This is a test. This is only a test.
October 19, 2015 11:56 PM   Subscribe

The following message is transmitted at the request of North American Aerospace Defense Command. Two nuclear missiles are heading for the United States. Take shelter now.

The following message is transmitted at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration. An unidentified aircraft has been located near the state of Florida. The aircraft is presumed to be foreign, and may pose a threat to the area.

The Emergency Alert System was tested on November 9, 2011. The system was not activated on September 11, 2001.
More, from The EAS experience.

Where else?

This is BBC television from London. Normal programming has been suspended.

Please stand by for our broadcast from the National Emergency Warning System ... or in 1982: All Australian capital cities. 4 major regional centres

Alert Ready Manitoba,Alberta, BC.

Earthquake Warning (PHIVOLCS)

actual actual actual
Earthquake Early Warning 08/08/2013
test test test
Tsunami, Earthquake, Ballistic Missiles, Guerrilla Special Forces

All clear, all clear, all clear
posted by the man of twists and turns (82 comments total) 64 users marked this as a favorite
 
"If this had been a real emergency you would already be dead."

Since the early 1960s, on the first Monday of every month at 1500 the air raid sirens in Stockholm are tested for a few minutes. Horns all over the city blast out a sequence consisting of a seven second tone followed by fourteen second pause. It's quite unsettling - a stark reminder of the cold war - but sometimes good fun to watch the reactions of tourists.
posted by three blind mice at 12:20 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


In my 'wacky radio days' in the late '70s/early '80s, I actually made a few bucks selling parodies of the standard "Emergency Broadcast System Tests" to local DJs with scripts like...
"This is a test. This is only a test. It will not appear on your permanent record."
"This has been a test. If this had been a pop quiz you would have been instructed to place your books under your desks."
"If this had been a blood test, you would have been issued a band-aid to stop the bleeding."
"If this had been an eye test, it wouldn't have been on radio."
and instead of the standard loud tone, I inserted several seconds of weird sound effects or, in one case, four bars of a currently overplayed hit record followed by "This is has been a test to see it you've gotten tired of this by now."
...mostly totally non-sequitur stuff but I did have one that was "If this had been an actual emergency you would have been instructed to PANIC!!!!"
I was pleasantly surprised that neither I nor any of the radio stations I sold them to ever got nasty letters from Civil Defense or the FCC. Talk about flying under the radar.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [13 favorites]


When I was a radio DJ in 1982-83, one night I pulled out the EBS actual emergency cart and listened to it. It was terrifying -- stay off the phone, the lines are reserved for official use, etc. I worked overnight and I played the test cart occasionally, but suddenly hearing the pre-recorded announcement that would be played in a real attack was ... memorable. You know, in a dark and empty radio station, by myself, out in the country outside of town, at 3AM.

I suppose that everyone younger than middle-aged really doesn't understand at all just how plausible and ever-looming was the possibility of approaching nuclear missiles. It wasn't like how I always imagined it had been for that period in the 50s and then the Cuban Missile Crisis just before I was born -- those stories always sounded to me like people were actively frightened, even paranoid, in a way that I didn't relate to. But for me and most other kids I knew, it was a low-level anxiety, the stuff of occasional nightmares and the sort of thing where you think, well, if it does happen, I won't exactly be surprised.

LIstening to that cart promoted it from that low-level anxiety into something much more immediate -- here was something quite real. Sometimes it was easier than others to forget that even though my overnight shift felt quite lonely, I had thousands of listeners out there -- it was the top station in its market. But mostly I was quite aware that my voice was reaching into cars and homes. People called. There was the big transmitter and the towers. So listening to that cart -- recorded by the program director, who also recorded the test messages, and which was therefore both very familiar and yet also utterly alien -- seemed to make the possibility very, very real in a right here, right now, me and people I know sort of way. That piece of equipment in the corner could do whatever it would do, I'd check the code, I'd put the cart in and play it and let it repeat, it would tell me and everyone else to stay off the phone, stay in our homes, and wait for the government to provide news and instructions, and I'd wait for the world to end.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 1:03 AM on October 20, 2015 [93 favorites]


This is probably the creepiest thing I could hear for a long time.
posted by divabat at 1:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I suppose that everyone younger than middle-aged really doesn't understand at all just how plausible and ever-looming was the possibility of approaching nuclear missiles.

It's that, I think. These otherwise very mechanical voices are, for me, haunting.
I was talking with a friend about this last night, how we (who were youngsters in the 70s) have imminent nuclear annihilation as our nightmare - and I wonder if today's kids have global warming (?) If in thirty years they will look at a coal burning power plant and think, there but for the grace of god…
posted by From Bklyn at 1:48 AM on October 20, 2015 [9 favorites]




I'm fairly confident that BBC one is fake
posted by Luddite at 2:31 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


My anxiety was pretty bad tonight and now I'm thoroughly freaked out. I don't want to make it worse by looking it up so I'll ask here: I live alone, don't have a television nor listen to the radio. Is there a similar warning system for SMS or something similar, or will I just be reduced to shadow?

