August 04, 2015

"Where Were You When the Dam Broke?"

Sketch by one of the Pueblo operators in 1921
Click over to Coyote Gulch, the water blog, for a short video and story about the failure of the Castlewood Canyon Dam and the subsequent flood in Denver, eighty years ago yesterday.

As so often happened in such disasters, it was the telephone operators who authorized themselves to make "reverse 911" calls, decades before such systems were invented.

(They still are not perfect. I remember once getting a 4 a.m. telephone call that was just "Ring . . . click." Fortunately, I could see the mountainside on fire from the bedroom window.)

On the evening of August 3, 1933, Elsie Henderson’s urgent voice raced down the Sullivan Telephone Exchange’s wires, outpacing Cherry Creek’s northbound floodwaters. . . . Elsie, one of only two people available to operate the Sullivan switchboard that night, alerted people with one long ring, the universally recognized sound for an emergency. She and fellow Sullivan Exchange employee Ingrid Mosher worked through the night and into the following afternoon, saving lives, livestock, and property
That was back when you rang for the operator and got someone relatively local who could, at times, make decisions and show initiative.

Now we have 911 call centers — although your mobile telephone call does not necessarily go to the right one. For other telephone needs, you get somebody in India who is reading from a script.

The sketch was drawn by Wilma Cary, one of the Pueblo telephone operators who stayed on the job during the big flood of 1921.


Darla Sue Dollman said...
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Chas Clifton said...

The Pueblo, Colo., flood was in 1921, and I borrowed the sketch to tie it to the link about the 1933 flood in Douglas County, Colo.

If you read "1912" somewhere, maybe that was a typo?