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City Considers Reactivating Air Raid Sirens for Alert System

August 06, 2003|Jessica Garrison | Times Staff Writer

Obsolete and vaguely ominous looking, Los Angeles' air raid sirens might seem like relics of an earlier age.

But those Cold War-era sirens -- rusty, rotted and silent since 1986 -- may be pressed into service against a threat that was unimagined in the 1950s, when they were installed on telephone poles and towers around the city to warn of nuclear attack.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles City Council voted to study ways to alert residents in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack. Along with 21st century methods such as automated phone calls and Internet postings, officials talked of reaching back to the Cold War days and reactivating the sirens.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn said she thought officials should consider them, among other emergency communication measures.

Hahn also persuaded Port of Los Angeles officials recently to join an emergency-notification system that can make thousands of automated phone calls to nearby residents.

"Particularly in the harbor area, there's a sense that there could be an emergency any day of the week," she said.

At her urging, council members voted Tuesday to study adopting that phone system across the city, as well as prerecording emergency messages for television, radio and Web sites.

And then Councilman Tom LaBonge suggested that officials also study bringing the sirens back into use.

"It's an infrastructure, although very worn and somewhat outdated," he said. "It would alert people to tune into radio stations" for information.

Council members don't yet know how much it would cost to enact the measures.

Other cities are also considering bringing their sirens back. In Baltimore last month, officials tested their sirens for the first time in years.

Los Angeles officials said they would study the idea, but cautioned that they don't even know whether the metal boxes can still emit their shrill wail.

More than 200 of the sirens were installed in the 1950s to warn of nuclear attack. But in 1986, the sirens were turned off. The federal government had stopped providing for their upkeep, and officials had discovered that many no longer worked because of rusty metal and rotting cables.

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