Air Raid Sirens

Are North American cities equipped with air raid sirens? If so, where are they located and why don’t they ever test them?

They are and they do. Around here (ATL) we have emergency sirens which sound to warn of tornados, severe storms and the like. In the event of some sort of attack they would sound then as well. Most of them are mounted on telephone poles near fire stations or other emergency buildings.

The sirens are usually tested during a weekday; the one near me sounds on Thursdays at noon.

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

The one near my house is tested when I’m making an important phone call.

The ones in St. Louis are tested on Mondays at 11 AM and I’ve always thought we’ll be in big trouble if a tornado or some other emergency occurs at that time because we’ll all ignore the warning.

Tom, are you sure they test 'em every week? I haven’t heard the things in quite a while…

Come to think of it, maybe it’s only the first Monday of the month.

Here in MIchigan, our Tornado sirens are tested every Saturday at 1pm. I dated a guy from NY and out on Long Island their volunteer fire department sirens sounded EXACTLY the same (to me) and I thought they were about to have a tornado one night even though the conditions were not tornado like. Then he came out here and woke me up at 2am when the sirens were going off. I told him not to worry it’s the Tornado Sirens and to go back to bed. My mom found him sleeping on a couch in the basement because he thought we were going to get hit. Heh… silly boy…tornados only touch down near trailer parks :slight_smile: At 2am, this little detail was hard to recall.

I haven’t gone to the basement in years for a tornado siren.

Oh, heh, this is the reason why I responded in the first place and was sidetracked by idle thoughts.

Air raid sirens were installed either during WW2 or shortly thereafter with the Cold War scare stuff going on. The thought was that if the Reds were going to bomb us, it would gie everyone a head start to head for the bomb shelter. Here in Detroit, the paranoid thinking was that since we supply the world with cars we would be one of the first cities to get nailed, which as a kid never made sense to me because then who in the hell would have made the cars? No one told this daughter of a Car Company Exec that there were such things in Japan and Germany.

Some may remember the " This is a test. This is only a test. For the next sixty seconds this station will conduct a test of the Emergency Broadcast System." then you would hear an EEEEEEEEE .

The thought behind it was for warnings of inclement weather or The Russians are Coming the Russians are coming get to your fall out shelter or nearest bar :slight_smile: Most likely, it was a crummy weather beacon. It happened once a day on AM radios, the testings that is. ( I don’t recall ever hearing it on FM). But come to think of it, I haven’t heard it in a while. Maybe I’ve tuned it out or maybe they stopped the whole campaign.

Air Raid sirens were alive and well in Upper Michigan, too, at least up until 10-15 years ago or so. I haven’t checked since then. I remember it clearly because it was mounted on a water tower on a hill behind me and my parent’s house. There were large signs on the water tower warning people not to be near the tower when the siren went off, because it could deafen you. It caused considerable discussion and dares to us kids who used to play on the hill, as well as the typical urban legend (“My brother’s friend’s uncle was up there when he was a kid, and he STILL can’t hear!”)

If Shirley is right about Detroit and the car thing, I’m not sure why they had 'em up in the UP. There wasn’t anything like a car factory within 400 miles of where I grew up.


A large portion of auto manufacturing in Detroit was ceased during WWII (immediately following Pearl Harbor) as factories were converted to build tanks, jeeps and the like. Paranoid? Yes, probably, but a large percentage of war equipment was being produced here and a good many people figured if the Axis powers were going to attack, what better place than Detroit.

We’ve got them here in the Chicago suburbs. Sound off first Tuesday of the month at 10:00am. Takes them about five minutes to go through the entire cycle of sounding them off then some 2 minute long ‘all clear’ signal that plays. Sounds like a drunken monkey playing the xylophone.

For the record, between O’Hare International airport, the railway linkups, Argon National Lab, FermiLab and the simple population density, we all went through the Cold War knowing that if the button was pressed, we were going to be among the first to go.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

The ones in St. Louis are tested on Mondays at 11 AM and I’ve always thought we’ll be in big trouble if a tornado or some other emergency occurs at that time because we’ll all ignore the warning.

Coming from MO myself (and a member of a frequently tornado terrorized town) it is common knowledge here that the sirens are NOT tested during the scheduled time if inclement weather is approaching or present. This avoids confusion. I don’t know what other communities do.

Wow! I’ve only heard air raid sirens on TV! I guess I sould have asked: “Is Los Angeles equipped with air raid sirens? Where? Why never tested?”

