Saturday, July 2, 2016

Crisis Communications in a Communications Crisis


When communications infrastructure is devastated for days or weeks in a horrific multistate natural disaster, how can city and state leaders or local volunteers orchestrate evacuations, aid, relief, and recovery? Where internet and electronics go out, lessons from the 1913 flood are useful

[The text below is a condensed variant of a keynote talk Handling a Crisis when Communications are Devastated: Case Study of the Great Easter 1913 Flood” given before the Greater Cincinnati Crisis Communication Workshop of the Regional Storm Water Collaborative. ]



If a colossal multistate natural disaster befell a third of the continental United States today—especially in the populous eastern half of the nation—and completely devastated all modern infrastructure, as happened during the widespread 1913 tornadoes and flood (still the flood of record in Ohio and Indiana), what makes us so sanguine that 21st-century technology will save the day? 

AT&T’s flooded facilities during the 1913 flood versus the flooded lobby of Verizon’s headquarters at 140 West Street in lower Manhattan almost a century later during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Message: Natural disaster can happen again and could disable 21st-century communications.

Yes, ordinarily we have satellite communications, cell phone towers, internet servers, wireless hot spots, and text-messaging and tweeting cell phones that keep us connected 24/7/365—but they all depend on a intact electrical power grid, finite battery life, and staying dry. All bets are off when the power grid blacks out and/or when electronics get wet.

When the lights went out during the 25-hour regional power blackout of July 13, 1977, resulting from lightning strikes to a Con Edison power substation, I was living in a 14th floor apartment in New York City. That hot and sticky evening, I vividly remember hearing all the humming motors of window air conditioners of my building and the building across the street all wind down in unison and die into sweltering silence. Lights were off. The refrigerator was off. The gas stove still worked, but the elevators were out (some people had to walk their dogs down and up 17 flights of stairs). Underground, people trapped in subway trains had to be led along tracks by workers with flashlights. But my husband at the time, a former Floridian who had lived through major hurricanes, also knew that no power meant no water pumps either in our building or at the water treatment plants; immediately, we filled every large container and the bathtub with clean water against what was clearly to be a long siege. And a few hours later, the building pipes were indeed dry and we were supplying neighbors with drinking water.
Before and after images of the US northeast and Canada taken from a DMSP (Defense Meteorological Satellite Program) satellite reveals the change in the nighttime city lights during the regional 2003 power blackout. The top image was acquired on Aug. 14, about 20 hours before the blackout, and the bottom image shows the same area on Aug. 15, roughly 7 hours after the blackout. In the bottom scene, notice how the lights in Detroit, Cleveland, Columbus, Toronto, and Ottowa are either missing or visibly reduced. Long Island, New York, was also significantly affected; however, Boston was left relatively untouched. Credit: Chris Elvidge, U.S. Air Force and NASA Earth Observatory 

Fast forward to the afternoon of August 14, 2003: it was déjà vu all over again when an even more massive power failure of similar duration blacked out eight states from New York to Michigan plus part of Canada. This time my car (in the Cleveland, Ohio, suburb of Lakewood) was trapped in the garage, which had an electric door opener. My desktop computer’s uninterruptible power supply battery backup thankfully kept beeping as it provided precious minutes for me to save open documents and shut down operations. Internet was unavailable and cell towers were out, not to mention the TV, although my hard-wired land line telephone thankfully still worked. (Hard-wired land lines are powered from a standard phone company, which has backup diesel generators—not sure about phone service through a cable TV operator—but note: cordless phones are useless because their base stations are powered through a wall plug.) Across the dial of a battery-operated transistor radio, I could find no signal from a radio station that could explain what was happening—clearly, many transmitters were out. All traffic signals and freeway lighting were dark. Air traffic control towers and runway lighting were inoperable. 
Houston during Hurricane Allison in April 2015 (note that the lights are still on although the freeway was impassable). Credit: Texas Monthly
During both major power failures, New York City and the U.S. and Canada dodged a bullet: the physical power distribution infrastructure was still essentially intact. Once the generators were up and supplying power again within about 24 hours, from the customers’ viewpoint it was back to business as usual: TV and radio stations were up and running again, as were internet servers and cellphone towers, not to mention the electronics in individual homes. Indeed, at least in Lakewood, the outage that evening had something of the character of a holiday party: with no electronics claiming anyone’s attention, the entire neighborhood turned outdoors to barbecue burgers thawing in their useless freezers and to enjoy summer nightfall and an unusual view of the starry night heavens from their front porches.
Several states received record-setting precipitation between May 2015 and April 2016. Credit: NOAA
Not so lucky are the people in Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas who have suffered a series of record precipitation events and major floods over the past 15 months since Hurricane Allison in April 2015 (see “Prayers and Lessons), as well as Missouri this past Christmas and New Year’s (see “Misery in Missouri).Most recently, just last month (June 2016) West Virginia has been drowning in unprecedented rainfall. And as anyone who has dropped a cell phone into the toilet or splashed a drink onto their laptop keyboard can attest, water instantly kills electronics. 


