Editor's column: Oak Harbor’s Big Voice a welcome addition

Welcome to town, AHAB. He’s our new resident to be tested Friday from 3 to 5 p.m., broadcasting a voice message and various siren-types throughout Oak Harbor in preparation for a major emergency, such as a tsunami, terrorist attack or beer shortage during Race Week.

The government is placing AHABs (All Hazard Alert Broadcasting system) throughout the country, which is a good thing. Every since fire sirens were silenced we haven’t had any sounds to scare the bejeebers out of us.

For many years the local fire siren was tested every day at noon. During the Cold War, this always gave a thrill to kids sitting in the classroom. We never knew for sure if it was noon, or if this was the siren that meant a nuclear attack was imminent and we’d have to dive under our desks where our ashes could more easily be found. The siren provided hope that the test we weren’t prepared to take might never be graded, but as things turned out, no such luck.

The nation’s fire stations were silenced by the invention of pagers, which alert each firefighter individually that something is happening. We still hear sirens on the trucks, but it’s not the same as the Mother Siren mounted high about the fire station, covering a couple of miles in every direction.

Now, we have AHAB to warn us of pending catastrophes, and it will be tested on a regular basis. Government-types are less inclined to try to scare people today because we’re already scared of just about everything, from an economic depression to a biological terrorist attack to more speeches by Dick Cheney, so the test will use the sound of Westminster chimes. In truth, I’m not sure what they sound like, but the fact is that the Westminster chime strikes four notes on the quarter hour, eight notes on the half hour, 12 notes on the three quarter hour, and on the hour chimes 16 notes and strikes the hour. That last sentence is stolen directly from the Internet, which is mostly useful for making totally clueless people such as myself sound knowledgeable.

One possible problem with chimes in Oak Harbor is that the Methodist Church already has chimes that play a variety of tunes each day at noon, usually a hymn or some other religious ditty. If town atheists think AHAB is doing this, we’re bound to have complaints about the separation of church and state. This can be solved by the voice function on AHAB: “The following chimes are brought to you by the government, not God.”

AHAB’s voice function is its most interesting aspect. The only thing planned is a stale phrase stating “this is a test, a test only.” It’s such a waste of a great communications device. Oak Harbor’s new Big Voice should be rented out to announce a red tag sale at The Casual House or the latest movie at Oak Harbor Cinemas. AHAB could easily pay for itself, at least until all the sponsoring businesses are wiped out by a tsunami.

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