City of Berkeley considers emergency siren system

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Berkeley City Council is considering installing an emergency siren system, following a recommendation from the Disaster Fire and Safety Commission, or DFSC, according to Berkeley Fire Department Assistant Chief Keith May.

The DFSC recommended a siren system to City Council as a supplementary measure in community preparedness for disasters, especially fires, according to the DFSC’s May 14 report to the council. Many of the specifics of the project remain to be decided, according to May, who serves as secretary of the DFSC. The number, location and type of sirens that would be stationed, according to the report, are also to be determined.

“Berkeley faces a serious threat from a wildland-urban interface (WUI) fire that has increased for many reasons, including the growth of fuel that is happening as a result of recent rains,” the report said. “It is clear that a wildfire in Berkeley would spread very quickly, expanding at many miles per hour and requiring a rapid evacuation of a large number of residents.”

According to May, however, the siren system would only be a supplemental measure, and emergency siren systems are “not intended to reach all of the population.” The ability of the sirens to alert those with hearing impairments or those in indoor facilities, for instance, is limited.

The implementation of a siren system could have “significant budgetary cost,” according to minutes from the DFSC’s February meeting, at which the commission voted to make City Council aware of its consideration. The commission’s May 14 report to the council cited past cases of siren system consideration — including one analysis in 2004 of the cost to implement a 23-siren system in Berkeley, which in 2018 dollars would translate to roughly $1.2 million.

The city of Berkeley contemplated the establishment of an emergency siren system in 2004, according to the report, but it never materialized. UC Berkeley already has an emergency siren system, the Alerting and Warning System, which is tested on the first Wednesday of every month.

According to both the DFSC’s report and May, the possible siren system is only intended to be a supplementary measure in the case of disaster. According to the report, efforts to facilitate outreach, develop disaster preparedness plans and drills, and create accommodations for the hard of hearing should all be pursued alongside the siren system. May also urged residents to sign up for the AC Alert system.

“We will use every tool in our toolbox to warn the community and provide clear instructions on what they need to do during any type of emergency,” May said in an email.

Ben Klein is an assistant news editor. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @BenKlein_dc.