During Superstorm Sandy at the end of October 2012, New York City found that out bigtime, when storm surge flooding caused a Con Edison power plant along the East River to explode, instantly plunging lower Manhattan into darkness (scroll down here about two -thirds of the page to see video of explosion and instant darkness) and the city’s internet infrastructure was hammered. Many gas stations did not have power to pump the fuel evacuating cars. Of the few that did, most did not have internet connectivity to process credit cards—and ATM cash machines were also down. One wonders also whether their cash registers—which are basically special-purpose computers—worked even for cash transactions, or whether proprietors dusted off an old cash apron (note to self: put away an envelope of cash in small bills in event of a natural disaster).
Yes, a cash apron or belt-worn coin changer is totally retro, but it works reliably in the absence of electricity. Credit: Time-Life
Message: Extreme, widespread, intense, and prolonged rain events in the industrial and populous northeast and middle of the nation can happen again. Moreover, if a powerful 1913-scale storm system recurred over the same geography as it did a century ago, much of the nation’s communications systems would be directly in harm’s way. Even battery-powered devices would cease to work if the power goes out for longer than a day or two so batteries cannot be recharged.  
The interlocking nature of communications (and control systems) with the power system has drawn the attention of experts at the Department of Energy

Absent much 21st-century communications, are we ready for coordinating relief and recovery? What can be learned from how leaders and individuals responded during the 1913 flood?

Communications blackout
In 1913, the mainstream “broadcast” technology was newspaper publishing. Larger cities often had several newspapers—at least a morning paper and an evening paper—some of which printed multiple editions throughout the day to keep readers informed of breaking news. Supplementing phalanxes of beat reporters covering local and regional stories in person were national news stories carried by the Associated Press (AP) wire news service, which were filed both by AP staff reporters and by “stringers” (freelance reporters in various locales) around the nation. 

Newspapers also widely reprinted stories originating in other newspapers. Most nonlocal articles carried a dateline (the date and originating city or publication) but only rarely a byline (name of an individual reporter who wrote the copy). 

Although crude radio technology had been around for a decade (since Marconi’s famed 1903  transmission of the Morse Code letter S across the Atlantic Ocean in a widely hailed feat of “wireless telegraphy”), transmissions were largely sent and received by individual ham radio operators. By 1913, ham radio even had a rather unsavory reputation both for its unreliable experimental apparatus and for its considerable population of unlicensed and unruly teen-aged boys, who today would be called “hackers.” However, visionary engineers saw radio as a powerful new medium for delivering news and entertainment programming instantaneously to wide audiences. And the well-established wireline telephone and telegraph industries as well as some newspapers knew a threatening upstart technology when they saw one: in 1913, they were heavily lobbying Congress to restrain the development of radio broadcasting. But as of Easter weekend in late March 1913, no commercial broadcast radio existed: the mainstay instantaneous electrical communications technologies of telegraph and telephone all depended on overhead wires strung from poles, and were only point-to-point.

Enter Good Friday, March 21, when the wickedly powerful cold front swept across the eastern half of the nation from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Sustained hurricane-force winds reached 70 to 90 miles per hour in some cities, blowing down miles of telephone and telegraph wires. Freezing rain quickly followed, the weight of the ice pulling miles down even more miles of wires and snapping hundreds of poles (see “The First Punch).

