[Update: Nov. 15, 2021] Last Thursday, after issuing the press release, the Police Department decided against sounding the new alarm tone in a neighborhood and opted to first test it in a remote area outside the city to see how loud it was and how far it carried, police spokesperson Sergeant Ethan Ragsdale said on Monday. The tone sounds at over 100 decibels, he explained.
The Police Department may be the first in Santa Barbara County to add the “hi-lo” tone, he said, a new tool for notification that the department has been pursuing since SB 909 went into effect in 2020, not just since the Loma Fire.
The test will be part of a public service announcement the department will issue in the coming weeks, Ragsdale said, which will let people know to tune into trusted media sites or to visit emergency websites to learn about the emergency, where it is, and what to do.
[Original Story] The Santa Barbara Police Department will test a new evacuation siren between 10 and 11 a.m. today, the city announced this morning. The test will sound from marked police vehicles in the Loma Alta Drive and Westside areas, making a noise similar to European police sirens.
During a real emergency, the siren would warn neighborhoods of the need for evacuation during a natural disaster or other crisis.
A widespread and quick emergency notification became an obvious necessity as wind-blown wildfires have spread into heavily populated neighborhoods in recent years, as in the Loma Fire in May. Fire officials could tell the wind and terrain were moving the fire uphill and called for an evacuation of the hilltop area. However, residents in the Westside neighborhoods below Loma Alta Drive were not advised. Many decided to evacuate on their own.
At a meeting held in June, neighbors questioned city officials and expressed the trauma they’d felt from receiving no information about how the fire would affect them. Messages sent about evacuation, interim police chief Barney Melekian stated at the time, only went to households at risk from the fire. Increasing the notification area to households below the fire, which were not at risk, would not have informed them accurately.
According to the bill authorizing the use of the “hi-lo” siren — Senate Bill 909 — were an actual emergency going on, residents within earshot should evacuate immediately. Again, Thursday’s siren sounding is just a test.