Now if you'll excuse me I must go to bed and lie absolutely still under the covers.

ICBMs follow boogeyman rules, right?
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 2:31 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


Is there a similar warning system for SMS or something similar, or will I just be reduced to shadow?

Ehh, just be glad you'll be killed without warning in the event of a global nuclear war and don't have to worry about it beforehand or deal with the hideous aftermath had you been able to take shelter.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:38 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Today's kids have terrorism to worry about.

@Freeland Demiurge: There are SMS warnings, yeah.
posted by divabat at 2:38 AM on October 20, 2015


You know, in a dark and empty radio station, by myself, out in the country outside of town, at 3AM...

Is that you, Pontypool?
posted by C'est la D.C. at 2:40 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


As a child of the Cold War, every time they play the Emergency Broadcast System signal for a missing kid, for at least a moment or two I'm sure it's the missiles. I know I'm not the only one because I've seen at least a couple of people tweet similar reactions.

Freelance Demiurge: Is there a similar warning system for SMS or something similar, or will I just be reduced to shadow?
In the U.S., most smartphones, both iPhone and Android, have an Emergency Alert app pre-installed. You can turn off everything but the "Presidential Emergency Message." Which I did, after the tone — the same Cold War tone — went off while I was relaxing and I shot out of my seat so fast I scared the dogs.
posted by ob1quixote at 2:44 AM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]




I was born in 1984 so I don't have the same visceral fear of annihilation as some of you. However, I grew up in the Midwest, so my initial reaction is Tornado coming must take shelter where is the damn cat aw he'll be ok just get to the basement.
posted by zrail at 3:36 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


> Today's kids have terrorism to worry about.

Terrorism and politically-motivated violence was just as likely in the 60s and 70s as it is now. More likely then than now, if you lived in Quebec, Northern Ireland, London, Paris, Tokyo, Rome,... it just never managed to dominate the public imagination while the looming threat of nuclear war seemed so much bigger.
posted by ardgedee at 3:42 AM on October 20, 2015 [12 favorites]


Yeah, grew up with those emergency tests and they always felt so real, so imminent. We lived near a GE Ordnance plant and dad was working there building the bomb. We'd get little novelty nuclear missile identification cards. The rumor around town was that we were number 10 on the list for Soviet nuclear annihilation. But, probably a lot of town thought they were. And, once you start generating lists, well...

Now that annoying rising arpeggio before the Japan alert freaks me the hell out. It hasn't happened in a while, but always scary when a roomful of smartphones all start bleating the earthquake brrrrng brrng!

Thank you, a man of twists and turns!
posted by Gotanda at 3:45 AM on October 20, 2015


Today's kids have terrorism to worry about.

They should be more worried about car accidents. (or drowning in a pool, or an aspirin overdose, or virtually everything else). Unless of course they live in the middle east.
posted by el io at 3:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


Concurring with Luddite, that BBC one is not legit.
posted by Dysk at 3:58 AM on October 20, 2015


"If this had been a real emergency you would already be dead."

"If this had been a real emergency, the men who caused this emergency would already have descended via pneumatic sleds to impenetrable bunkers deep beneath Washington, where they would by now be having their toenails painted by pale government-raised concubines who have never seen the light of day and who speak among themselves in a sign language they derived from the flicker and play of bioluminescent cave fish."
posted by pracowity at 4:09 AM on October 20, 2015 [34 favorites]


They sound like my kindle.
posted by kjs4 at 4:10 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Terrorism will not obliterate the planet.

Try living in London in the 80s. You had the choice of existential fear - nuclear war or the IRA, which carried out well over a hundred attacks in the capital between the 70s and 90s. It was a worry, but nuclear war was too terrifying to think about. Except you had to. There was no comparison.

But by the mid 1990s, the combination of ongoing expense, the failing infrastructure, the end of the Cold War and the acceptance that it had only been a figleaf anyway led to the closing down of the UK civil defence system. I'm sure there's still a contingency plan somewhere, but it certainly doesn't involve the plebs. Perhaps they'll just distribute handfuls of MDMA from the backs of vans playing Two Tribes on their sound system.

The IRA has gone away. Jihadists are amateurs in comparison. The nukes are still here.
posted by Devonian at 4:12 AM on October 20, 2015 [7 favorites]


Verizon sent out an unidentified test alert to several counties in New Jersey in 2011 saying "CMAS Alert" followed by "Civil Emergency in this area until 1:24 PM EST Take Shelter Now U.S. Govern" Was pretty creepy.

I actually wish you cannot switch off AMBER alerts and weather alerts on the phone but I do wish you could change the sound of them. Hearing that Cold War beeping going off for a Flash Flood warning everywhere while you're shopping in a store is pretty creepy.
posted by daninnj at 4:18 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


We forget the dangers that are always with us and focus on the novelties.
posted by pracowity at 4:22 AM on October 20, 2015


We forget the dangers that are always with us and focus on the novelties.

