The Redwood Valley Calpella Fire Station hosted a public meeting yesterday, January 14, 2023, to provide information on the new Early Warning Sirens Project.
District 1 Supervisor Glenn McGourty opened the meeting by noting that Mendocino County is committed to keeping residents safe and healthy. The funds for new equipment were made possible by the PG&E settlement and the passage of Measure P on the November 2022 ballot.
Mendocino County CEO Darcie Antle is a Redwood Valley resident and spoke at the meeting announcing that the County Office of Emergency Services has moved from the Sheriff’s Department to the County Executive Office. The OES has received $70 million in grant revenue since the 2017 fire, 75% from the federal government and 25% from PG&E.
Mendocino County’s Disaster Recovery Field Operations Coordinator Travis Killmer remarked that the sirens program has been a long time in the making.
Fire Chief Kerry Robinson has been working with Charles Klugston of CTC Mass Notification Systems and Brad Cox of Whelen Warning Solutions, to determine the best system for Redwood Valley. These vendors have installed sirens at multiple locations for various purposes, including dams, military bases, industrial facilities, mudslide warnings, tsunami warnings, burglar alarms, and on oil rigs.
For the Redwood Valley project, they have been monitoring the ambient decibels at multiple locations around Redwood Valley. Sound travels differently depending the cloud cover, temperature, wind and other factors. Ideally, there will be multiple sirens at various locations. Mountainous, forested terrain is the most difficult to work with, as trees absorb sound and sound doesn’t travel over the top of a mountain and down the other side.
There is grant funding for four sirens in Redwood Valley. The first one being tested today is part of a feasibility study. FEMA and OSHA provide guidelines for siren warning systems. The FEMA guidelines say that the sirens must be able to be heard at 10 decibels above ambient noise. Ambient noise on the freeway is about 80 decibels; on farmland, about 50. Rain and wind affect the sound of the sirens. The systems are designed with a baseline of ideal weather and ambient noise conditions. Certain other fire departments in the county have opted not to purchase sirens because of the terrain.
The sirens also act as loudspeakers, providing directions during an emergency. Steps during an emergency are: Alert, Inform, Direct. The sirens are part of a warning ecosystem, to be used in connection with reverse 911 calls, Nixle alerts from the Sheriff, and social media. The sirens can be activated manually, or via phone by authorized personnel. It would not be possible to accidentally push a button and set off the alarm, as codes must be used.
The announcements can be made using a digital voice (as was heard today during the test) or the fire chief can record various announcements and select which ones to use during a particular emergency. The sirens are designed to be used as an early warning alarm. Evacuation orders are the purview of the Sheriff’s Department.
The sirens are solar battery-powered and operate on a radio frequency, rather than via cell phone. They will operate when the power and cell reception are out. Maintenance of the system will be provided by the vendor.
There was a question about the old air raid siren that used to sound at noon every day in Redwood Valley. The old air raid siren is no longer operational. It had not been used for emergencies, only for the noon whistle. It was not used in the 2017 fire. The reasons given at the time ranged from possible public confusion to fear that it would cause traffic jams.
The community is now being introduced to the new sirens that can also provide announcements, with the County and the Fire Department providing training for the public on the new system.
After the informational presentation, the group moved outside to view and listen to the test siren.