daily californian logo


Warning system to be tested on 100th anniversary of 1923 Berkeley fire

article image


We're an independent student-run newspaper, and need your support to maintain our coverage.

SEPTEMBER 15, 2023

Earlier this month, the city of Berkeley implemented a new Outdoor Warning System, or OWS, which will be tested on Sept. 17.

The OWS consists of 11 sirens placed throughout the city.

The testing date has been strategically placed on the 100th anniversary of the 1923 Berkeley fires, also known as the Great Fire of 1923, according to Berkeley Fire Department Deputy Chief Keith May.  The fire began in Tilden Park and burned through 60 blocks before a shift in the wind stopped the flames at Shattuck Avenue.

“Miraculously no one was killed but 4,000 people (including 1,000 students) were left homeless,” May said in an email. “Historical accounts document how Cal students joined firefighters to save buildings and rescue people that day.”

The sirens will also be tested on this historical date as officials used the campus Campanile bell to inform citizens of the Berkeley fire and to support evacuation, May noted in the email. The OWS symbolizes the newest version of warning tools.

On Sept. 17,  sirens throughout the city will go off at the same time, May said, and individuals within a half-a-mile radius of any of the sirens will be able to hear it.

While only 10 sirens are currently operational, an 11th siren will be attached to a trailer in Live Oak Park at the City of Berkeley’s Fire Ready Fest that will also take place Sept. 17. Five more sirens are set to be installed around Berkeley in the coming months.

“We are asking community members to let us know if they heard these sirens via this “Did you Hear It?” survey so we can evaluate the reach of the system in real conditions,” May said in the email.

In the future, the OWS will be used when safety officials feel there is an urgent threat that requires people to take action immediately, May noted. The system is in place to be used when all other forms of communication are not accessible.

The city of Berkeley currently does not have any more testing dates for the OWS, May added. The city is also seeking community feedback after this test is completed in order to decide how siren testing will be carried out henceforth.

“Our siren test on September 17 shows how far our tools and technology have come since then to keep the community safe,” May said in the email. “This centennial commemoration is an opportunity for us to look back – and also to demonstrate how we are preparing for the next emergency, by testing another tool that we’ve added to our suite of alerting tools.”

Contact Zoe Kessler at 


SEPTEMBER 15, 2023