Many of us were children at a time when imminent nuclear destruction was a danger that was always with us.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:41 AM on October 20, 2015 [10 favorites]


Related AskMe on towns & cities that would be likely targets in an all-out exchange during the Cold War. Fascinating reading on this topic.
posted by dr_dank at 4:51 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


My elementary school was eight miles from the Pentagon; we had drills in which all the classes were marched out of the classrooms into the halls to huddle against the walls. . . as if, in retrospect, that would have helped us.
posted by apartment dweller at 5:00 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Concurring with Luddite, that BBC one is not legit.

Yeah, the end of it gets a bit dramatic (dubbed air raid sirens and flashing red warnings, oh my) though it still effectively puts chills down my spine.

The UK government had a discussion a few years ago about how they would inform the public about a national emergency, and one of the options was an American-style emergency override of public TV just like in that clip. They decided to just leave the job to the existing news channels, as they already have successfully helped inform and reassure the public during several modern national emergencies, and have the advantage of not putting the fear of god into the audience.
posted by Eleven at 5:08 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Tornado coming must take shelter where is the damn cat aw he'll be ok just get to the basement

One of these months a massive tornado is going to hit the Twin Cities at 1:00 PM on the first Wednesday and shock everyone who ignored the siren test.
posted by Flannery Culp at 5:12 AM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


It's quite unsettling - a stark reminder of the cold war - but sometimes good fun to watch the reactions of tourists.

American tourists of a certain age, especially those from the southern states, would completely understand. The sirens went off every Wednesday at noon in Little Rock. Even in the place I am now, there's a once a week quick blast of the sirens to make sure they're working when the big one (tornado) hits.

Though I once got to be in the position of an easily unnerved tourist. In Israel, during the first Intifada, when tensions were already a bit high, I heard a sudden series of sonic booms in the sky. I visibly jumped. The Israeli man next to me on the bus laughed and said: "Don't worry. The war is scheduled for tomorrow, not today."
posted by honestcoyote at 5:22 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Clearly the genius who thought it was a good idea to make our phones scream at 2am for abducted children grew up after the Reagan era.
posted by whuppy at 5:23 AM on October 20, 2015 [6 favorites]


I clearly remember the drills we did in my early elementary school days. Duck & Cover, crawl under the desk. In high school we added to that "and kiss your ass goodbye".

I also clearly remember a Saturday morning in the early '70's in Baltimore when the EMS signal came across the TV with the message "This is not a test." Someone had put in the wrong tape. That was a bad hour or so, particularly when nobody really noticed. I had, though, and it freaked me out.

Ah, the good old days.
posted by jeporter99 at 5:46 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Many of us were children at a time when imminent nuclear destruction was a danger that was always with us.

That's no news to me. I was a duck-and-cover kid.

But it's not as if we're all safe now. It is 3 minutes to midnight.
posted by pracowity at 5:50 AM on October 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


I remember 1959 when the Chicago White Sox won the pennant and the lunatic fire commissioner set off the sirens for 5 full minutes in "celebration". I ran to the front window from the television to, I guess, look for missiles, cursing the baseball-hating commies. The family in the house across the street filed out to their porch, knelt, and loudly began saying the rosary, beads clutched in their hands.
posted by Chitownfats at 6:03 AM on October 20, 2015 [16 favorites]


(?) If in thirty years they will look at a coal burning power plant and think, there but for the grace of god…

Sadly, I am pretty certain that in thirty years (the blink of an eye, in other words) the coal fired plants will still be chugging along in completely business as usual fashion.

I am 62. The chief and very vivid fear of my entire childhood was nuclear annihilation. (Up until the time I was old enough to wish I could go to Woodstock, hehe...) I am sure this is true for many of my age.
posted by anguspodgorny at 6:30 AM on October 20, 2015


I was very surprised to not be able to find any sort of Malaysian early warning system. Even searching in Malay didn't bring me anything.

I grew up near Singapore so we'd be able to hear all the warning sirens and such from across the causeway. Here's how they do it in SG.
posted by divabat at 6:35 AM on October 20, 2015


Is there a similar warning system for SMS or something similar, or will I just be reduced to shadow?

Yep, there's a protocol for Emergency Alerts, here's what it looks like on Android.
posted by odinsdream at 6:35 AM on October 20, 2015




For some period of time local stations were able to create their own local versions of the old Emergency Broadcast System warnings, which led to a strange experience for me in Colorado in 1991. I heard the standard message delivered over the radio by a man with a very distinctive rich, buttery voice and unmistakable cadence. I worried I might be going crazy, so it was with considerable relief that I heard the end of the warning: "This has been a test of the Emergency Broadcast System, and Yes, this is Barry White." How they got the guy to do it beyond me-- I assume he came in for an interview to promote an album and the station manager was like, "Hey, let's do this!" I wish I could find a copy of it online, but like many artifacts from before the widespread internet, it doesn't appear with a cursory google search. Still, it was fantastic.
posted by seasparrow at 6:55 AM on October 20, 2015 [8 favorites]


They decided to just leave the job to the existing news channels, as they already have successfully helped inform and reassure the public during several modern national emergencies, and have the advantage of not putting the fear of god into the audience.

