Emergency alert siren systems have been very successful for tornados, hurricanes, tsunamis, floods, and other events where a clear “call-to-action” is well defined and residents then know what to do when the alert goes off. The unpredictable nature of wildfires introduces new challenges to how these systems can be leveraged and used successfully.
Several communities are starting to explore using siren systems for wildfire and the County has been researching best practices as well. OES staff recently talked with a SoCal coastal community that is expanding their tsunami system for wildfire alerts. Their proposed system would add 15 new sirens to cover 9 square miles at an estimated $1,000,000 capital cost and $50,000 annual maintenance cost. Lake Wildwood researched a solution of 6 sirens for a $120,000 estimated cost (sirens only.) The City of Nevada City is exploring a solution with one siren at a cost of $38,500. The Town of Truckee researched and evaluated siren systems and has decided not to move a project forward at this time for a wide range of reasons. They estimated a cost of over $500,000 to cover the Town’s populated area with 10 sirens.
The range, features, and costs of siren systems varies greatly from simple tone only solutions to more advanced voice message systems. Each has range and capability limitations and require satellite/radio communications, backup power, towers, control systems, security, and other infrastructure needs.
The County continues to research solutions and talk with jurisdictions who are successfully moving projects forward. Scaling an emergency alert siren system from a densely populated city example to the County’s 450+ rural area that is very topology diverse will create many challenges, funding being a major one. The County is closely following SB 130 which is a current bill to provide CA Cities funding for a siren system. The County’s legislative advocates are reaching out to the bill’s author to see if rural counties can be added as well. As the bill sits today, there is no current State funding allocated to it. The County will continue to explore siren systems and evaluate if they can be locally deployed as a safe, reliable, effective, and sustainable solution.