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Don’t Panic! Coronado Sirens Only a Test


At 10 a.m. this Tuesday morning in Coronado, a handful of families are at Glorietta Bay Park taking in the view of San Diego’s skyline in the distance. The ducks are bathing in the bay, the waves are lapping against the shore, and then... [ SIRENS ] Suddenly that noise pierces the silence.

But it is only a test. Coronado tried out a citywide emergency siren system for the first time this week. Park landscaper Steve Haley was blowing leaves when the test began … so he was already wearing earplugs.

Steve Haley: But it still penetrated the earplugs, so I could still hear it coming in my head and everything. It was a loud ringing and everything, and it’s still there right now. And it’s gonna take awhile for it to go away. But yeah it, it was loud. It was loud enough to where it made me think, you know, if it did happen.

Alan Nowakowski: Well, I’m glad to hear that it worked.

That’s Coronado Fire Division chief Alan Nowakowksi.

Alan Nowakowski: These are not leftovers from the Cold War. These are recently acquired and modern equipment.

There are three sirens stationed throughout the city at a cost of about $40,000 a piece. Nowakowski says this little peninsula has radioactive potential. The city became home to nuclear carriers a few years ago. The sirens were installed to warn of radiation leaks or accidents and Coronado’s heavy Navy presence could be the target of an attack.

Jean Nurding: Uh, that would be a prime target.

Coronado resident Jean Nurding.

Jean Nurding: So if North Island is the prime target for, say, a nuclear assault, Coronado would go up with it.

Nurding sat in a wheelchair, not far from one of the tall siren towers at the park. Nurding knew this was just a test, but she’s not sure what to do in case of the real thing.

Jean Nurding: I suppose I’d go hide in my closet and stuff clothes on the bottom. I don’t know.

Some people, like Mike Graham, had no idea what the noise was, despite the city’s best efforts to publicize the test.

Mike Graham: It grabbed my attention. A lot of people seem to be confused by what was happening. And if they had made some kind of announcement, or maybe made a more clear effort to define what was going on, then it might have made people feel more comfortable rather than nervous.

There was a brief spike in 911 calls, but no widespread panic in Coronado. Nowakowski wants people to know the alarm can indicate any kind of disaster, not just nuclear destruction. If those sirens wail again someday, people should stay indoors and tune into the radio for instructions.

For KPBS, I’m Andrew Phelps.

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