A Siren Song for Top-Down Emergency-Preparedness Thinking?

Those of us of a certain age and place in the American experience talk a lot about the meaning of tornado sirens–how it defined our awakening to the omnipresent threat of severe weather. Such sounds stick with those of us who have made weather our business–Tim Coleman et al. admit this is part of the inspiration for their history of tornado warning dissemination published in the May 2011 BAMS. The role of community sirens is surging again in research following the horrible tornado disasters of 2011, as witnessed by presentations coming up at the AMS Meeting in New Orleans by Stephanie Mullins (Univ. of Alabama-Huntsville) in the Wednesday 25 January afternoon poster session (2:30-4 p.m., Room 252/53), Kimberley Klockow (Univ. of Oklahoma; same room and day, 11:30 a.m. oral presentation), Cedar League (Univ. of Colorado/Colorado Springs) on Tuesday 24 January (2 p.m., Room 243), and others.
But what we forget is that it’s not just weather experts and the weather-obsessed who respond deeply to the sounds of emergency sirens. Witness the public outcry to a suggestion by emergency managers to standardize times of regular siren tests across a county in northern Michigan recently, reported today in the Petoskey News. Officials were intent on cutting back from twice daily soundings that had become a community ritual. The Charlevoix fire chief told his city council

that many people report that “they don’t even hear the noon or 9:30 sirens anymore” — the exact condition the change in procedure is intended to avoid.

Quite probably true. But people hear even when they’re not listening. Thanks to Dr. Klockow for pointing us particularly to this passage in the article:

Many of those favoring leaving the siren soundings in place pointed to the soundings as a hallmark of a small town. Many said they have fond memories of their kids or themselves being called home for the evening by the siren’s sound. Others said if the siren was discontinued they’d feel like they were losing yet another part of what make Charlevoix unique.