Now, not every wire needs to be downed to silence transmissions; a few strategic breaks were enough to lead to a nearly perfect communications blackout over multiple states. Wireline communications that did remain were fitful and unpredictable. The consequences were dire: no information about the powerful storm system farther west could be received by the U.S. Weather Bureau in Washington, D.C.—and even if it had been, no warnings could have been telegraphed to cities and communities. So absolute was the communications blackout that in many newspapers no weather map was printed Easter weekend. Indeed, in some papers including in the ground zero of Dayton, Ohio, the published local forecast called for clear and sunny weather for Easter Sunday. Thus, not only was no warning issued about impending disaster, but in the absence of information the published forecast was fatally misleading.
Not only did page 1 of the March 22, 1913 Dayton Daily News forecast clear and sunny skies for Easter Sunday, but asserted that the weather bureau was “next to infallible” for its predictions!

That lack of warning coupled with the violent storm system’s fast approach accounted for Ohio’s hundreds of flood deaths (estimates range from the 420s to the 600s: see “‘Death Rode Ruthless’”). People in other regions that received timely and accurate warning (such as New York and down the Mississippi) had enough time to prepare to shelter in place or to get out of the way, and fatalities were dramatically fewer. And once the floods were raging, the torrents tore out railroad tracks and blocked the delivery of the U.S. mail.

So in 1913, how did people warn others and handle the catastrophe—distributing not just aid but also urgent information—when a major victim of it was the crippling of communications? 

Resourceful individuals took charge in ingenious ways.

Something old, something new
In Dayton and Hamilton, Ohio, individuals warned others in the cities of the danger that levees might be in danger of being overtopped by wedging open a factory whistle or continually ringing church bells. In Peru, Indiana, hundreds of lives were saved when one scared man ran through the streets pounding on doors and warning people to get to high ground. 
Credit: Federal Communications Commission - FCC EAS 2007 TV Handbook
Warnings about the flooding threatening lives in the middle of the state and devastating Dayton got to Ohio Governor James M. Cox through the fast action of two telephone engineers, Thomas E. Green and John A. Bell (see “The Governor’s Ear”). What Bell did for Dayton—keeping the governor in touch with the city every half hour—Green did for the rest of Ohio, causing Cox to call him “my electric scout.”
Telephone wire chief Thomas E. Green’s fast action with patching together emergency communications around the state of Ohio was credited with saving hundreds. Governor Cox later awarded Green (and John A. Bell) medals for heroic service during the 1913 flood. Credit: Cleveland Plain Dealer April 4, 1913 p. 4.

Cox—himself a long-time newspaper man and publisher of the Dayton Daily News—then held daily press conferences in the State House open to every newspaper reporter who could make it there, to spread the word around the state. Newspapers became the broadcast media for official notices, such as boil-water disinfection warnings and Cox’s notification of a 10-day bank holiday around the state. 

Moreover, as the social media of the time closely connected with their local communities, newspapers published column after column of messages from readers asking after relatives in the flood and tornado zones and publishing news as received of their rescues or their deaths. The newspapers themselves went to extraordinary efforts to typeset all this information—in the midst of a power outage, the Akron Beacon-Journal powered its linotype machine with motorcycle engines—and to distribute newspapers to flood-trapped residents around the state (see “‘Clevelanders Responding Nobly…’”).
Individual ingenuity played a big role in communications during the 1913 flood when the power was out. The Akron Beacon-Journal powered its typesetting machines with motorcycle engines to produce a small emergency issue of the paper. Credit: Beacon-Journal March 25, 1913, p. 1.
For handling what telegraph messages and telephone calls that could go through on remaining wires, heroic “telephone girls” and other telephone personnel who stuck to their posts as the water was rising around them to make sure the information got through. The physical wires themselves became the final escape routes to safety for dozens of desperate people trapped around Ohio and Indiana (see “High-Wire Horror”) 

And some of the much-maligned teenaged boys—college and even high school students—who were experimenting with ham radio technology transmitted Morse Code “wireless telegraphy” messages about the plight of flood-stricken areas, summoning aid and relaying information night and day for the first week until the Army Signal Corps operators could make their way into the flood zone with their more powerful equipment (see “Wireless to the Rescue” ).
Across Nebraska, Indiana, Ohio, and elsewhere, “telephone girls” stayed at their switchboards night and day to ensure communications.

