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INTRODUC TION On August 19, 1955, a considerable portion of the city of Port Pelvis, New York, was overwhelmed by floods. The water tract barely receded from the streets when, in the middle of the night, a false re- port began to circulate to the effect that a tremendous dam above the city had broken under the weight of the flood waters. About a quarter of the city's inhabitants fled within an hour. The following week a team of psychologists began an investiga- tion of the incident. This report will present the findings from that inve stigation. Three main considerate ons motivated the research project: (1) Disaster situations seem to provide an opportunity for the study of human interaction under conditions of stress. (2) The apparent s~milar- ity of natural catastrophes to those of wartime leads one to believe that predictive statements about population behaviors under natural disaster might hold for war disaster. (3) An examination of the pervasive and threatening rumor which stimulated the exodus from Port Jervis might reveal the structure of this kind of communication network. It is clearly difficult, if not impossible, to reproduce late emotional components of disaster situations in laboratory embedments with human subjects. At the same time, there is evidence that simu- lated disaster situations, such as mock evacuations, do not produce essential aspects of catastrophes. For example, in Spokane, Washing- ton (1) during a mock evacuation, the observed pace of residents re- entering the city after the exercise was greater than their pace leaving the city. If research is to be clone on disaster, it is necessary to con- duct field studies of actual catastrophes in such a fashion that they pro- vide comparable data, even though there is serious question about the kinds of hypo1:he se s which can be te sted under the se relatively uncon - trolled conditions. Descriptive field studies in stricken communities India ate the kinds of problem which later can be examined more systematically. However, crouch of the data which have come out of these studies are not comparable in any meaningful way. While disjoint hypotheses can be offerer] from each, there is no way of deciding whether or not they

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apply to any other situation. The sampling techniques and the kinds of information which are collected vary markedly from study to study. In some instances, the reproducibility of data extracted from inter- viewsis questionable. The suddenness with which disaster strikes, and the consequent need to carry out the field study quickly, create tremendous difficulties in planning a coherent piece of research. In the absence of any unified theory from which an organized set of hypotheses might be drawn, the Port Pelvis incident was ex- amined largely in descriptive terms. A large body of data was gathered with the use of careful sampling, interviewing, and coding techniques, in the hope that it would be amenable to comparison to future studies, similarly conducted, and that it would begin to sugge st hypothe s e s which could be tested and retested in other catastrophic situations. Two kinds of data were collected. First, a series of inter- views were conducted among officials in and around Port Jervis. A descriptive account of the rumor communication network and of behav- iors of residents prior to and during the spread of the rumor was pre- pared from these data. Second, data were collected from a random s ample of city re sidents, and ~ separately) from a s aturation s ample taken in the previously flooded section of the city. These data were analyzed to test some general hypotheses which were formulated be - fore the field study was begun. When we have once stated the unique characteristics of the disaster, we can begin to look into the kinds of stimuli which will affect the behaviors of the people involved. Even the limited comparisons which are available from previous field studies suggest that the effec- tiveness of measures taken to control activities in a disaster differs from situation to situation. Since an implicit applied problem in disas- ter research is the control of community behavior, it is of primary importance to be able to define the situation so that activities may be predicted and the proper measures for control can be instituted. If the disaster studied is a "false alarm" or a rumor, as it wasinPortlervis, thequestionof the meaning of the date becomes even more complex. On an intuitive basis, one might say that while the false report is believed, reactions to it will not differ from reac- tions to a threat which turns out to be real. However, serious doubts are raised immediately as to whether post hoc reports given by 2

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r e sponclents about their activitie s during the spr ead of a rumor will be valid to the same degree as their reports of an actual disaster. Specifically, at least two possibilities exist. (1) After a false report, the respondent may desire not to appear "taken in" and may color his description of the events accordingly, or (2) the respondent may be able to give a more realistic picture of the false report, because his fears are unrealized and he suffers less shock. If the respondent is either more or less accurate in his re- port of a false disaster than in his report of an actual (Lisaster, it will be relatively fruitless to try to compare interview data from the two kinds of situation. In the Port Jervis study, a careful estimate is made of the empirical validity of data obtained from the interviews; it remains to be seen whether a match exi sts with data from actual dis asters. If the match is pock, of course, the study of rumors will have to remain relatively independent from the study of real disaster. If the match is good, we can examine certain reactions to false reports without differentiating them from reactions to other catastrophes, un- til lib e period of denial. Further, we may compare the communications systems of die aster s which differ largely with re specs to whether or not their referents are real or imagined. In order to facilitate the development of comparable data, the methodology of the study is presented in greater detail than usual (see especially Appendices A, B and C). 3

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SKYL IN E (PAR K ~ RT.209 ~ PENNA. `` Gil ~,, D \ PL ATE I PORT JERVIS, N.Y. AUG. 19 - 1955 Shaded portion equals flooded orsos ERIE RR TO N.Y.