It’s Noon on Tuesday in San Francisco. Run for Cover!

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.

18 Replies to “It’s Noon on Tuesday in San Francisco. Run for Cover!”

    1. Yes Beaker, it is terrifying.

      I hate admit it, but Beaker running around doing that MEE MEE crap might be better than about 95% of what’s on TV right now.

    2. I used to be afraid of air-raid sirens but, now I find that? They’re interesting to listen to and learn about on the internet. Each place, I went with my parents, some towns we stopped at, had air-raid sirens. Some towns towns sort of didn’t.

    3. Air-raid sirens just excite me, when I hear them in war movies. Such as where the eagles dare. I’ve still hear one of those on the radio station, or TV station, between TV shows. Whenever I see war of the worlds, I see those air-raid sirens, and hear tbem.

    4. The siren tests are ridiculous.
      In Tel Aviv where there is a much higher chance of missiles coming, they are only tested once a year because they know when the shit hits the fan, they want people to respond and find cover. The current testing of once-a-week will 1) annoy people 2) desensitize them so that when a serious problem is occurring (missiles from Iran maybe, not!!) people won’t care enough to take cover… Maybe they should just remove the system because the likelihood of shit hitting the fan is extremely low here in sunny cali.

    5. I’m a native San Franciscan, and the air raid sirens are for me a tribute for all the lives lost during WWII. I’ve heard them my entire life and they are one of the things that I love about this City. Each time I hear them, I get present to the freedom I have in my life and that I’m alive. (My dad entered the army bc of that war… and when the Vietnam war happened, he went to Vietnam and met my mom. I exist in this world because the Vietnam War happened… and for me and those around me, my life is a gift.

    6. The air raid sirens were on weekly tests before 9/11 ever hit. I remember doing air raid drills at least in middle school, years before 9/11.

    7. They were always tested weekly, LONG before 9/11. I remember hearing them in the 1960s when I was a small child. I heard them every Tuesday at 12 noon.

    8. Well, there was at least a period where they weren’t every week as when I worked in North Beach for a few years, they only fired up once a month and that was prior to 9/11. Thus my frame of reference. I have no idea before then.

    9. Yes, as the others said, your facts are incorrect. I have lived here since the late 1980’s and the sirens have been going off every single Tuesday at noon since I’ve lived here, and long before then too.

      It makes me wonder what else you got wrong.

    10. I lved on 26th ave for 3 years and one day was sick at home. I didn’t realize that one of the sirens is located on 26th Ave and El Camino del Mar and was aimed right at my bedroom window. It shook our whole place and I just about fell out of bed.

    11. been living in SF since 1970 and they’ve always been a tuesday at noon phenomena (at least in the sunset)

    12. in the author’s defense; the air raid system got a major revamp in the late 80’s and were actually down for a time period (I can’t remember the specific dates but think it was 1989).

      secondly, in the post 9/11 world, san francisco nearly doubled its amount of air raid warning sirens… maybe that’s why people hear them more now than they did years ago (and in different neighborhoods).

    13. I love the history of the sirens, and hope they never go away.

      What is there use these days in post WWII and post Cold War?? Tsunami’s would be one example why they still need to test the sirens weekly. Lets not forget the San Andreas fault goes out into the pacific. One “Big One” in the ocean can cause a Tsunami to hit the Ocean beach side of the city…The Sunset Dist. and the Zoo that is packed with visiters on a regular basis…all just blocks from the ocean.

    14. I look forward to the sirens every Tuesday. Its one of those quirky San Francisco things I love to point out to tourists, like the fog rolling over twin peaks at 5:00 and the methane smell in union square in the afternoon.

    15. Yes, Tuesdays at noon. So, today (Thursday) at 10:21AM, the siren went off (Ferry Building). Fortunately, it stopped after two runs, so it was obviously a malfunction. Don’t do that!

  1. I remember the air raid drills when I was a child in San Francisco during the Korean
    War…We were issued “dog Tags”. All the children of the city had to wear them. I have mine still.

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