When I was a kid, I hated the Civil Defense (CD) sirens that rang out faithfully at noon every Wednesday. This was Pittsburgh, the early nineteen-sixties, and it always rang out through the valley over which our house jutted—and filled me with childhood dread because I’d also been through the duck-and-cover drills I knew (we all knew) were utterly worthless because in any direct nuclear attack we’d all be incinerated, along with our desks, our books, our teachers and their dirty looks. Over. Immediately. All I could think of whenever the siren sounded was some despotic leader somewhere distant who had no idea there were actually very nice little kids in America who didn’t deserve to be killed in our millions, no matter the reason. As though the Politburo wasn’t aware of said fact.
Still, the sirens went off, and we did our mandatory evacuation drills in case of fire (now this I understood—too many of my classmates were deranged enough to try setting the school on fire just to get the day off). It was all just-in-case. Now I know that.
In Bowling Green, Ohio, a town I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy (no, really—the university recently ranked #556 out of 600 US schools according to Forbes), those sirens also went off faithfully, once a week, and to be honest with you I became grateful for them. Not long after we moved there, the area was struck by a line of powerful thunderstorms that produced several tornadoes. We saw the living room start to go dark at five p.m., so turned on the Weather Channel to discover a tornado warning had just been issued for our area. We hied ourselves and our cats (no easy job, herding cats; trust me) to the basement and listened to Hell breaking loose: tree-limbs snapped, lightning landed all around us and the rain reminded me of Florida. But this was Ohio, the edge of flat country, and now we knew what to expect. That night we were lucky, but a town just up the road, literally called Luckey, was not. That hurt. And we were damn-sure scared.
Today, living in Toronto, I hear no sirens. It turns out that the (US) Weather Channel’s radar coverage extends through southern Ontario and makes Canadian coverage unnecessary. It shouldn’t be like this. The window for severe weather is opening northward, and across the country we’re seeing weather more and more like what we’ve seen in the States.
And now, sadly, Torontonians have a new reminder of the need for state-of-the-art emergency-warning systems. I’m not saying throw money at the problem; I’m saying: spend what’s necessary to upgrade the warning system and, for God’s sake, the satellite system. We’re going to need it. Believe you me. Would you rather spend that money now, or wait until after untold lives are lost? Me, I’m in favor of spending wisely, but quickly implementing. This, of course, is nothing to Mr. Harper, who’s long ago adapted the Bush idea of just letting things go to Hell so long as his precious Tories retain power, like the Republicans did down South before George W. Bush and his kakistocrats finally stuck a stake in that old Goldwater notion of the Republican Right, however unwittingly.
Someone—Miller, McGuinty, Harper—must see that this is an issue as pressing as sovereign rights in the Arctic. Just ask survivors of tornadoes how important up-to-date warning technology can be. I don’t care how we get there; let’s just get there before we lose more people.