Well, it also helps that the UK had at the time the One Network that everybody watched and listened to -- the BBC. So all you had to do was make sure that warning went to them, and let them do the work.

In the modern day, with the BBC being gutted and Sky owned by Murdoch, this seems a distinctly bad idea.

Then again, you don't get the waves of tornados that the Midwest US gets. The purpose of CONELRAD/EBS/EAS may have been to alert the US to nuclear war, but the actual use -- local warning of fast developing emergencies like tornadoes and flash floods -- has been extraordinarily useful, even if a pain to maintain amongst multiple networks (ABC/CBS/FOX/NBC, Cable Networks, NOAA Weather Radio, radio stations, and so on.)
posted by eriko at 7:02 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


dr_dank's link to that AskMe is awesome. We were all on the list. And, taking it as perverse point of pride was ... just that.
posted by Gotanda at 7:03 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am just barely old enough that we had nuclear attack drills in my elementary school (in Canada!), and I remember pretty clearly being about 5 or 6 and suddenly realizing that all the stuff I kept hearing adults talk about was actually related to the real-not-pretend possible imminent end of the world.

I don't really feel like I was traumatized by it. But every time my thoughts turn to nuclear war, I find that I am once again 5 years old, huddling in the gymnasium of my school waiting for the nuclear attack drill to be over.
posted by 256 at 7:06 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


I remember 1959 when the Chicago White Sox won the pennant and the lunatic fire commissioner set off the sirens for 5 full minutes in "celebration".

The funny thing? Last year, the Blackhawks were doing a parade to and celebration at Soldier Field for winning the Stanely Cup, and the sirens went off. Many people thought it was for the celebration because of the 1959 incident.

Nope: There was a severe thunderstorm that looked like it was going to drop a tornado. It was a real alert.

BTW: They test them on the first Tuesday of every month at 10AM -- but they test with the "all clear" tone. The warning tone is creepy as hell.
posted by eriko at 7:07 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


My elementary school was eight miles from the Pentagon; we had drills in which all the classes were marched out of the classrooms into the halls to huddle against the walls. . . as if, in retrospect, that would have helped us.

If someone dropped your basic Soviet nuke on the Pentagon eight miles away, it would actually have helped a lot. Noodling around, eight miles puts you just outside the thermal radiation damage zone. Not to say that some other nuke wouldn't have been targeted closer to you.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:14 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


Related AskMe on towns & cities that would be likely targets in an all-out exchange during the Cold War. Fascinating reading on this topic.

Here's a Guardian story from 2014 on a declassified list of likely targets in 1970's UK, which contains this observation:

A nuclear historian from Aberystwyth University, Kristan Stoddart, said Britain was a priority target for the Soviet Union in the 1970s because it was the only state in western Europe that was part of Nato's military structure. France had left in 1966. He said: "For a country the size of Britain there was no civil defence against large-scale nuclear attack – anything else was a myth. Whitehall knew this and most of the population knew it."
posted by snuffleupagus at 7:15 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


That's no news to me. I was a duck-and-cover kid.

I actually made a credible argument to a professor once that there was a distinct difference between being a "duck and cover kid" and "duck and cover won't work so we're all fucked" kid.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:22 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Air Force Emergency Broadcast System people made a mistake once (during the Cold War!) and sent out the actual authentic alert message instead of the test one! Here's a recording of what happened on a couple of stations.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 7:24 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


2005, freshman year of college in Minnesota, I'm sitting in my dorm room and suddenly this SOUND begins to bellow. It penetrated everything. I covered my ears and began looking around, wondering if I was supposed to evacuate or find an interior room or what the hell was going on. It wasn't the fire alarm. It was sunny outside. CNN.com did not have any news alerts. Finally I went across the hall to a window and saw a massive, yellow civil defense siren (warning: LOUD link), at eye level, perched on the parking ramp directly across from my dorm, slowly rotating and roaring. The windows buzzed in their frames each time its horn swung around to face me. People below were speedwalking away from the parking ramp, hands covering their ears.

I had grown up in a rural town with one stoplight; our tornado siren (because that's what it was, I was four when the USSR fell, I had never thought it could announce any other danger) was a little shrill siren and you couldn't even hear it from my house. THIS was a sound transported straight from the Cold War, and it was deeply unsettling. It was going off because Minnesota was doing some severe weather awareness week, and staging tornado drills. But Jesus Christ, no wonder people thought they were going to die in the '60s. I had no idea of the context of that SOUND at the time, but just hearing it, I felt like something terrible was about to happen.

