New Bedford Once Used Air Raid Sirens to Cancel School Due to Snow
When school gets canceled due to inclement weather, such as a snowstorm, chances are you will receive a text message from the school district informing you of the cancellation. If you download the free WBSM app, the news comes straight to your phone screen. Isn't technology a wonderful thing?
Way back, when many of us were still in school, there was no such thing as group texting or Facebook or a WBSM app. When we woke up to snow when we were in grade school, we either put WBSM on the radio and waited for the announcer to run down the list of cancellations, or we stayed in bed and listened for the siren.
Someone – I'm not sure who – would sound the civil defense air raid siren at precisely 6 a.m. when snow forced the cancellation of school for that day. What a wonderful sound it was, blasting through the snowy streets of New Bedford in the pre-dawn hours. It meant we could roll over and go back to sleep and have another day to study for that spelling quiz that just got postponed.
It sounded something like this:
After World War II, Civil Defense became a big thing in this country. The fear of sneak attacks by a foreign enemy from above and the growing threat of a cold war prompted governments to take such things more seriously. In August of 1951, Governor Paul A. Dever signed an executive order that established a Massachusetts Civil Defense Alert System that included a system of air raid sirens.
After a while, when no bombardments occurred, the City of New Bedford decided to use the air raid sirens to alert the public that school was canceled due to weather conditions. The sirens, located throughout the city, were also used to summon off-duty firefighters to a large fire or other emergencies.
No one I've spoken to remembers when the air raid sirens were first used to announce school cancellations or just when the practice ended. Modern technology has made air raid sirens obsolete as a communication tool. All of the sirens have since been removed and their fate remains unknown.
I don't know about you, but on a snowy winter morning, I still strain to hear the sorrowful moan of an air raid siren telling me to roll over and go back to sleep.