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During a press conference announcing the upgrade, the sirens blared at noon over Union Square on Tuesday, followed by a deep voice calling out, "This is a test. This is a test of the outdoor warning system. This is only a test."
While joking that a new citywide loudspeaker system could be interpreted as "a little bit of Big Brother," Mayor Gavin Newsom said he was pushing to get all the updated broadcasting units in place by January because of their potential benefits in case of emergency.
The new speakers will make more common the familiar air raid siren heard by some neighborhood residents Tuesdays, and allow prerecorded and live messages to be broadcast by the mayor and public safety officials.
Newsom recalled that in 1989, when the Loma Prieta earthquake caused widespread damage in the Marina, there was no rapid outdoor broadcast available. Misinformation, such as rumors the entire Bay Bridge had collapsed, spread as quickly as more accurate updates did.
"This is a tool to calm people's nerves, to calm their fears and, in a worst-case scenario, to direct people," he concluded. The mayor added that few cities in the United States are compact enough to mount such a state-of-the-art system that reaches everyone.
Office of Emergency Services chief Annemarie Conroy called the noon sirens "a weekly reminder for preparedness." She said she hopes people heed the siren call to check their water and food supplies as well as their plans on how to coordinate communication and care for children and other family members in case a natural or man-made disaster arises.