Minnesotan blogger James Lileks will occasionally mention our monthly siren tests in his entries; he aptly refers to the siren as "the voice of God," because for decades, that was the sound which would announce Armageddon.
posted by castlebravo at 7:25 AM on October 20, 2015 [4 favorites]


We always took comfort knowing that the guys in Australia would live a few months longer, if they lived On The Beach.

Good on you mates.
posted by mule98J at 7:26 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


However, I grew up in the Midwest, so my initial reaction is Tornado coming must take shelter where is the damn cat aw he'll be ok just get to the basement.

I was just wondering if I had invented that memory. I was born in 81 so the Cold War was fading by the time I was old enough to remember anything but I do remember the rainbow-patterned test screen appearing before tornado warnings.
posted by bgal81 at 7:34 AM on October 20, 2015


EmpressCallipygos: I actually made a credible argument to a professor once that there was a distinct difference between being a "duck and cover kid" and "duck and cover won't work so we're all fucked" kid.

If you want a laugh, the original Duck & Cover civil defense short paints an overly optimistic picture of the protective properties of newspapers and street curbs as well.
posted by dr_dank at 7:39 AM on October 20, 2015


Related AskMe on towns & cities that would be likely targets in an all-out exchange during the Cold War.

That definitely matches my childhood. Like most things about Little Rock, we knew we weren't in the top tier but we felt like we'd be included eventually. And the ICBM fields north of the city were probably a first strike target.

Has anyone ever compiled a list of the safest places in North America in case of an all-out nuclear war? When I was a kid in Arkansas, one of the consistent rumors was about Bella Vista, a small planned town of mostly retirees in the far northwest corner of the state. Rumor stated the highest concentration of retired CIA / NSA / military intelligence folks was in that town. And the reason was because the town was in a good location. Not a target itself. Not immediately near targets. And the prevailing winds would minimize fallout from elsewhere.

Or so the rumor went. Made the boring retirement community seem like a post-apocalyptic shangri-la.
posted by honestcoyote at 7:46 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


The thing about Duck and Cover is that it actually made sense before the advent of hydrogen bombs. The first generation of nuclear weapons were just really big explosions that had a harmful flash, but after that the damage was pretty localized. The point of Duck and Cover was to protect you from the initial flash.

Of course once hydrogen thermonuclear weapons in the megaton range that turned anything within a dozen miles into a burning hellscape of vaporized death, there wasn't much point.
posted by zrail at 8:30 AM on October 20, 2015 [5 favorites]


I don't think we have anything similar to EAS here. Then again, there isn't any recurring feature that would require it, other than windstorms (which are warned in advance by the media as weather red alerts). I guess there's the chance of another 8.5 earthquake rocking Lisbon, but I doubt there would be any point on alerting people of what happened.
posted by lmfsilva at 8:39 AM on October 20, 2015


The thing about Duck and Cover is that it actually made sense before the advent of hydrogen bombs.

Even after, especially since yields typically went down substantially as accuracy increased. There are lots of metro areas where if you dropped one typical Soviet/Russian nuke -- an 800KT SS-25 warhead -- on the center city, the suburbs would be survivable. With one nuke, anyway.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:57 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


So, I didn't expect to fall in the youtube K-Hole of air raid sirens this morning, but I did end up over here; at the footage of my favorite [1] nuclear test footage: Operation Tumbler-Snapper; Dog shot ; where they dropped a ~5kt and made a bunch of dumbass marines walk to ground zero. Man. 1952 was a hell of a time, when we were dumb enough to think we could WIN a nuclear war.


Of course, this one wasn't as bad as Upshot-Knothole Encore in 1953, where they did this again and a lot of soldiers got really messed up from radiation effects. I think that was the one where they decided to stop testing on humans.


[1] "favorite" for egregious hubris.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 9:01 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


In a couple of hours, the siren across the street in San Francisco, will go off with a test like it does every Tuesday at noon.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:35 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


If you want a laugh, the original Duck & Cover civil defense short paints an overly optimistic picture of the protective properties of newspapers and street curbs as well.

Oh, yeah, I've seen it. My high school friends and I were super into anti-nukes, and watching those things was our black-humor satire crack.

I think I mentioned in an earlier "end of the world as we know it thanks to nukes" reminiscing thread that my father, as a younger man, had a job with Electric Boat in Groton, CT helping to design subs for the military. He was probably just starting there in 1963, just in time for the Cuban Missile Crisis, and was there for ten years. He doesn't talk about it much, and once said that technically there are still a couple things about that job that he's not supposed to talk about.

