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Earthquake sirens fail SF office test

By Ofelia Madrid Special to the Daily Planet
Tuesday April 16, 2002

Madeleine Lacavoli was ready to hit the floor. All she needed was the siren’s signal. 

But at 10:30 a.m. she and the rest of her co-workers in the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Clerk’s office did not leap to participate in the citywide duck, cover and hold earthquake drill. 

“We were waiting and nothing happened," Lacavoli said. 

The clerk’s office of the Board of Supervisors remained calm and empty. Several workers sat at desks, divided into cubicles, typing. Some insisted they were too old to duck under a desk, but agreed to participate. 

The clock on the wall read 10:35 a.m. Still no siren. 

An employee walked out the door with a coffee cup in her hand. A co-worker warned, "You’re going to miss it." 




"I can’t sit here and wait," she replied, then smiled at the rest of the office as she left. The others held their seats. 

At 10:40 a.m., Lacavoli got the news. They had failed to hear the sirens that kicked off California’s Earthquake Preparedness month at precisely 10:30 a.m. 

No matter said, Juliette Hayes, special assistant in the Mayor’s office of Emergency Services. The sirens are not meant to alert people to an earthquake--the earth moving does that-- but to alert people to turn on their radio for an emergency broadcast. 

"The siren won’t go off during an earthquake because there’s not enough time," Hayes said. "But people should know to turn their radios to an AM station to be linked to emergency information." 

Hayes said the main reason for the siren today was for people to practice the duck to the floor, take cover under a sturdy desk or table and hold onto that piece of furniture until it is safe to move earthquake drill, regardless of whether people heard the siren. 

"If there was a hazardous spill big enough, then (the board of supervisors office) probably would have heard about it through the mayor’s office," Hayes said. Maybe the clerk’s office failed to hear the outside siren because they were waiting for an internal siren. 

But Lacavoli wonders who else failed to hear the siren. 

"If you’re not hearing it in city hall, are you hearing it in other buildings?" she asked. 

Two security guards at the San Francisco Library, across the street from city hall also missed hearing the sirens. The two men, who declined to give their names, were standing near the door at 10:30 a.m. 

"What earthquake drill?" one asked. "If they’re going to have a drill then everyone should be able to hear it. What’s the point otherwise?" 

Lacavoli expressed the same sentiment. "If your windows are open you’d hear it," she said. "But we can’t keep them open because of the heating and air ventilation. Let’s face it, on a normal workday, most people are inside a building."