Public Affairs
Emergency communication systems.
Media type
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Composer: Page, Frances Eleanor
Director: Norris, R. C.
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: 59-15-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:13
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Chicago: “When disaster strikes; You can't always tell!,” 1959-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 12, 2024,
MLA: “When disaster strikes; You can't always tell!.” 1959-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 12, 2024. <>.
APA: When disaster strikes; You can't always tell!. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from