Communities and individuals would be well-advised to think through options for communicating evacuation orders or other urgent notifications should a natural disaster also bring a concomitant prolonged power blackout: an outage that might last days or a week. Even if individual cell phones stayed dry and charged, would all cell towers—especially those at higher elevations out of flood zones—remain powered? 

Even seemingly older technologies such as church bells might not be an option for warning people. Many churches no longer have actual bells hand-rung by pulling ropes. Instead, either actual bells are electromechanically operated through a keyboard, or no real bells exist: their sounds are digitally synthesized by electronic carillons.  A civil defense siren would work if it had a gasoline or diesel-powered engine for emergency power (and was above any floodwaters). The federal Emergency Alert System—which occasionally interrupts TV and radio programs with warnings about severe weather—could help, but only if people thought to grab a portable radio and were able to ensure that it stayed dry.

©2016 Trudy E. Bell

Next time: Reconstructing Depth of Disaster   

A PDF of the full original presentation is here.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Reader Talk-Back


Readers ask about the role of Gorge Dam in saving Akron during the 1913 flood, a mystery medal of honor, a great grandfather in Indianapolis who was a flood hero, and more. Some queries stump me—does another reader know? 

In November 2012, this research blog was inaugurated in anticipation of the centennial of the Great Easter 1913 tornadoes and flood—the nation’s virtually forgotten but arguably most widespread natural disaster, afflicting at least 15 states. The blog’s title ‘Our National Calamity’ (ONC) was inspired by the title of one of the “instant books” published in April 1913, which was itself inspired by President Woodrow Wilson’s appeal to the nation for aid.

As this June 1, 2016, installment marks its fiftieth (50th!) post, it seems fitting to pause for a moment’s reflection and to share some thoughtful reader feedback and queries that other readers may be able to help answer.
So far, ONC has attracted more than 70,000 views, now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 per month. Credit: Stats and graphic by Google Blogspot.
For three and a half years, ONC has sought to highlight original research by others in addition to myself into any and all aspects of the disaster and its consequences, documenting sources as much as possible. So far, ONC has featured the research of two meteorologists (Sarah Jamison and Evan Kuchera), police historian Patrick R.Pearsey, disaster demographer Susan L. Cutter, flood engineer Kenneth E. Smith, historians Richard Davies and Ron E. Withers,  and several muralists—notably Robert Dafford—immortalizing history through public art on floodwalls. It has also highlighted many recent local history books and films in four posts (on March 26, 2013 for the centennial and then annually every January 1). Invitation: If any historian, meteorologist, collector, or other expert or reader has identified or researched an undertold aspect of the Great Easter 1913 natural disaster and its immediate or long-term consequences, please e-mail me—I’d love to hear from you!

According to stats maintained by Google Blogspot, ONC has attracted more than 70,000 views since its creation, now averaging 2,500 to 3,000 per month. The record-setting post was that of January 1, 2016, which drew more than 5,000 views that month—nearly 200 more than the previous record of the March 2013 centennial month. More than 40,000 of the lifetime views are from the United States, but a surprising number are also from Russia, the Ukraine, and Europe. 

Reader comments—and queries
Response to a blog is always dicey, as there are way too many illiterate posters (some of whom clearly have not read the post to which they are responding) who simply want to advertise their own products or make some other irrelevant comment. That clutter I delete. But valuable feedback and queries have come from readers who have taken the time to send an e-mail. It belatedly occurs to me that some inquiries are of potentially wider interest to others as well. Therefore, a few reader queries from over the lifetime of ONC are reproduced below, older requests alternating with newer ones where the older requests contain information of perennial interest. 

Important: Some historical questions from readers I have been unable to answer myself (not every historical resource is accessible online). So I heartily encourage other readers to e-mail me if they can offer any insights at all—including amplifying on an answer I may have given. To protect the privacy of the correspondents in this public forum, I have omitted last names, locations, and e-mail addresses below, but will forward your response to the relevant person offline. Who knows, some correspondence may become the subject of a future post (or a follow-up response in a future reader forum installment)!