But I've also noticed that compared to the whole rest of my extended family, my parents have always stayed pretty squarely Democrat (while all of my other aunts and uncles have gone over to the Republican side, to the point that I think a couple are even Tea Party). I always chalked that up to Dad's military contract work, and the fact that Dad probably saw some stuff about the destructive capability of nukes that made him nope out of ever aligning himself with anyone who'd even entertain the thought of using them.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:01 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm kinda surprised that iPhone and Android have built-in emergency alert features in the US. How strange.
posted by Lleyam at 10:12 AM on October 20, 2015


...the end of the Cold War and the acceptance that it had only been a figleaf anyway led to the closing down of the UK civil defence system.

I know very little of UK's civil defense program, but if it was anything like some of the things I've learned about the UK's military plans to react to a nuclear attack at various points during the cold war, it's a mix of the oddly quaint, somewhat absurd, and inventively practical.

- The MoD wanted the PM to join the AA (the UK Automobile Association) so that he could use the telephone in case of a nuclear attack. Harold Macmillan was Prime Minister at the time (1957-1963), and the Ministry of Defence knew that US President Kennedy had a system, meaning he could retaliate against the Soviets if they should launch a nuclear strike, from anywhere in the country. The original idea was people to go around with radios, but this was too expensive and Macmillan did not want people following him around all the time. So they used the same system used by the Automobile Association, which involved sending a signal from the AA to the PM's car if the Soviets struck. Thus the PM could get to the nearest telephone and issue the order to counter-strike. In a series of memos it was first suggested that the drivers should carry four pennies on them at all times so as to pay for the call in the phone boxes, but then it was suggested that the drivers should instead make a reverse charges call. (Link to QI episode notes. Other info elsewhere, but this seems the most concise summary)

- Operation Blue Peacock If the Soviets invaded western Europe, 10-kiloton nuclear mines would be placed on the German plain, timed to detonate days later. If this occurred in winter, the mines would be buried with several live chickens to keep the electronics warm during the countdown.

- UK missile submarines, as part of their regular schedule for surfacing/going shallow for radio contact, were told to check if BBC Radio 4 were still broadcasting. If it was not, and if there was no response on any other military frequency, they were ordered to open the Letters of Last Resort, which were secret letters written by the PM with instructions of what to do next. (The Royal Navy did not have their own ELF transmitter like the US and Soviets did for directly communicating with subs)
posted by chambers at 10:15 AM on October 20, 2015 [11 favorites]


First Wednesday of the month at 1:00PM in St. Paul, MN, they would test the civil defense sirens. I had a very conflicted attitude: if it was a tornado then I wanted to be in the northwest corner of the basement, but if it was The Bomb then I wanted to be at ground zero.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:16 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


three blind mice: "Since the early 1960s, on the first Monday of every month at 1500 the air raid sirens in Stockholm are tested for a few minutes. Horns all over the city blast out a sequence consisting of a seven second tone followed by fourteen second pause. It's quite unsettling - a stark reminder of the cold war - but sometimes good fun to watch the reactions of tourists."

We have this in Illinois, first Tuesday at 10 a.m., for the tornado/air raid siren. My 4-year-old calls it "the noisy!" and he adores it. "Mommy! I can hear The Noisy!" and then he stands enraptured for the duration. It sounds like a Stephen King villain. If it's rainy they don't run the test because people might think it's an actual tornado warning.

Freelance Demiurge: "Is there a similar warning system for SMS or something similar, or will I just be reduced to shadow?"

In the US, all smart phones after 2013 or so have the emergency alert system built in. For a "presidential alert" it can't be turned off. You also receive weather alerts keyed to your location, and amber alerts. You can choose to turn those off.

Lleyam: "I'm kinda surprised that iPhone and Android have built-in emergency alert features in the US. How strange."

Honestly it's for the weather emergencies. Early warning systems have pushed tornadoes from deadly random events to "periodic nuisances." Even when they wipe an entire town off the map, there's rarely more than 1 or 2 deaths because we all have PLENTY OF TIME now to get to the basement due to the early warning systems. The warnings go out on TV and radio, weather radio, and the sirens -- but even so, ever since cell phones came out, people have been saying, "Wouldn't it be great if we would somehow trigger specific cell towers to alert all the phones in their radius that there's a tornado coming in five minutes?" The more specific and the more intrusive you can make the alert, the more people survive. In some parts of the country people were like, "Blargh, EAS on our phones." But in the Midwest we were all like, "Yay! EAS on our phones! Now my tornado warnings can follow me around! Hooray technology!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:18 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


The claim was "shelter for two weeks then emerge and life can go on as usual" -- until the biologists started publishing.
posted by hank at 10:26 AM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


If it's rainy they don't run the test because people might think it's an actual tornado warning.

Yeah, but if it's sunny and clear, they do; nevermind that's how it starts in The Day After.

I hate sunny summer saturdays at 10am.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 10:39 AM on October 20, 2015 [2 favorites]


Another Cold War child here, born 1967.

I remember watching tv and hearing that terrible sound come blasting from the machine. It was scary partly because it was so cryptic when I was very young.

