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II. COMMUNICATION PATTERN OF THE RUMOR AND DENIAL The information which follows come s primarily from one to two hour interviews with thirty-one key individuals in and around Port Jervis. These individuals were chosen on the basis of their official positions, participation in disaster work, and their nearness (hypothe- sized or actual) to the central path of the Saturday night rumor. These persons are listed in Appendix B. In addition, approximately a dozen informal interviews were held with Port Jervis officials who were per- ipherally involved in the action, and with officials of nearby Matamoras whose activities affected the Port Jervis situation. The story from these interviews is, on the whole, fairly con- sistent; there are some discrepancies which require inference on the part of the investigators. Where such discrepancies occur, they will be noted. We will attempt here to give a statement summarizing these interviews. In the detailed account which follows the summary, addi- tional consideration is given to the action at various official centers. A 0~ View There is a good deal of concrete information which points t a general atmosphere of uneasiness on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On Saturday night there were numerous rumors coming into Port Jervis from nearby towns, largely transmitted by telephone. Shortly before midnight, a false report came in which resulted in the exodus of a size- able portion of the population. The main source of this false report was a message from out- of-town transmitted over the radios on the fire-trucks which were pumping out cellars and homes in various parts of the city. The mes- sage was quickly picked up and passed on by one or more fire-trucks, individual firemen, and by neighbors and friends warning each other by word-of-mouth and by phone. Some people in cars rode through the streets shouting that everyone must get out. Residents began to seek confirmation by going to City Hall, where the Fire and Police Headquarters are located. Others went to Civil Defense Headquarters, to fire houses, f~re-trucks, and to 11

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individual policemen centers, while some ~ ~At. ~ and fir emen. Othe r s telephoned tines e and other tuned their radios to the local station, WDT C. M ally people, however, started malting immediate preparations for flight to high ground. Most of the official centers, Police, Fire, and Civil Defense, took delaying action while they made contact by raclio with the Wallen- paupack Dam or source s near the Dam. In other words, with the ex- ception of the message from out of town which went to the various f~re- trucks, there was no spreading of the rumor by officials during the period] of seeking verification. The principal message transmitted to residents during this period was that it might weH be a false report, that they were checking with the Dam, and that residents should wait for office a] wor d. A similar decision was made inclepenclently of other agencies at Fire, Police, and Civil Defense Headquartersi i. e., We decision to check win the Dam and to tell residents to wait for confirmation from this source. In addition to this independent decision, there were joint decisions made by these agencies when they began actively to commun- i =~ - with ^~= He ~ , , ~ , ~ ~.~ .__. After the denial of the report came through, *obese agencies transmitted it to one another, to the local radio station, and directly to the public in various ways. Two communications chan- nets were used by officials for verification: telephone and short-wave r adio. B. Detailed Account The reader will find it easier to follow the action if he refers to the schematic comm~,nicat~on chart while reading this account. Of the thirty-one key respondents, over half specifically men- tion that people were concerned with the river or Dam and describe rumors which circulated prior to the Saturday night episode. Three of these added that rumors concerning the Dam had circulated in previous years. There is some evidence that such rumors were in circulation concurrently with the particular report which gained momentum and swept through Port Nerves. The manager of the local power copy and the ticket agent at the Erie Railroad Station both reported numerous cads on Thursday 12

