Berkeley sounding its first emergency sirens for testing this weekend

The city of Berkeley is testing their newly-installed outdoor warning system for the first time on Sunday, September 17. Ten sirens have been installed throughout the City.

Sirens currently exist on UC’s campus and at pharmaceutical company Bayer’s Berkeley campus, but this is the first city-wide siren network in Berkeley.

The sirens are the latest installation of emergency communications tools the city will be using in the event of a disaster.

"What we’ve learned is that we really need to have as many tools to communicate with people as possible and this was one tool that was missing in the City of Berkeley," said Fire Chief David Sprague.

Chief Sprague said the outdoor warning system has been in the works for the past three years is finally in operation. Five years ago, the City’s Disaster and Fire Safety Commission recommended the installation of an outdoor warning system as part of a package of community-led initiatives to improve disaster preparedness and our response in an emergency. "I think Lahaina really drove home this is an important tool box to alert the community," said Chief Sprague. "It’s a blunt tool to alert the community that something is happening and we need them to get more information because action is required." 

The sirens will work in tandem with the existing communications tools:

  • AC alerts, which sends voice alerts to phones, SMS text messages, email, and TTY/TDD messages. AC Alert is an opt-in system, so if you do not sign up, you will not receive these vital alerts.
  • Berkeley’s Real-Time Emergency Map which helps residents find emergency information, like evacuation orders or open shelters.
  • Nixle to send out crime prevention tips and alerts
  • Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), to alert community members to emergency situations requiring their attention, such as a shelter-in-place or evacuation order.
  • Radio station 1610 AM

"The siren itself doesn’t mean necessarily evacuate," said Chief Sprague. "The siren should prompt people to take further action in terms of going to check an AC alert."

"I think that’s extremely helpful," said Mike Geranio, who comes to Berkeley to wing surf.

"I think it’s a good add," David Breaux said, a wing boarder. "I mean I’m always in the water, I’d love to get notice to get out and get to higher ground."

They said any indication of an additional warning sign is welcome, in case of a tsunami. 

This news comes after the ongoing media attention surrounding sirens in the Bay Area. Oakland installed sirens after the 1991 firestorm in the East Bay. City officials told KTVU they are tested regularly, but sources say not all of them are working. 

San Jose doesn’t have permanent sirens, but the City uses audible devices attached to trailers to alert residents. 

San Francisco recently began upgrading their outdated and non-functioning siren system.

San Leandro also recently began evaluating their sirens to get them back up and running.

However, in Berkeley, Chief Sprague said their new siren song is going to be playing the next time the Bay Area experiences trouble. "We expect people who are outdoors to be able to hear the message, but we’re curious to see what the penetration will be in real life when we hear it."

Berkeley's officials plan to install five more sirens by the end of 2024. The sirens will be about half a mile apart once they are all installed, which means anyone will be able to hear them from anywhere in the City. 

The first test will be celebrated at noon on Sunday, September 17 at Live Oak Park with a ribbon cutting, a countdown, and a temporary demonstration siren. Afterward, officials plan to create a regular testing schedule. The schedule will be informed by the responses from a resident survey.