On April 12, 2016, the following very interesting query arrived from retired professional engineer George F.:
I am writing to ask whether you have any information or opinion about this question: Would the damage in Akron and downstream have been greater if the Gorge Dam, built in 1912, had not been in place? If the pool behind the Gorge Dam had been full by the time of the 1913 flood, I suppose the dam would not have been much protection for Akron.  I hope you can find some information about it.
The 425-foot-long Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, is also called the First Energy Dam. Credit: ideastream

I found your webpage because of my effort to modify the current plan to demolish the Gorge Dam.  My interest in the 1913 flood and the dam is not entirely impartial. I agree that the Cuyahoga River should be returned to its natural course in Akron, but that does not require removal of the dam.  It could be turned into a bridge, providing a thrilling view of the park sixty feet above the rushing river, with a sight line for thousands of feet up and down that beautiful valley.  No one would forget the experience.  A bridge would allow full freedom for the river and the fish and the kayakers, and it would probably cost a good deal less to convert the dam into a bridge than it would to remove it.  The bridge might even be designed to serve as a dam during an emergency.

In any case, the sediment must be removed first.  There is a way to do that using the power of the river.  For information, Google ‘Condit Dam.’  As they did at Condit, drill a small tunnel at the base of the dam, but put a control valve on it.  Then the water flow could be regulated to flush the sediment down the pipeline in stages.  This would be better in several ways than pumping the sediment over the dam from a barge, as currently proposed. <snip>

Best regards, George F.

Dear George F.: I am not a civil engineer so cannot comment on the relative merits of various approaches to clearing out the sediment from behind Gorge Metropolitan Park Dam (now also called the First Energy Dam) or to assess the dam’s role during the 1913 flood. However, maybe another reader can assist with your quest for information as to whether the damage in Akron and downstream would have been greater if the Gorge Dam had not been in place? Please e-mail answers or leads; I will forward them to George F. –T.E.B.

Below is an early reader query (from August 23, 2013) asking a question that often arises, so this forum gives me an opportunity to answer publicly:
Subject: Brinkhaven (Brink Haven) Ohio deaths during the 1913 Flood

I am trying to find the number of deaths in the small town of Brinkman, Ohio during the 1913 flood. Cemetery listings and death tolls tended to center around the larger cities, although Brink Haven did receive some flourish because of the tragic events. I could find 6 total deaths utilizing archived newspapers and cemetery listings at Hibbet Cemetery, but I did not know if you kept a listing of more?

Thanks so much-- Jannette Q.
Reader Jannette Q. has written about Brink Haven during the 1913 flood.
Dear Jannette Q: Out of a dozen official reports from 1913, I found only one that specifically mentioned Brink Haven: on April 3, 1913, when a team of Ohio State health officials visited Brink Haven, three people were reported missing . However, ascertaining a precise death toll from such a massive natural disaster as the Great Easter 1913 flood (or tornadoes) is extremely difficult, even within a single small town such as Brink Haven. The fast-rising, torrential flooding was so ferocious that bodies were simply swept away. Some were found weeks or months later, but were so mangled and decomposed that they could not be definitively identified. Some people initially reported missing or dead later found their way home. Conversely, other deaths may never have been tallied, notably those who were not drowned but were severely injured during the flood but died weeks or months later. For these and many additional reasons outlined in “‘Death Rode Ruthless…’” I have become convinced that official death statistics should be regarded only as minimum numbers—and that the actual counts were likely much higher. 

Sleuthing out counts closer to real numbers in Brink Haven or elsewhere would require searching through newspapers and county coroner records in every city and small town in 15 states—an enormous undertaking that I have not done (but could make a great thesis project for one or more grad students). It would be worth the effort, however: In March 2013, Jim Blount—the historian of Hamilton, Ohio, a city devastated worse than Dayton during the flood—recounted to me how years earlier (possibly for the flood’s 75th anniversary in 1988) when he was a newspaper reporter, he and the county coroner spent a day going through Hamilton death records for 1913. They identified 200 to 300 deaths clearly attributed or attributable to the flood, even though Hamilton’s “official” flood death toll is usually given as under 100 (unfortunately, Blount said his notes from that research are long gone). For the centennial in 2013 (and the post “‘Death Rode Ruthless…’”), however, I meticulously compiled Excel spreadsheets of deaths and property damage tallied in a dozen official and semi-official reports (whose statistics, by the way, contradict one another as often as they supplement one another). 