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and Friday asking if the Wallenpaupack Dam had really broken. A city official, a theatre manager, the Police Chief, a fire-radio operator, the Mayor, a ham Calico operator, and a member of the WDLC staff all mentioned rumors about the Dam which they heard on Friday and Saturday. The statement that the Dales gates were going to be opened to relieve pressure was circulated, in part by the Police Chief. This message, which was designed to give reassuring information, may have been ambiguous and potentially threatening to inhabitants. A sub- stantial portion of the resident sample reported hearing previous rumor s. Many other s reported wide spread speculation as to what would happen If the Dam broke. In addition to the rumors with a general flood referrent, the Police Chief en c! the ham radio operator reported a typhoid epidemic rumor which was squelched before it gained momentum when the City Health Officer gave counter-information on the radio. The report which spread through Port Serves on Saturday night appears to have originated in Sparrowbush, New York, a rural com- mun~ty a few miles west of Port Jervis. At about 10:30 Saturday night, a stranger ran into a restaurant there and told the owner (who is also a volunteer fireman) that the Wallenpaupack Dam hacl broken. He added that firemen in a community up lib e river were evacuating every- one. The restaurant owner's telephone was out of commission because of the flood. He went with three orbed men to the highway and began to stop cars to warn them of the impending danger. The second car stopped fortuitously was that of the Sparrow- bush Fire Captain, who went to the fire house ant] radioed} to the Fire Base Radio in Port Jervis. When he announced, "Emergency -- Stand by!, '' the air was cleared and all radios in the fire houses, fire head- quarters, and or the fire-trucks, were held open for the message. He then reported that he had been stopped by firemen from l~u~nberiand (one of whom was the restaurant owner) and was told that the Wallen- p aup ack Dam had gone out. In Port Jervis, the Fire Chief was on a fire-truck in the flooded area pumping out a cellar when he heard thi s r eport. He noti - fiec] the radio operator at Headquarters to ask for a repeat and for identification of the sender of the message. The Sparrowbush Fire Captain repeated the message and identified himself. The Port Jervis 14

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Fire Chief immediately told his radio operator to check with the Dam through the Midclletown Fire Base Radio Station. During this period, the Port Jervis chief fire radio operator heard the report on a monitor set arid rushed to headquarters to assist in the communication. When he arrived, he received a telephone call from a resident stating that one or more fire-trucks which had received the Sparrowbush message were driving through town, sounding their sirens, and shouting for people to get out because the Dam had broken. He decided independently to broadcast to the fire-trucks that he thought the report was false and that headquarters was checking on it. He also issued specific instructions to the errant fire-trucks mentioned above: "You have been given no orders to do what you are doing. Cut it the hell out and get back to the fire truck house. " This was at about 11:15 p. m. By this time, the rumor had gained considerable momentum. Cars were in the streets, and people were clamoring for everyone to get out of town. Residents were waking their neighbors, and groups of people were descending on City Hall, fire houses, Civil Defense Head- quarters, and other centers in the city. In all probability, the rumor was also being carried into the city in cars and through telephone calls from outside. In Matamoras, for example, a car-full of people came through the main street shouting for everyone to get out. Someone in the com- munity hear] this, ran to the fire house, and blew the fire siren before anyone there knew what he was doing. To at least some of the people in this town the siren meant impending flood, largely because officials had made an announcement to this effect cluring the flood to which they had just been exposed. A mass evacuation then took place in this town too . The Matamo r a s s i r en c ould be he ar d in the r' ve r -f r ont s e c ti on of Port Serves; it may have had the effect of sensitizing residents to a threatening message. The Police were at this time working either in cooperation with the Fire radio, or were making parallel efforts to check on the authenticity of the report through the Middletown Mutual Aid System. They got in touch with the Port Jervis Civil Defense Headquarters by telephone and asked them to check for verification at the Dam with the Civil Defens e shortwave radio facilitie s . 15

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The false report was first transmitter} to Civil Defense Head- quarters when Mrs. A., a Civil Defense official, called a friend} on another matter. The friend said, "I can't talk to you because there is a sound truck outside telling us to evacuate because the Dam has bro- ken. I'm packing to leave. " Mrs. A. rang off and went to the short- wave radio in the next room. There she met the chief radio operator and his assistant. The operators had just received a short-wave message from Police Head- quarters asking themto verifythe report that "The Wallenpaupack Dam has broken. " They now looked at a map to find the closest place to the Dam. They decided that they should have two sources of infor- mation and should try to contact (1) the Dam superintendent and (2) the Scr anion Electric Power Co company. The radio operator fir st told his assistant to try to call Scranton Electric. Before this time, he had been in contact with a ham radio operator in Port Jervis, who had established a relay channel through which he could radio Wallenpaupack Dam authorities. From Wednes- day to Saturday the ham operator had periodically radioed the latest news on the condition of the Dam to Civil Defense Headquarters. For this reason the Civil Defense operator tried to radio the ham to ask him to use his channels to get through to the Dam. He was unable to reach him by radio, but finally got him on the telephone and asker] him to do two things: (1) to try to radio the Dam for verification, and (2) to activate the emergency Army short-wave radio network. He cautioned the ham operator not to mention on the air that the Dam may have bro- ken. He said, 'Just ask for the condition of the Dam. " The ham operator then tried to radio the Dam, but was unable to e stablish contact through his r egular channel. He r adioed the Army and told them to activate He network, s eying " We' r e not sure, but it may be a rumor. " He then telephoned Civil Defense and told them to try to reach the Dam through their own channels, since he himself had been unsucc e s sful. By this time, the Civil Defense office had been mobbed] by people asking for verification, and asking what they should do if the Dam had really broken. As one person there put it, "It was as if a firecracker had been set off in the office. . . " 16

