MPI does not specify either the interaction of processes with signals, in a UNIX environment, or with other events that do not relate to MPI communication. That is, signals are not significant from the view point of MPI, and implementors should attempt to implement MPI so that signals are transparent: an MPI call suspended by a signal should resume and complete after the signal is handled. Generally, the state of a computation that is visible or significant from the view-point of MPI should only be affected by MPI calls.
The intent of MPI to be thread and signal safe has a number of subtle effects. For example, on Unix systems, a catchable signal such as SIGALRM (an alarm signal) must not cause an MPI routine to behave differently than it would have in the absence of the signal. Of course, if the signal handler issues MPI calls or changes the environment in which the MPI routine is operating (for example, consuming all available memory space), the MPI routine should behave as appropriate for that situation (in particular, in this case, the behavior should be the same as for a multithreaded MPI implementation).
A second effect is that a signal handler that performs MPI calls must not interfere with the operation of MPI. For example, an MPI receive of any type that occurs within a signal handler must not cause erroneous behavior by the MPI implementation. Note that an implementation is permitted to prohibit the use of MPI calls from within a signal handler, and is not required to detect such use.
It is highly desirable that MPI not use SIGALRM, SIGFPE, or SIGIO. An implementation is required to clearly document all of the signals that the MPI implementation uses; a good place for this information is a Unix `man' page on MPI.