Your findings of 6 deaths rather than 3 in Brink Haven is consonant with Blount’s experience in Hamilton. Thus, I would love to hear more about your research and what you have found out about the circumstances of the flood deaths in Brink Haven. –T.E.B.

Two cousins independently responded on May 12, 2016 to Patrick R. Pearsey’s guest post “Men of the Hour”; one included a query of general interest:
[T]he interesting article ["Men of the Hour"]…was especially interesting to me because I saw my Great Grand Father’s name on the IPD 1913 Flood Roll of Honor. His name was Charles A. Barmfuhrer.

I have a question about a photo I saw of him that had “Inspector” on his hat.  What exactly is an Inspector?

Thank you for posting this Flood Roll of Honor.

I recognized another policeman’s name in the Flood Roll of Honor as one of my Great Grandfather’s Pall Bearers: Lieutenant Herbert R. Fletcher. He was listed in his Funeral Memory Book.

Thank you again for the information. Sharon C. 
 
Short bio of Inspector Barmfuhrer by Patrick R. Pearsey.
Patrick R. Pearsey replies: Inspector was a rank used by the Indianapolis Police Department (IPD) from about 1913 to 1969. It was a high rank, basically the 2nd highest rank next to Chief of Police. The Inspector often stepped in as Acting Chief of Police. I wrote a power point presentation about all known IPD inspectors which includes a bio of Charles Barmfuhrer. Thanks for your interest and comments on the article.

An older query from December 12, 2014, might still interest a number of readers:
Hi. I came across your website today when I was doing a little research on the Flood of 1913. First, I think it is awesome that you have done all this research on something that was so significant! Second, I was wondering if you came across any information/pictures specific to Delphos, Ohio. I only have one picture. It is of my great-grandmother and her family waiting on their porch, I guess for someone to come and get them. The floodwaters are near the steps of the porch. I just haven't had any success finding any pictures/information about the Flood's effect on Delphos from here in Kentucky.

Thanks for reading! Tina B.

1913 flood at Fisher's Stone Quarry in Delphos, Ohio. Credit: Delphos Historical Society


Dear Tina B.: Some photographs and articles from the Delphos Herald about the 1913 flood in Delphos, Ohio, appears at “The Delphos Flood—1913by Robert Holdgreve of the Delphos Historical Society. There also seems to be a collection of photographic negatives of Delphos in the collection of Bowling Green State University. If you don’t find what you are seeking on those actual web pages, try contacting the Delphos Historical Society or BGSU directly; I’ve found that archivists can be very helpful in a situation like this. Good luck, and let me know what you learn. –T.E.B.

On May 15, 2016, this comment arrived, unfortunately signed “Unknown” with a “noreply” e-mail address:
I was tipped off that you appeared on [Michael] Feldman’s show. Glad you were able to be picked from the audience and be part of the broadcast [listen beginning at 1:33:24 here]. Several years ago I wrote an article for a local newsletter about the exploits of a local ham operator calling for help in Columbus. He’s been since identified as the first use of amateur radio in the time of disaster. So many great stories link to this event. Keep up the great work!

Dear Unknown: It sounds as though you are referring to 15-year-old Herbert V. Akerberg, about whom I wrote in the ONC installment “Wireless to the Rescue” on April 1, 2014. He actually was not the first, but was one of maybe a dozen
Akerberg's first message in
the March 26 Columbus Citizen
ham radio operators who were able to summon aid during the communications blackout over Easter weekend (see “The First Punch”). He was also one of the youngest. As a result of the heroic actions of all the ham radio operators during the 1913 flood, Congress and other organizations began to move to establish a nationwide system of emergency radio. Thanks for your interest. –T.E.B.


