California Street Poles Literally Shout Out Alarms


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A state plagued by natural disasters, California already has a complicated warning system in place to alert residents to impending dangers, like spreading wildfires. Getting the word out requires people to sign up to receive notifications and can get tricky when someone travels outside of their home region. As reports, a new alert system is being deployed that acts like an electronic town crier, broadcasting a verbal announcement to all within earshot.

“I think our mindset is to use it for life-threatening situations only,” said Assistant Fire Chief, Keith May. “Evacuate now or prepare to evacuate. We’re not sure what that wording will be — as simple as: ‘There is a fire in Tilden Park, these zones [naming numbers] evacuate,’” May elaborated, adding that Berkeley is conferring with other cities who use a system to determine what voice messages are the most effective.

The city of Berkeley, CA is working with Genasys to install the warning system, which will be solar-powered so that it will not be rendered ineffective by a power outage. A battery is also included and the units are satellite compatible. If local wireless options are unavailable, remote control access can keep the broadcasts in operation. The units themselves are pole mounted and resemble the PA system commonly seen at high school football fields.

Zonehaven evacuation software is designed to help determine where the alert will be heard. Alameda County, which is serviced by Zonehaven, has been assigned different zones, and residents are encouraged to know their zone number. Similar to school closing radio notices, hearing a zone number announced can help a listener determine if action is needed.

“We anticipate being able to use the speaker system to give the public or the community which zones need to evacuate or prepare to evacuate. We won’t have one speaker system per zone. But they cover a pretty wide area,” said May.

The installation of the sirens costs approximately $2 million, for the equipment, hardware and software. Measure FF, recently approved by voters, will help fund the installation. Annual service and licensing fees apply, and the final cost will depend on the number of speakers. May says he anticipates at least 14 sites, and an annual price tag in the $40,000 to $45,000 range.

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