Around here (southeastern Mass.), warning sirens are pretty much only for fire departments (such as mine). The sirens are mounted on the fire stations, alerting us to a fire (if for some ungodly reason they didn’t hear their pager go off). The only other use for them that I know of around here is in the Plymouth area, where they have pretty much covered a 30 mile radius around the Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station with warning sirens and back-up warning sirens in case of some type of accident. Thank god I don’t live that close to Plymouth…


I can think of no more stirring symbol of man’s humanity to man than a fire engine - Kurt Vonnegut

I haven’t worked in downtown Houston for ten years, but when I left they were still running the Friday noon test of the emergency alert sirens. I seem to recall hearing them as a kid in a neighborhood not far from DT, but I never hear them now.

We used to hear the “This is a test, just a test…” thing for the Emergency Broadcast system all the time, but never heard it used until the collapse of the Soviet Union and concommitant end of (pause in?) the Cold War. Now it is regularly used for National Weather Service alerts.

Jophiel said:

I remember in grade school calculating the number of seconds it would take between when the nukes hit Chicago and we were toast. (Sorry, don’t remember the answer. :slight_smile: )

“I don’t believe in destiny or the guiding hand of fate
I don’t believe in forever or love as a mystical state
I don’t believe in the stars or the planets
Or angels watching from above” – Neil Peart, RUSH, “Ghost of a Chance”

Back in college, I worked in Master Control for a PBS Tv station, and one of the things we had to run were Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) tests. I don’t remember the exact frequency of them, but I think I personally ran about four or five of them in the sixteen months I was working there. Anyway, I’m pretty suprised that your Tv station would use the EBS for weather purposes. We never once used it for that and in fact had a separate tone we played for weather condition warnings so people wouldn’t confuse the two. However, since all these stations have a connection to the National Weather Service, the NWS wire was used to give us EBS information. Basically, the NWS would send you something, the printer would start beeping like crazy, scaring the hell out of you, you’d get up and… well, and you’d notice it said something like:
WARNING: The National Weather Service has declared a frost warning for eastern sections of the Wabash Valley region…
But, the theory was that it’d say something like:
EBS Warning - Epsilon Zulu
Omega Charlie
Then you’d take the 1999 EBS packet, and if the month of June had the code Epsilon Zulu, you’d break it open. Then inside the packet, you’d find a list of every disaster known to man, look up Omega Charlie, see that it’s an asteroid headed towards Earth and put up the “The National Weather Service has issued a severe asteroid warning for the Western Hemisphere…” crawl across the bottom of Barney & Friends. Man… I miss that job.

“I guess it is possible for one person to make a difference, although most of the time they probably shouldn’t.”

(eerie siren wail)

Grampa Simpson: “The Doomsday siren!”
Old dude: “Yep - they haven’t sounded that thing for three years.”

I distinctly remember hearing the EBS signal (the old tone, as opposed to the three electronic bleeps) used for a severe weather warning in Iowa City back in 1989. It stuck out because it was the first and only time I’d ever heard it without “This is a test” etc. preceding it. It wasn’t the TV, it was on the radio, but it was the exact same tone I’d heard over both media during tests.

I actually kinda prefer the three-squawk warning now. That damn tone used to give me the creeps as a kid. Still not sure why.

Cave Diem! Carpe Canem!

They still run EBS tests but I think the text of the message has changed over the years. I heard one a few weeks ago.

When I was in radio (late '70s and early '80s) we were required to run our tests “on weekdays between 8am and local sunset”. I never had to run one because I worked either night or weekend shifts. I did once get a tornado alert through the system but that was it.

The system was kind of interesting. As Jophiel said up-thread the alerts were not actual messages; instead they were code phrases that you had to look up in a book and there were different codes each week.

The fun part at my station were the “doomsday tapes”. These were the pre-recorded messages we were supposed to play for various disasters. We had tornado tapes, flood tapes, hurricane tapes and, yes, nuclear attack tapes. I always thought of the episode of WKRP where they are giving a tornado warning and Les is reading the nuclear attack warning replacing the word “Russians” with “tornados”. (“Cincinatti is now under attack by the godless… tornados.”)

“You can’t run away forever; but there’s nothing wrong with getting a good head start.” — Jim Steinman

Dennis Matheson —
Hike, Dive, Ski, Climb —

Growing up in Beavercreek OH, right outside of Wright-Patterson AFB, I also enjoyed that feeling of knowing if the button were pushed, I wouldn’t have time to kiss my buttocks good bye. As for the Air raid/tornado/disaster sirens, I lived close to one for two years in college, the tower was a short way from my apartment. They tested it the first monday of the month at 1100 hours.

>>while contemplating the navel of the universe, I wondered, is it an innie or outie?<<

—The dragon observes