Wake-Up Call

The yellow emergency horns at the top of this high school are half a block from my dad’s house, where I’m spending the week. Monday morning these horns started blaring at 4:30 a.m.

Emergency horns that are half a block away are very, VERY loud. They also do not sound like emergency sirens because there’s no wail effect. I don’t know whether this is because Ohio sirens are different from the ones I’m used to in Wisconsin, or because of something to do with the Doppler effect. I’m hoping someone with a physics background will explain it in the comments.

What the sirens do sound like is a car horn that’s shorted out in the neighbor’s driveway, which is about five feet from the wall of the bedroom where I was sleeping. I peeked through the curtains at the imputed offender, scowled, and went back to bed.

Three or four minutes later, the sirens wound down, and then I finally heard the familiar wail. Also, there seemed to be thunder in the distance…

I scrambled into the living room and turned on the TV. Let’s just say that seeing a weather map with a huge red “rotation” heading right toward you certainly accelerates the wake-up process.

I woke my dad, who had slept right through the first round of sirens. Fortunately, the second round was the last. By the time I got Dad and his walker halfway to the basement door, the weather map showed that the storm had turned north and the alert had expired for our county.

Dad fixed himself a cup of coffee and sat in the living room to watch the rain.

I went back to bed.

The rest of the week, I’m happy to say, has been less dramatic. Last night there was the Incident of the Burned-Out Light Bulb, which plunged the whole living room into darkness because it turned out the rest of the living-room light bulbs were dead, too, but that was a lot easier to fix than living in a Red Cross shelter until we could replace the roof.

© 2011 Anne Bingham and Making It Up as I Go

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8 Responses to Wake-Up Call

  1. Tim Eisele says:

    Yikes! What a way to wake up!

    The traditional “wailing” sirens use a perforated rotor with air blowing through it. The rotor chops the air stream and makes it pulse. The wailing effect comes from the time it takes for the rotor to speed up and slow down. This is the principle used in the Acme Siren, or “clown whistle”.

    A lot of modern “sirens” are basically just really, really big car horns, and use a vibrating reed or diaphragm to make the noise, so they come to full intensity right away and don’t wail.

    Just be glad they weren’t using one of the old Chrysler Air Raid Sirens. They were driven by a 180 horsepower V8 engine, and could be clearly heard up to 30 miles away. They were supposedly so loud that, if you held a piece of paper in front of one while it was running, the sound intensity would *set the paper on fire*!


    • Anne Bingham says:

      So, Tim, does the visual I provided give any clue which type of siren woke me up?


      • tim eisele says:

        Hm. Hard to tell. There could be anything in that central column. The shape is consistent with it being a rotor type, but it doesn’t look quite like any of the ones made by Sentry Siren, American Signal, or Klaxon Signals. And it could just as easily be a mechanical horn in there.

        . . . Hey, Klaxon actually still makes hand-cranked sirens like they used in WWII! I’ve been looking for one of those! I wonder how much they cost?


        • Anne Bingham says:

          I tried googling images, too, and didn’t see anything that quite matched on the first three or four pages I looked at. I just remembered that I have a good friend in town who knows the city engineer. Maybe she can send him this link and find out the answer to our questions! I’m giving myself points for figuring out that Klaxon is a Brit firm (without cheating and looking at the Contact page). It was the spellings (recognised, signalling, metre, and defence) that gave it away.


  2. Liz Straw says:

    I would also think that where the horns are located; such as free standing, bouncing off a building, bouncing between several buildings would have an effect on the intensity of the sound.

    But then I don’t really know a lot about these things. =:o

    I just hate it when they go off!


  3. MaryWitzl says:

    I’m in awe of Tim for being able to explain that. Liz is WAY ahead of me.

    In Japan, there are still a lot of sound trucks that go around advertising things like laundry poles, kerosene, and, during election time, various politicians. Before I understood Japanese, I was afraid they were warning people about things like hazardous chemical spills or coming typhoons.


    • Anne Bingham says:

      I remember sound trucks. These days the only one I know about is a black pick-up decorated fender-to-fender with hand-painted slogans about the coming wrath of God. The broadcast message is hard to make out but I suspect it complements the visuals.


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