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Wishing the Tuesday Siren a Two-Year Farewell

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The San Francisco Tuesday noon siren has been a thing since World War II, when people were ready to hit the bomb shelters at any given moment. In years since, the slightly obnoxious noise has become part of the city’s fabric in the same way locals learn to love all sorts of inconvenient things. But after Tuesday, the city’s residents and workers will have to get through the noon hour without the blaring sirens.

Of course, there are pros and cons to upcoming audible absence. New mothers will rejoice as babies sleep through their naps like, well…babies. But on the flip side, daytime workers could forget to eat lunch and night workers just might sleep through the whole damn Tuesday. The horror!

But have no fear, you’ll only have to suffer the silence for two years as the system undergoes much needed upgrades.

The outdoor public warning system is actually a collection of 119 citywide sirens operated by the Department of Emergency Management. It was originally used as an air-raid warning system but is now a tool the city keeps around just in case a tsunami or other life-threatening disaster occurs. If all hell breaks loose, the sirens are designed to sound off for 15 seconds at a time and are followed up with five minutes of emergency instructions that boom through the siren speakers just about everywhere.

San Francisco warning sirens will go silent after Tuesday, December 10, 2019 for a two-year upgrade project. Photo: Div60/Wikimedia Commons

Although technology has made it possible for people to receive emergency alerts by text and on television sets, the siren system serves as a redundant backup — when you’re dealing with real emergencies, redundancy is a damn good thing. Over the next two years, the OPWS will get some sprucing in the form of upgrades, something that hasn’t been done since 2005. The upcoming work will include a new operating system and safety hardening to ensure reliability when we need it most.

If we’re lucky, maybe the department will consider changing the tone to a different form of annoyance that’ll drive people from inside their homes in sheer madness. Circus horns? Baby Shark? Rick roll? Probably not, but it’s fun to think about.

In the meantime, emergency personnel stress the importance of signing up for text-message alerts at alertsf.org or by texting your zip code to 888-777.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.