May 15, 2012

Siren, Emergency, Residents for the Warning of

You don't normally associate tornadoes with snow-capped mountain peaks, but two days ago the National Weather Service issued a warning for the western part of the county—big thunderstorm, rotation observed, etc.

I happened to be looking at the Pueblo NWS radar map, and there was the red tornado trapezoid on top of the yellow trapezoid for the thunderstorm. What a surprise. It never really formed, although some people said that they saw the beginnings of a funnel cloud.

Today I went up to the county seat for the monthly emergency services board meeting (I representing our little fire department), and of course the tornado was topic #1 on the agenda—specifically, how long to blow the town's emergency warning siren for such an usual event.

At one point, the sheriff suggested letting it sound for as long as the Weather Service warning lasted.

The emergency-services manager said that she had consulted some of her counterparts in High Plains counties, where they know about tornadoes, and that they often used a three-minute warning siren followed by a one-minute "all clear."

And so on. Meanwhile, I drifted off into an old childhood nightmare, typical of a mid-Cold War childhood. (There's a documentary film about that.)

Dad was an officer in a South Dakota National Guard anti-aircraft unit, tasked with defending Ellsworth AFB and Rapid CIty if the Soviet Air Force came over the North Pole and headed our way. He was also involved with some sort of Civil Defense work.

So I had in my schoolboy's billfold (which rarely contained money) a card, red ink on white card stock, that explained all the different emergency siren tones—continuous, undulating, intermittent—and what you were supposed to do when you heard them.

The siren could be for any threat—in 1972, after we left, a flash flood through the town killed more than two hundred people.

But in my mind it would always sound for a squadron of Tupolev "Bear" bombers.

In my 8-year-old's imagination, I was running (or bicycling) across the street from my school, up the gulley past the Methodist church, and across a half mile of prairie toward my house.

Because it is better to be incinerated at home than at school?

All that never happened, of course. When the siren down the highway from my house blows, it means just one thing: "Where is the fire?"

But somehow the discussion brought back a little kid tearing (mentally) down a dirt road toward a yellow house with brown trim.

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