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V. CONCLUSIONS A. Validity of the Data Respondents were extremely cooperative, and were ordinar- ily willing to discus s their belief in the false report. Empir, cat tests of validity indicate that re spondents reported accurately. Further, the rather uncomplimentary reports of their own activities which re- sponclents gave during the interviews lead us to believe that little distortion took place. In many cases interviewees . . . describing their behavior told of failure to consider other community members. A bartender, upon receiving a call from his wife telling him that the dam was broken, quietly turned over his work to his assistant and fled in silence. A responsible councilwoman fled with his wife, leaving an elderly couple who roomed in his home to fend for themselves. One woman ran to the aid of a neighbor with whom she had been feuding for years. She fled from town with the neighbor, forgetting entirely to pick up her mother, who lived on the same street. It may well be that people feel mote freedom to recount un- heroic or foolish behavior which has no dire consequences. At any rate, there seems no reason to conclude that respondents will give invalid reports of their activities during false disasters. The Spread calf the False Renc~rt The false report which lee! to the exodus from Port Jervis originated outside the community. It gained quick and widespread acceptance for a variety of reasons. The entire area hac] been sub- jectec3 to emergency flood conditions for a period of clays. There was general belief that the Wallenpaupack Dam might not be strong enough to contain the flood waters. Prior rumors to the effect that the clam had given way had circulated through the town during the entire period of the flood. The rumor with which we are concerned may have been especially credible because it was first communicated by an official when he broadcast it over the fire -truck loudspeaker system. His statement of the threat was heard by a number of citizens simultan- eously. The rumor continued to spread by word of mouth. Firemen 77
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knocked on doors telling people to evacuate, and private citizens on foot and in cars communicated the message to one another. There was no indication that the message underwent any significant change in content during its spreacl. The message origin- ally stated: "Emergency . . . the Wallenpaupack Dam has broken. 't It remained substantially the same in the retelling. It is clear that this was precisely the situation which Port Jervis residents had been anticipating, so that the likelihood of distortion in transmission was s mall . C. Official Activities During the Disaster Those in official positions in control and communication centers seem to have acted in accordance with their community re- sponsibilities rather than their personal responsibilities. We cannot conclude that the manner in which officials acted is indicative of how they might have responded to an actual disaster, since no officials at communication or control centers accepted the false report complete- ly. When officials had doubts as to whether the report was true or false, they weighed the danger of delay against the value of veri- fication. In each case, their estimation of the length of time until the water would strike, plus their doubts as to whether it would strike at all, resulted in their asking people to wait for verification before flight. Population reactions to the activities of officials and disaster groups during the threat period were, in general, favorable. The city was turned over to Civil Defense during the flood emergency per- iod. During the time the rumor was circulating, the Fire and Police Departments and the local radio broadcasting station shared leader- ship r ole s with Civil Def ens e . The autho rity of the s e agencie s was well established before the emergency period. There was no evidence of any other change in leadership in the community during the rumor period or there after. D. Effects of the Message Variations in the source and channel of the threat mes sages caused no perceptible difference in respondent reaction. Evacuation 78
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was no more likely when the source of the alarm was official. Fur- ther, evacuation was no more likely when advice to evacuate was in- clude d in the thr e at me s s ag e . On the othe r hand, the denial me s s ag e was more effective when it was communicated by officials, although the content of the denial message does not seem significantly related to its credibility. Evidently the cost of failing to believe a threat message was felt to be extremely high in case the report should turn out to be true. There was very little cost involved in displaying caution about acceptance of a denial message; refusal to believe such a message could result only in a delay in returning home. Those who actually fled were far more cautious than other believers in accepting a denial message as true; both their flight anCt their reluctance to dis- believe in the danger may indicate that their degree of belief was stronger initially than that of people who delayed flight or who intended to remain at home. _ Quarantelli (16) has pointed out that experience in a previous crisis situation may sensitize individuals to any signs which indicate a possible recurrence. Some evidence for such a theory is provider} by the fact that the degree of urgency of the Treat message (defined by its inclusion of advice to flee) and its source were irrelevant in the de cision to evacuate . Howeve r, we find that individuals at cliff er - ent distances from the threat reported similar degrees of belief in the [else report. It is difficult to assume that people on high ground and people on low ground (the latter had literally been nooded out only a few clays before) were equally sensitized. Since belief (measurer] by reported belief rather than by other behaviors) is constant over the population, while flight was confined to those who lived in inherently dangerous areas, it is more sensible to conclude that geographic proximity to the threat, rather than previous sensitization, was the factor which determined flight. Once this as gumption i s made, we . ~· . ~. . may wish to conclude that reluctance to ac ~. - - . . ~. ~ cept rental was a function ot having tie e, rather than a function of stronger initial belief in the danger. An examination of demographic variables and of differing roles in the community show that these too seem relatively unrelated to flight. No variable which does not, implicitly or explicitly, in- valve the geographic proximity of the individual to the river is an important determinant of flight. However, once flight had taken place 79 . .
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the group which fled began to act somewhat differently from others. In general, their threat-orientation was of greater temporal duration. The fact that only geographic proximity changed the proba- bility of flight suggests that a simple matrix may be set up to define the decision process which individuals used in deciding to flee or to remain where they were. Only a few alternatives need be considered: those which specifically concern the individual's estimate of (1) the time at which the water will arrive, and (2) the chance that it may deluge the area in which he finds himself. Such a matrix was con- structed, and may be adequate to describe the decision process which takes place in this kind of disaster situation. If this model is adequate, it may be concluded that indiv~du- als can be expected to act simply and directly to remove themselves from the danger situation, provided they are sufficiently informed in advance concerning the nature and consequences of a specific catas- trophe. On the other hand, where the threat is ambiguous, confused and hurried thinking is likely to lead to inappropriate decisions for action. In addition, those who believed the threat message, but were confused or uncertain as to whether it would strike the area in which they lived, showed a strong tendency to seek clarification of the situ- ation. Ambiguity concerning the range of destruction is likely to jam communication channels, and i t i s also likely to delay flight; both of these results can eventuate in unnecessary loss of life. From this evidence we would conclude that it is highly im- portant to provide (1) an educational program designed to acquaint the public with the nature of potential disaster and the requisite actions for survival, and (2) prompt reduction of ambiguity concerning the range of destruction while the disaster is in progress. Without these, the reactions of the population will be unpredictable and possibly in- appropriate . We find that all `~ass media are effective in calming and in informing the population; we find that confusion (a concomitant of var- ious phenomena which go under the name of "panic'') may be a result of the lack of adequate information provided before, during and after the disaster takes place. Finally, we have some evidence for the fact that the activities of a well informed population under threat may be predictable. The method for prediction is suggested in the body of the report. 80
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