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contact. Mrs. A. asker] people to wait for verification, and told them that the report was being checked at that moment. She felt considerable compunction about this, because she assumed that she was cutting down their time to escape provided the report was true. She looker] at the map again, and estimated that there would be two hours time before the water reached Port Jervis. In light of this judgment, she continued to tell people to wait for verification, although she still experienced some anxiety about her own decision. At this point, one radio operator received a telephone call from Police Headquarters saying that they had gotten through to the Dam and that the report definitely was false. The other radio operator had contacted Scranton Electric by radio, and a few minutes later he reported that Scranton Electric denied that there was anything wrong with the Dam. Mrs. A. immediately transmitted this information to the wait- ing people. She informed them that she had two official sources of dis- c onfir mation, and she r elate s that p e ople we r e imme cliately c elm e d and left for their homes. At this same time, Civil Defense officials were in telephone contact with the local radio station, although it is not clear whether CD or WDL`C initiated the communication. At any rate, WDLC had already received the denial from Police Headquarters when the communication took place, and was preparing to go on the air. During all this time, the Director of Civil Defense for Port Jervis had been home asleep, after having worked day and night for CD during the flood emergency. He was awakened by his wife who heard frightened people yelling in the streets. He got ares sed and drove down to Civil Defense Headquarters, but would seem to have arrived after most of the decisions at that center had been made. Civil Defense, then, made the following decisions after re- c eiving the Are at me s s age: (~) to seek verification from two official sources, (2) to check He proximity of the threat to s ee if they could afford to ask people to wait for verification, (3) to tell people to delay action while awaiting information, and (4) to disseminate the denial to as many people as they could 17

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The officials of WDL`C, the local radio station, were also taking certain actions at this time. The station had gone off the air at its usual time, 11:00 p. m., and no one was on duty. The Program Director heard the rumor from a friend and went to WDL`C. One announcer received a telephone call from a friend informing him of the Dam break. He went directly to Police Headquarters and conferred tenth the chief. Another announcer received the word from an official . ~ ~ . , ~ ~ . ~ ~ at Civil Delense Headquarters when he went there to report for flood- relief duty. He then went to Police Headquarters where he met the other announcer. The announcers received the denial message from the Police (chief and carried th,S information with them to the Station Manager of WDLC. At 12:10 p. m., the Station Manager put the station back on the air to di s s emirate the denial me s sage. We shall r eturn to this after seeing what was going on elsewhere in the city at this time. When the false report first started circulating, many people called the local railroad station asking whether or not the report was true. Many of the callers were employees of the railroad. One of the people on duty helped to spread the rumor by stating that it was true as far as he knew. The other (at another phone in another part of Abe station) referred the calls to the Police. This employee caller] the Police himself (as soon as he could get a line through) and received the report that they "had no knowledge of the Daffy having broken and thought it was a rumor " The railroad man then conveyed this rather ambigu- ous message to all subsequent callers. Among organizations which had Heir own communications systems, this was the only one which was able to supply information as to whether people employed by such organizations will turn to them during emergency periods. (3) The other organizations . such as the power company and the telephone We do find, however, that in the case of the railroad, at least 20 per cent of Hose who called the ticket office to check on the rumor were railroad employee s. v , company, dice not have information bearing on this question. At approximately 11: 30 - 11:40 p. m., the denial me s sage Police, Fire, and annarentlv the fir st came in from the loam through various channels to _ O ators immediately informed Civil Defense Headquarters. The Fire Radio was ~ ~ , to receive the denial through the Mid~etown Base Station. The oper- informed the Fire Chief, who was still out in town on one ot the trucks. The Fire Chief directed his radio operator to tell the people that the rumor was false, while he headed out of town to 18