Fine story, Ivan Fyodorovich. Great post, the man of twists and turns.
posted by doctornemo at 10:56 AM on October 20, 2015


She'll be right. Just duck and cover.
posted by flabdablet at 11:41 AM on October 20, 2015




Okay, I'm starting to feel that kind of creeping fear that I had all through my teens now, and so it's time for my go-to happymaking clip that I break out in threads like this.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 3:01 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]


I remember that Amber Alert going off on our phones in SF one time - it was the only time I've ever seen that alert in the 3.25 years I was there. I was on the bus at the time and EVERYONE'S phone went off. We ended up chatting about it.

Some time later I heard a helicopter go around my neighborhood with some kind of automated message. I thought it would be related to #BlackLivesMatter protests since I lived in the vicinity of some of them and there had been some police activity. Twitter showed me that it was some missing kid they found later.
posted by divabat at 4:49 PM on October 20, 2015


It's as if my childhood fears had taken form once again. I got shivers particularly from the earthquake alert broadcast on NHK; I think it's that repetitive alarm and advisory that calls up a rather somber and scary nostalgia.

Civil defense in my area used to have sirens of varying frequencies, each would indicate a different type of threat. Monthly testing would go through each one, and the phone book had the definitions: Air Raid, Tsunami, and maybe one or two more. Of course, now there's just one siren for all types of alerts, with the presumption that you would turn on the radio to learn what kind of emergency it was.
posted by CancerMan at 5:48 PM on October 20, 2015


The tsunami warning sirens sound on the first business day of every month here on Oahu. In my experience they're not loud enough - I'm not sure I'd hear them indoors unless it was otherwise absolutely quiet.
posted by namewithoutwords at 6:38 PM on October 20, 2015


My 14 year old son is full on into making emergency broadcast videos. Sometimes they feature Max Headroom. Sometimes they feature him being Max Headroom. Sometimes they inexplicably appear halfway through a video about something completely different (but usually to do with the 80's). It's a thing.
posted by h00py at 7:02 PM on October 20, 2015 [1 favorite]



...Thus the PM could get to the nearest telephone and issue the order to counter-strike. In a series of memos it was first suggested that the drivers should carry four pennies on them at all times so as to pay for the call in the phone boxes, but then it was suggested that the drivers should instead make a reverse charges call...
chambers at 1:15 PM on October 20

Indeed.
posted by zoinks at 1:16 AM on October 21, 2015


Eyebrows McGee: "Honestly it's for the weather emergencies. Early warning systems have pushed tornadoes from deadly random events to "periodic nuisances." Even when they wipe an entire town off the map, there's rarely more than 1 or 2 deaths because we all have PLENTY OF TIME now to get to the basement due to the early warning systems.

I guess that makes more sense given that you can deactivate the alerts if you don't need them. I found the fact that the only thing you can't deactivate is a presidential address to be a bit creepy, totalitarian. But I can see the benefit in helping save lives in extreme weather situations.
posted by Lleyam at 2:59 AM on October 21, 2015


I worked for a few months as a sexton/groundskeeper/gravedigger in Denmark (covering a long-term illness) and one of my strongest memories is being shown the protocol for how exactly to ring the church bells in the event of a national disaster. There was a particular bell pattern for a nuclear attack or make radiation event. For those few months, I had the responsibility, whether I was at work or not, to alert the community generally and those not listening to the radio specifically in the event of a nuclear attack, with a twenty-ton piece of cast brass. It was fairly sobering.
posted by Dysk at 3:48 AM on October 21, 2015 [4 favorites]


I wrote my PhD on UK nuclear civil defence, and I love seeing how other countries have developed different but equally creepy national systems, messages and processes.

As others have said, the British link in the OP is a spoof; to the best of my knowledge there exists no official recorded examples of the broadcast message in the public domain. We do know however the script that would be broadcast on the BBC by the Wartime Broadcasting Service in the event of a nuclear attack. It was written some time around 1973-75, the same time as Protect & Survive was being developed.

"This is the Wartime Broadcasting Service. This country has been attacked with nuclear weapons. Communications have been severely disrupted, and the number of casualties and the extent of the damage are not yet known. We shall bring you further information as soon as possible. Meanwhile, stay tuned to this wavelength, stay calm and stay in your own homes.

Remember there is nothing to be gained by trying to get away. By leaving your homes you could be exposing yourselves to greater danger. If you leave, you may find yourself without food, without water, without accommodation and without protection. Radioactive fall-out, which follows a nuclear explosion, is many times more dangerous if you are directly exposed to it in the open. Roofs and walls offer substantial protection. The safest place is indoors.

Make sure gas and other fuel supplies are turned off and that all fires are extinguished. If mains water is available, this can be used for fire-fighting. You should also refill all your containers for drinking water after the fires have been put out, because the mains water supply may not be available for very long. Water must not be used for flushing lavatories: until you are told that lavatories may be used again, other toilet arrangements must be made. Use your water only for essential drinking and cooking purposes. Water means life. Don't waste it.

