Tuesday’s noon siren suddenly silenced


Antonio Maffei '20

The noon siren, a Tuesday staple for decades, sounded for the last time on Dec. 10, 2019, as it undergoes repairs and upgrades that could take up to two years to complete.

Antonio Maffei '20, Social Media and Website Editor

Every Tuesday at noon in San Francisco, a familiar sound blared through the city streets and out into the bay.

The Outdoor Public Warning System tested its network of 119 air-raid sirens every Tuesday at noon until Dec. 10, 2019, when the City and County of San Francisco performed its last test of OPWS before shutting down the network. The siren system will be out of service during the two-year upgrade project.

The upgrades include a new operating system, stronger encryption and hardware that will improve the reliability and security of the siren system.

Established in 1942 during World War II as a civil defense measure, the original network consisted of 50 sirens, in the case of an Axis attack. The sirens would wail for five minutes while instructions would be given. The siren can now be used in the event of a natural disaster, attack from foreign enemies, and many more occasions.

Drama Director and House of Russi Provincial, Valerie O’Riordan, shares a special connection with the siren network.

“14 years ago, I don’t know why and I don’t know how, we [she and her son] started this thing so we would be connected on Tuesday at noon.” She continued by stating, “The person who texts the other person first and says ‘Tuesday at noon’ wins. No matter where he is or no matter where I am, we have tried to keep it up. It’s our little way of saying I love you.”

Many residents are concerned that they will not be notified in the event of an emergency. The Department of Emergency Management in San Francisco assures people there is nothing to be afraid of, stating, “San Francisco uses numerous alert and warning tools to deliver emergency notifications, alerts and warnings. During the OPWS upgrade the City will still have access to AlertSF, the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA). We will also utilize traditional and social media to amplify emergency alerts. The City’s alert and warning dissemination tools include deploying first responders, disaster service workers and community based organizations to impacted areas to help warn residents.”

Even with that, O’Riordan is still concerned with the sirens being shut off. “I think it’s really silly that they turned them off completely, how do they not know that there’s going to be an emergency where they’re going to need them?”

The Outdoor Public Warning System will be shut down for at least two years, pending the software and hardware upgrades. It’s still unknown if the Tuesday noon tests will continue once the network is restarted.