Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Testing the Sirens

The first time I heard them go off, June 1999, I was working in our office alone, skipping lunch. The noise was deafening and I thought Prague was under attack. It wasn't something you could ignore, so I climbed to the cat walk on top of our building and looked out over the city and down the highways heading out of town, wondering how fast I could get to the nearest metro in case anything really was happening, wondering how Will and I would find each other in the melee.

A minute passed, the sound stopped. Later, I asked the developers in our office what had happened. They laughed and said, "nothing". It wasn't until a few months went by that I found out the city tested their sirens regularly, the first Wednesday of the month at noon.

Years passed and we moved offices. I didn't notice the sirens much any more, probably because there wasn't one right next to my window. In August 2002 they went off for real, warning our friends living downtown that they had to evacuate. In the village where we spent summer weekends the sirens warned us about the flooding too, and loud speakers told everyone about chemical waste released from a plant near the river. The village evacuated within an hour. Thankfully, I've never heard them used in earnest since.

When they go off now, I grit my teeth, remind myself they serve a useful purpose, and turn on something in the same key. "The Swan" from Carnival of the Animals worked well today. Accompanied, the siren sort of sings along to the music. It takes the sting out of it, like singing with your vacuum on busy Saturday mornings. You try too.