SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Before emergency cell phone alerts, Sacramento got its disaster warnings from a series of loud sirens.
There used to be 26 of these sirens in Sacramento and they used to be tested monthly, but for the past decade they've been quiet. That is until a teenager from Oklahoma asked ABC10 to help activate one again. The young man's name is Carson McGee and he is what you call a "Siren Enthusiast."
"I am a siren enthusiast. My interests are sirens or early warning systems alike," McGee said. "There is not many of us. There is a few enthusiasts around, but most people don't know it exists."
Several months ago, McGee posted a question on Reddit. He was seeking help to find out if the old siren on the California Fruit Building, just off J street in downtown, was still working. He was very interested in the old siren on the roof.
"It's the only one of its kind to exist. It was made by E.D. Bullard out of San Francisco, I think back in the 1930's and 40's," McGee noted.
The teenager grew up around tornado sirens in his hometown of Oklahoma City. He's not sure how or why, but he gained passion for documenting and recording different emergency sirens. He's even posted videos of different sirens he finds on his YouTube page.
McGee also collects and repairs old sirens in his parents shed. To him, sirens are historic relics that should be preserved.
"There is just that stigma of sirens. Everyone has heard these sirens. These cold war sirens and its actually really cool," McGee says.
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McGee’s request was not easy. The California Fruit Building is under renovations and the siren on the roof was disconnected from power. It took the request of an electrician to re-wire the siren and fire it up. Too much surprise, the siren still worked.
The motors inside the oven-sized siren blared a loud whine and spun around in a full circle. The siren was so loud, it could be heard all over downtown, and if you were standing next to it, you could not hear the person next to you, even if they were shouting.
ABC10 shot video of the siren and showed it to McGee.
"I was so surprised that it worked," McGee exclaimed. "I had never heard one before and now there is documentation."
Contrary to belief, the sirens in Sacramento were not military air raid sirens, although some were installed around the time of World War II by the Office of Civil Defense. Captain Keith Wade with the Sacramento fire department remembers when the sirens were still active.
"They were put in to give an early alert to citizens to warn about a natural disaster or military strike," Wade said.
On the last Friday of every month a person would set off all 26 at the same time and Wade says "they were pretty loud." When the sirens went off, everyone who heard it was supposed to turn on the radio. If there was a real emergency, your local broadcasting station was supposed to inform you on what to do.
It was a fairly simple idea, but that simple idea was replaced by cell phones.
"That is what I was told. Cell phones made them obsolete," Wade explained.
McGee believes there is room for both cell phone alerts and emergency sirens and it’s hard not to agree with him. Cell phone towers were the first to go when the Paradise, caught fire in 2018 during the Camp Fire.
Unfortunately there's no plans to bring back an emergency siren system in Sacramento. The old siren on the California Fruit Building may never go off again.
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