For any visitor walking around San Francisco on a Tuesday in the middle of the day, it must be scary as hell. Out of nowhere, this air raid siren blasts at 130 decibels throughout the city. For the sane-minded person, they probably look around and see that people aren’t doing anything more than crouching in to their cellphones harder so they can continue talking while walking. Thusly, the visitor shrugs it off as do most of the people who live in San Francisco, which of course begs the question as to why we even have them now, since we don’t pay attention to them.
The system was originally designed to protect against air raids in World War II, although the system was completed long after the bombing of Pearl Harbor rendering it someone obsolete from the get-go. It’s hard to think of it, but in the early 1940’s, San Francisco and Los Angeles were technically front line cities in the war. To this day, you can still go and walk the old battlement trenches that were dug along San Francisco’s western shores in order to provide a defensible front should the Japanese invade by water.
Obviously, nothing ever happened and yet the air raid sirens remain. During the Cold War, they were presented as a siren to alert to a nuclear attack, although given the blast radius of even a small nuclear bomb, there would be no sirens to sound should an attack hit. Once the Cold War threat lessened, which was not until the 1990’s (I remember doing air raid drills in elementary school where we all had to get under our desks and that was less than 20 years ago), the air raid sirens were then thought of as a Public Address system in case of a natural disaster. This is one of the most common uses of the system in the Midwest where shit seems to hit the proverbial fan quite regularly.
So, along we went with the system being tested on a once a month basis just to make sure that it worked. Then September 11, 2001 happened and all of the sudden the Cold War fears were transformed in to Terrorist fears. At some point (and I don’t know when exactly), they shifted from “testing” the sirens once a month to every week.
Is this necessary? No. It’s designed to be an extremely simple system that is hard to destroy and once a month or even once every six months would seem to be adequate to check on it. But, in today’s state of there being a “constant threat to the American people” it seems that we need to be reminded of how close we really are to complete annihilation via a weekly reminder that is heard over the entire city.