Posts Tagged ‘outdoorwarningsystem’

False alarms: how the city should have responded

August 30th, 2012

On Sunday, the entire city heard the warning system (“air raid” siren”) that’s normally tested on Tuesdays at noon. Apparently this was due to human error.

Which is fine, really. People make mistakes.

What is NOT fine was what they did next: nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Instead of using the AlertSF system to notify people that the alarm was a mistake, they sat on their asses and fielded calls from (rightfully) confused residents, who were in fact told specifically NOT to call — we’ll get to that in a moment.

It doesn’t help that the voice message played after the alarm is muddled and incomprehensible. If it was audible we would have heard the “This is just a test” message to let us know everything was cool. But we didn’t.

The city’s official page for the outdoor warning system helpfully explains what to do in this situation.

If you hear the siren at a time other than its regular test on Tuesday at noon:

  • Stop what you are doing.

  • Stay calm.
  • Listen for possible voice announcements.
  • Turn on the radio or television, (such as KCBS 740AM, KQED 88.5 FM) for important information provided by the City.
  • Avoid using the telephone. Do not call 9-1-1, unless you have a life-threatening emergency.

In other words, listen to a voice you can’t hear or turn on a radio or TV in a town where everybody has Hulu Plus and iPods. Hmm, yeah about that. The last bullet point is particularly troubling since apparently the city got quite a few calls, meaning many folks didn’t follow these rules and/or were not aware of them.

Here’s my advice to the city in the future:

  1. Stop using the alarm to indicate things that aren’t related to emergencies. Haven’t you ever heard of the boy who cried wolf?

  2. When the alarm is set off by mistake, immediately post a message to AlertSF letting us know it was a mistake.
  3. Turn the voice message on the alarm off, since an alarm followed by a muffled message is more confusing that just an alarm.
  4. Come up with a more realistic set of guidelines for what to do when the alarm goes off that don’t involve antiquated technology like radio. Then take the time to publicize this list so people don’t flood the phone lines with questions.
  5. Train the employees responsible for the alarm so they know how to use it.

Seem reasonable? If the city can’t be trusted to use the alarm in a sensible way, we need to scrap it.