Civil defense siren

Out of place? This warning siren at Watson Field is right where it's supposed to be. (AnswerMan / answerman@postbulletin.com)

Hey, Answerman, on the north side of the soccer field across from the co-op is a pole that looks really out of place. Is it some kind of new cell tower?

I hopped in the Answermobile and drove to Watson to get the answer to this question. What I found there was very clearly an emergency warning siren, and the honeycomb-shaped set of discs stacked on top is called a modulator — think of a big speaker that projects a voice to warn of approaching storms.

Not out of place, the tower is perfectly placed — one of 92 strategically located throughout Olmsted County, says Emergency Management Director Mike Bromberg. Six of those have modulators. Besides Watson Field, you’ll see them at McQuillan Park, Quarry Hill Park, the baseball fields near the Fuad Mansour soccer complex, and at Chester Woods and Oxbow — in other words, six of the biggest, busiest parks in the county.

The alarms sound when severe weather — a confirmed tornado or winds exceeding 70 mph — are approaching, starting when they are an estimated 90 minutes away, then repeating every 30 minutes or so as the storm gets closer.

In case you’re wondering, as I did, whose voice it is that issues the warning, it is the retired and now late county emergency manager, Dave Carr. Bromberg says Carr, who was then already retired, recorded the messages in one shot in 2012 at the old KNXR studios in southwest Rochester.

“I thought, ‘What better way to honor what Dave did … than to have his voice” on the warning messages, Bromberg said.

Speaking of sirens, here’s another question:

I live within a block of a siren. When they’re tested is it really necessary to run them for several minutes? It seems excessive. — Where are my earplugs Al

This is a case of better safe than sorry. The practice, Bromberg says, dates back to 2010, when a software glitch caused the alarms to fail in a storm. After that, the software company advised that a full, three-minute test is the best way to make sure the sirens and the software that controls them is working right.

In Rochester, the sirens are tested the first and third Wednesday each month. If you live in part of the county outside of Rochester, you’ve got to put the ear plugs in every week.

“I don’t know that anybody takes outdoor tests as seriously as we do, other than the nuclear plant,” Bromberg said. “We pride ourselves on that.”

Yes, silence may be golden, but not when you’re in the path of a dangerous storm. My advice? Learn to stop worrying and love the horn.

Choosy readers choose the Answer Man. Send questions to answerman@postbulletin.com.

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