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stop a convoy of fire equipment which was coming into Port Jervis to assist in the cleanup. He had been informed of a tremendous jam of cars on the highways -- in some cases two-abreast on a two-lane highway -- and wanted to stop the convoy before it became hopelessly entangled. The radio operator went outside and, using the fire-truck loudspeaker, broadcast the denial message to the crowd in the street in front of Headquarters. Finding this quite effective, he returned to the short-wave radio, ordered all fire-trucks to turn up their loud- speakers, and used the truck radios as a public address system. He continued to broadcast this denial until 12:20 a. m., at which time the populace seemed to have calmed down fairly well. At about the time the Police got the denial, the announcers from WDL`C arrived at Police Headquarters. The Police Chief con- veyed the denial to them and suggested that WDL`C go back on the air. The announcers went back to the broadcasting station. In the meantime the Chief personally spoke to the gathering crowd at City Hall and d~s- patched officer s to stop people on foot and ire car s who were spr eading the rumor. The Police radio operator also called Civil Defense to in- form them that they had received the denial, and that Civil Defense could dis continue attempts to verify. WDL`C went back on the air at 12:10 a. m. and began broad- casting the denial. The fir st me s sage was: " Ladie s and gentlemen: The rumor that has been going around that the Wallenpaupack Dam broke is riot true; it is nothing but a rumor. We have been in contact with Dam officials. i' This message was alternated with record and organ music for about fifteen minutes. In the meantime, one of the announcers edited the message carefully to eliminate all references to the Dam, water or flood, fearing that someone might tune in on the message only long enough to hear the word ''Dam" and then run. After one or two short messages: "It is only a rumor. It is NOT true, " this message was developed: "Ladies and gentlemen. It is only a rumor -- it is NOT true. There is no need for anyone to be up on mountains or high places. It would be best if you returnedhome and did not spread the rumor. " This me ssage was repeated at intervals while the restraining time was filled by music. Since many of the people in town were thought to know and tru s t c e r fain of th e anno unc e r s, the Stats on Manag e r and two anno un c e r s took turns reading the denial message. At 1:15 a. m., they also played 19

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a four -minute one -way conver sation with the Dam superintendent, who r eported that the gate s had been opened for a few minute s at 9: 30 p. m. to relieve pressure, but that everything was in fine shape. In addition, they broadcast an interview with a river official who gave out reassur- ing information. The denials continued to be broadcast until 2:43 a. m., when, in consultation with the Police, it was decided that the town had quieted down and little more needed to be done. During the preceding period, officials at WDL`C took other positive action in spreading the denial message. They contacted the local paper, asking them to r eque st AP in New York to spr ead the denial. They also called CBS-TV and radio in New York, since these stations reach Port Jervis, and asked them to assist in the denial broadcast. Finally, they contacted Civil Defense and the Sparrowbush Fire Department requesting assistance in communicating the denial to those who did not have radios or (lid not have them tuned in. One pe- culiar thing stands out in all this. A few key respondents reported a broadcast in which they were asked to turn up the volume of late radios so that other s might hear the me s sage. Only one s ample re spondent reports such a broadcast, and no person at WDL`C reports such a mes- sage going out over the air. This, then, is a detailed sketch of the actions taken at various official centers during the rumor period. It is interesting to note that it did not occur to any of the officials interviewed at Police, Fire, or Civil Defense Headquarters to leave their posts and flee. None of the key interviewees reported full belief in the false report, which may account for the fact that they did not think of flight. However, some of them stated that "I was elected to stay here, " or "I was up all night and was too tired. . . " Summary An examination of the information from official sources leads to the following general conclusions: ( 1 ) Independent decisions to verify the false report by con- tacting officials at or near the Dam were undertaken at the main com- munication centers; Fire, Police, and Civil Defense Headquarters. (2 ~ None of the official s at the main co mmunication c ente r s disseminated the false report while waiting for verification. 20

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(3) Officials at a semi-official center were called upon for verification by at least some of the employees there, and in some cases these individuals disseminated the false report while awaiting a. . ver~cat~on. (4) No official at any of the main communication centers re ported considering flight during the period of belief or the period of waiting for verification. (5) After receipt of the denial message, all agencies actively attempted to disseminate the denial to the population through various media such as loudspeaker, radio, and face-to-face communication. (6) The Fire and Police Departments and the local radio station were lib e primary agents in the public communication of the denial message. 21

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