Make your food stocks last: ration your supply, because it may have to last for 14 days or more. If you have fresh food in the house, use this first to avoid wasting it: food in tins will keep. If you live in an area where a fall-out warning has been given, stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out. When the immediate danger has passed the sirens will sound a steady note. The "all clear" message will also be given on this wavelength. If you leave the fall-out room to go to the lavatory or replenish food or water supplies, do not remain outside the room for a minute longer than is necessary.

Do not, in any circumstances, go outside the house. Radioactive fall-out can kill. You cannot see it or feel it, but it is there. If you go outside, you will bring danger to your family and you may die. Stay in your fall-out room until you are told it is safe to come out or you hear the "all clear" on the sirens.

Here are the main points again:
Stay in your own homes, and if you live in an area where a fall-out warning has been given stay in your fall-out room, until you are told it is safe to come out. The message that the immediate danger has passed will be given by the sirens and repeated on this wavelength. Make sure that the gas and all fuel supplies are turned off and that all fires are extinguished. Water must be rationed, and used only for essential drinking and cooking purposes. It must not be used for flushing lavatories. Ration your food supply: it may have to last for 14 days or more.

We shall repeat this broadcast in two hours' time. Stay tuned to this wavelength, but switch your radios off now to save your batteries until we come on the air again. That is the end of this broadcast."

Apparently, ministers were searching for the perfect "authoritative and comforting tone" to read the message, to evoke the same calm, stoic attitude in the public seen in WW2...

See also: the text of the Queen's address to the nation on the outbreak of nuclear war.
posted by Acarpous at 5:38 AM on October 21, 2015 [8 favorites]


*shivers*
posted by Happy Dave at 6:46 AM on October 21, 2015


Sometimes they feature him being Max Headroom.

Just out of curiosity, has he ever mentioned something about "a giant masterpiece for all the greatest world newspaper nerds" ?
posted by lmfsilva at 6:53 AM on October 21, 2015


I actually wish you cannot switch off AMBER alerts and weather alerts on the phone

If they were more careful about the quality of amber alerts I could maybe agree with you, but they aren't. Before I turned mine off I'd get around one a month urging me to "Be on the lookout for a white or possibly beige or grey or black sedan or possibly minivan or hovercraft with a child or possibly ewok in it." Similarly, they aren't at all careful about excluding probable family abductions and runaways, even though they're required by law to do so.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:54 AM on October 21, 2015 [3 favorites]


I actually wish you cannot switch off AMBER alerts

Can we make a compromise? The phone knows if it's in motion. The phone knows when you're not at home. The phone knows when you're asleep or awake (or at least has a Do-Not-Disturb function that approximates this.)

Can we please not alert me when I'm at home and asleep? There's about fuck-all I can or will do about your missing child in that situation, and if you wake me at 3am, I'm rooting for the abductors.

K'thxbye.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 8:18 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


Lleyam: "I found the fact that the only thing you can't deactivate is a presidential address to be a bit creepy, totalitarian. "

Yeah, it sounds totalitarian just from the name, but there hasn't been one -- Wikipedia says , "No president has ever used the current [EAS] system or its technical predecessors in the last 50 years, despite the Soviet missile crisis, a presidential assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing, major earthquakes and three recent high-alert terrorist warnings." It's intended for timely notification of actionable information, especially when that information is not already widespread; on September 11, for example, the EAS system stood at the ready for a presidential alert all day, but officials kept concluding that they had no instructions or warnings to give (evacuations, etc, were well under way before the alert would have gone out), and that the blanket television coverage was doing what needed to be done.

I actually wish you cannot switch off AMBER alerts

Like a lot of people, I get AMBER alerts via text message from a state authority, which if I'm awake gets my attention, and if I'm asleep doesn't JOLT ME FROM PEACEFUL SLUMBER WITH THE TORNADO WARNING SOUND. If I could set the AMBER alert EAS to a different, less-intrusive sound, that'd be okay. Similarly, when we're all sitting in an enclosed, windowless meeting room, I really don't need every silenced phone in the entire room to suddenly go NUTS because there's an AMBER alert fifty miles away. For a tornado, yes, thank you, EAS, this is helpful information for us to have. For an AMBER alert? Not so much.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:42 AM on October 21, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't know why the Australian ones were what realllllly got to me. Maybe because of the running countdown, or the city names, or the details about fallout.

The background detail of the tv broadcast in Forever's Not So Long comes to mind.
posted by brainwane at 3:45 PM on October 21, 2015


All I can say is: good riddance, Townsville.
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:30 PM on October 25, 2015


« Older Nostalgic beats from Ayman Rostom, aka Dr. Zygote...   |   In Conversation With Sarah Silverman. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments