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City of Berkeley’s siren system buckles down on fire safety, precautions

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The new siren warning system announced by the city of Berkeley, the Outdoor Warning System, has started to be implemented.


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SEPTEMBER 06, 2023

The city of Berkeley announced a siren warning system flexible for various disasters on its official site.

The new sirens, called the Outdoor Warning System, or OWS, have already started to be implemented. Keith May, deputy fire chief of Berkeley Fire Department, said in an email 10 installations of OWS sirens have been completed and five more are set to be installed by the end of the year.

The 15 OWS sirens are strategically placed throughout sites across the city and are capable of delivering both live and recorded messages, May noted. He added that both types of messages will be used “in tandem” with other mass communications.

“These speakers/sirens can be activated to alert people who are outdoors of an imminent threat to life safety that requires individuals in the affected area to seek more information and take the appropriate protective action,” May said in the email.

According to May, the city currently has access to various systems used to distribute Emergency Public Information, or EPIW, and warning messages, including AC Alert, the city’s Emergency Map, OWS, Nixle and the 1610 AM radio.

In addition, the city’s social media platforms provide necessary information to the public, May said. In the case of an emergency, social media can be used alongside EPIW systems to further distribute information and instruction for action.

According to May, the OWS Contract is over $2 million, allocated from Measure FF.

Measure FF, passed in 2020, provides funding for services including emergency response and wildfire prevention, according to the city’s official site. In the 2022 fiscal year, the city spent $3 million on 11 projects including areas of disaster preparedness and emergency medical services.

Moreover, the city invested $1.5 million to prepare for disasters through the Wildland Urban Interface Division within BFD, development of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan and OWS, according to the site.

“During this type of weather, some normally-available firefighting tools can be ineffective or even unusable — like planes and helicopters, which need to be grounded during high winds,” May said in the email.

He thus noted the city’s various initiatives to address wildfire threats in the community, including BFD’s introduction of Extreme Fire Weather protocol, a designation for extreme windy and dry conditions.

According to the city’s official site, it is recommended that residents living near wildfire zones or the Berkeley Hills should consult the city’s step-by-step Fire Weather Planning Tool to best plan a safe evacuation.

“We know that if a significant wildfire starts during Extreme Fire Weather and threatens Berkeley, people in the Hills may not be able to evacuate as fast as a fire could spread. This is due to both the extraordinarily fast spread of a wind-driven wildfire, as well as the Berkeley Hills’ density and narrow, winding roads,” May said in the email.

Contact Joann Moon at 


SEPTEMBER 06, 2023