A request that I could not answer from August 18, 2014, but perhaps readers can help:
My name is Christy, and I was born in Dayton, Ohio (though now live in NJ).  In the process of preparing to move to a retirement home, my parents have come across a number of items from their family, one of which is puzzling us.  I have attached images to this email, but the item in question appears to be a 1”x1” medallion, presented to a “Mr Kirby” in 1913.  
Inch square medal from 1913 apparently awarded to Elijah Kirby, possibly for heroism during the 1913 flood. Does any reader have any idea about what organization struck and awarded the medals? Credit: Christy K.V.

We are certain this references Elijah Kirby, my great-great grandfather.  My father believes this item is somehow connected to the Dayton Flood, but isn’t certain of that, and doesn’t know anything more about its origins/meaning.  Seeing as how I am a history teacher, my parents have set me on the task of doing some research.  I found your blogs—and given your comprehensive coverage of this event, I figured if my dad were correct about its connection, you might be able to help us understand what this medallion (if that’s even the word for it) is.

I thank you in advance for any assistance you can provide to us! Christy K. V.

Dear Christy K.V.: I was unable to find any satisfying answer online, but not every historical document or photograph has been scanned and posted to be publicly available. Where did Elijah Kirby work and live in late March 1913? In an instance such as this, I would see if there might be any record through his employer (especially if it happened to be NCR or Delco) to see if the company awarded medals. Also, contact the Dayton Metro Library, which has an extensive collection of documents and artifacts about the 1913 flood, along with knowledgeable archivists who might be able to provide you with useful leads. Another source would be Dayton History, which has preserved thousands of photos from the NCR archives. Last, if another reader knows of another recipient of this medal and can provide a great lead, please email me and I will forward your response to Christy. Good luck, and let me know what you find. –T.E.B.

On April 18, 2016, this brief message—not sure whether it was responding to a specific installment—arrived:
From: “Mike”
Subject: Dayton flood 1913 resources

Don’t forget Alan Eckert’s “a time of terror”. 1965.  Great book. Mike

Dear Mike: A Time of Terror by Allan W. Eckert is a rocketing read by a Dayton newspaper reporter, published a couple years after the 50th anniversary of the flood, about the first flood week in Dayton. Although based on newspaper reports, the narrative is fictionalized in an early example of subjective reportage that came to be called “new journalism (made famous by Tom Wolfe in The Right Stuff and other works) and a progenitor of what is now sometimes called literary nonfiction. As a result of that creative narrative approach, sources are not footnoted or otherwise indicated, and Eckert himself said he invented dialogue in the book, so it is hard to tell what is factual and what has been dramatized. Thus, it is best enjoyed not as history but as a “docudrama”—one that also inspired the play 1913: The Great Dayton Flood 
The play 1913: The Great Dayton Flood was inspired by Allan W. Eckert's 1965 book A Time of Terror. Credit: Wright State University
most recently performed at Wright State University in January 2013 during the centennial year. A Time of Terror was one of the first books I read on the 1913 flood more than a decade ago; it (along with 20 other works) is summarized in my first ‘book report.’ Its full text is available online. It is not forgotten! –T.E.B.

The seven queries above are just a portion of the correspondence from readers. It only belatedly occurred to me that an occasional “letters to the editor” type of installment might be of wider interest to other ONC readers. But I also try to stop writing when the word count exceeds 2,500 words! Thus, additional reader comments and queries will have to wait for a future post. 

If you can contribute insights of suggestions to answer a reader query, or if you have a question of your own, or if you like/dislike the idea of an occasional “reader mailbag,” just let me know. And if you are pursuing research of your own about any aspect of the Great Easter 1913 natural disaster and/or its consequences, let me repeat my earlier invitation: don’t be shy. Let me know whether you would be interested in contributing a guest post for ONC!

Next time: Crisis Communications in a Communications Crisis
 
Bell, Trudy E., The Great Dayton Flood of 1913, Arcadia Publishing, 2008. Picture book of nearly 200 images of the flood in Dayton, rescue efforts, recovery, and the construction of the Miami Conservancy District dry dams for flood control, including several pictures of Cox. (Author’s shameless marketing plug: Copies are available directly from me for the cover price of $21.99 plus shipping, complete with inscription of your choice; for details, e-mail me at t.e.bell@ieee.org )