Here's another no-brainer lesson that seems to have to be relearned on a regular basis: use you warning system only for actual warnings.
The City of San Francisco has had a system of warning sirens in place since the Cold War. In 2004 the old air raid sirens were replaced with a modern system. The system is tested every Tuesday at noon. People know this and know that if the if the sirens go off at any other time something is wrong.
Well, maybe. It seems someone in the previous administration thought it would be a good idea for the sirens to be used to signal the end of the Sunday Streets Program and the reopening of the street being used for the gathering. (Sunday Streets is a program of rotating closures of major streets to allow for public recreation.) Last Sunday the on-call technician accidentally activated the entire citywide system rather than just the sirens in the local area. Although the alert was followed by the standard test announcement, the unusual timing resulted in a large volume of calls to the City's emergency services. It didn't help that the Alert SF text warning system that could further have reassured the public that no emergency was occurring wasn't activated until over an hour later.
When I was Director of Emergency Services, I received countless requests to use our warning system for non-emergency purposes. One department head even had the effrontery to activate the system without notifying my office. It was a constant battle to prevent misuse of the system and I didn't always win.
So here's the lesson: use your warning system for legitimate warnings. If you are using it for a drill, exercise or test, publicize it well in advance and follow up at the time of activation with press releases, SMS messages, tweets, etc. Fight the temptation to use it for civic events. Using your system for multiple purposes increases the chances that it will be ignored when it is really needed.
It also wouldn't hurt to check that bad habits haven't been carried over from previous administrations, as was the case here.The one good thing about this minor incident is that my colleagues from the SF Department of Emergency Management now have the ammunition they need to stop this misuse of the system.