Still no funding to upgrade SF emergency sirens as Maui deals with response questions

ByLeslie Brinkley KGO logo
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Still no funding to upgrade SF's emergency warning sirens
Amid questions of emergency response to the Hawaii wildfires, the San Francisco sirens remain offline and not working.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Sirens in Maui were not turned on before or during the devastating fire in Lahaina. Here in the Bay Area, sirens are actively being used in some areas and in others, like San Francisco, the sirens are offline and not working.

In San Francisco, all the emergency warning sirens were taken offline in 2019 because they were vulnerable to cybersecurity threats.

Prepare NorCal: Disaster Preparedness Resources

The Department of Emergency Management told ABC7 News they need significant funding to upgrade the siren system but the funds have not yet been allocated. So the sirens remain offline.

"The Department of Technology and DEM submitted a capital budget request for Fiscal Years 2022-2023 to fund the upgrade to the sirens along the coast," officials said in a statement. "Although funding has not yet been approved for this project, it remains the city's intention to bring the OPWS back online as quickly as funding and project implementation are available."

It's a different story across the Bay in Berkeley, where sirens with solar-powered battery backups are being installed in the hills and can be activated by phone, computer or satellite. Berkeley Fire Chief David Sprague said the sirens can emit tones and pre-recorded templates or custom messages on the fly.

VIDEO: All 119 San Francisco sirens are going silent-- for now

After next week, San Francisco residents won't hear a familiar sound for possibly two years. San Francisco's warning sirens are going to go silent.

Ten are up and operating and five more will be installed by the end of the year.

Joe Trainor is an expert in the design and operation of disaster warning systems at the University of Delaware's Disaster Research Center.

"Sirens are complicated," he said. "I think they're a really good first signal to search for more information but they have to work in tandem with other kinds of warning systems that give more depth and detail."

MORE: Bay Area native and Lahaina business owner shares loss, impact after fire

Things like news reports and text message alerts.

Maui has scores of siren towers that can sound a single steady tone to warn of natural disasters like tsunamis and fires. So why didn't officials sound the sirens?

"It looks like in this case they had the technology in place but they didn't have the policy and they didn't have the decision-making in place to know when they would and when they wouldn't activate those systems," Trainor said.

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