Emergency Communications - In the past.
Who? Where? When? Why?
In case of emergency, who tells us where to go, when to go and why we are going or doing whatever they have asked us to do? The mystery deepens.
As a child, I experienced a terrifying event close to home, late in the evening. I was in bed and shared a room with my sister. My Mom was talking to us, probably telling us what we had to do the next day, and suddenly there was a loud boom. We had no idea what it was. My Mom ran up the attic stairs and could see nothing but orange in the skies. She gathered us, along with my Dad who was blissfully watching TV and we all went outside in our pajamas to discover that just a block away a huge gasoline tanker had tipped over and exploded. Every resident of Mountain Avenue was out on the street gawking at the huge ball of flame in the sky. Neighbors were knocking on doors, notifying the people closest to them so that in the event we had to evacuate, everyone would be ready.
My Dad, being the son of a plumber ran inside and turned off the gas lines to the house, and also helped the neighbors do the same thing. No one knew what was going on and really who should we call? All the policemen and firemen in town were onsite trying to piece things together and keep neighbors out of harm’s way.
In the end, we pulled out the police scanner radio, listened and relayed information to the people closest to us. It turns out that the driver once tipping his truck had about 9 seconds to get out and alert the homes that he tipped in front of before the explosion happened. He managed to knock on the doors of three homes and save the lives of more than 10 people that night. He wasn’t speeding. He was just not familiar with the area and never expected such a sharp turn on a residential street. So he was recognized for his heroic acts after the fact. Those three houses burned nearly to the ground and the people that owned them were displaced for months on end.
As newspapers came out the next day, we got the full story and realized how lucky everyone was to have survived this tragedy. It was the talk of the town for weeks afterwards and many that lived in town at the time still remember the details as do I.
My point is that during this event, no one called us. We didn’t have cell phones. We did have a police scanner radio but not many did, so no one would have actually known some of the real time details without a scanner. It never made the radio and it certainly didn’t make the national news which was over for the night anyway.
We found out most of what was happening the old fashioned way. We asked neighbors, older kids rode their bikes up the street, closer to the fire and asked first responders what happened or they saw the carcass of the exploded truck and came back down the street to tell the rest of us what was happening. We watched foam trucks from surrounding towns go by heading towards the accident site. We talked to everyone that went by coming from the direction of the accident. That’s how we got our information. That’s how we knew that the block before us was supposed to have been evacuated and that our block was almost evacuated. We also learned that if the gasoline had entered the sewer system we would all have been in very grave danger.
We didn’t have an emergency alert system. There was no town crier. For weeks details filtered down to residents over time. Slowly but surely over time details became twisted and unfocused. It was similar to a game of telephone where you were given the secret and told to repeat it to the next in line, word for word. By the end of the line, there were more changes than one thought possible. We needed an emergency alert system.
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