Friday, December 03, 2004

The Doomsday siren

Our local Doomsday siren sounded continuously for about 10 minutes this morning. Living (as I do) less than 20 miles from a nuclear power plant, this is the sort of thing you tend not to ignore.

Every time I hear one of these sirens I am reminded of the line from the "Bart's Comet" episode of The Simpsons:

Abe: Sounds like the doomsday whistle! Ain't been blown for nigh onto three years.
I was always freaked out as a kid whenever the "Air Raid Sirens" would sound. They were actually used to signal fire alarms, summoning the volunteer firemen to the station. In time I lost my dread resulting from associating these with air raids (which was odd, since air raid drills went out of fashion 20 years before I was born) and developed a dread from associating these with fires. Whenever they would sound I would think, Somebody's house is burning down tonight. The sirens were, and are, used to announce approaching tornadoes, in theory at least. To my knowledge they have never been used for that purpose, nor has Nanticoke ever had a tornado visited upon it. The sirens also sounded back in 1972 when Tropical Storm Agnes caused the Susquehanna to overflow its banks and flood the area.

About 20 years ago they developed a special system for announcing nuclear emergencies: all of the sirens in town would sound simultaneously, in a warbling manner, with the intensity of the warble pulsed periodically across the city. They test this once in a while, and it's a very eerie effect. It's the sort of thing that makes you stop and take notice.

The sirens aren't used to announce fires anymore. All of the firefighters have police/fire band radio scanners, as do many private citizens. And this morning's siren didn't warble, nor was it pulsed. It seemed to be a single siren somewhere nearby sounding steadily. It turned out it was a malfunctioning siren at the local community college, and it went off several other times throughout the day.

So it wasn't Doomsday today. Maybe next time. There's always tomorrow...

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