Safety’s siren song
Berkeley’s new Alerting and Warning System is ready for testing


alert system

From the “nerve center” in UC Police headquarters below Sproul Hall, campus emergency officials will push the buttons that will set off the sirens that will startle everyone within range at noon on Wednesday, Feb. 5. But after that initial test of the improved campus Alerting and Warning System, the monthly drills should become less ... well, alarming.
Noah Berger photo

29 January 2003 |

On Wednesday, Feb.5, the emergency sirens will wail at noon in the first test of the campus’s new Alerting and Warning System. The system was developed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, relying in part on lessons learned in the campuswide power outage last spring.

The sirens are a central aspect of the new system, which also includes a new emergency 800 number and an emergency website that can operate independently of the campus’s computer network. Additionally, if local power and phone services are knocked out, a satellite phone is in place to activate the emergency hotline and website remotely.

The Alerting and Warning System, designed to warn of an emergency or disaster, can also inform the campus community and others of what has occurred and what action to take, says Tom Klatt, director of emergency planning and communications. In the event of hazardous conditions (such as chemical spills, storms, and power outages) or disasters (flooding, fires, and earthquakes), the campus would simultaneously employ sirens and report information on its emergency communications services. The emergency communications sites would also provide information at times when a situation would not require the full siren alerting system to be employed.

Says Marie Felde, Berkeley’s director of media relations: “Our immediate communications priority is to quickly reach the campus — our students, staff, faculty and visitors — and let them know what has happened and what to do in case of an emergency.

“But we also know that parents of students — half of whom live in Southern California — and the families of campus employees will want information as well. Because the emergency 800 number and the website are available worldwide to anyone with a telephone or an Internet connection, the new system will also help the campus keep family members and news media informed.”

The campus is part of a larger effort throughout Alameda County, where several cities are in the process of developing and installing siren-based emergency alerting and warning systems, says Klatt. The Alerting and Warning System is a joint effort of the emergency preparedness office, the Office of Public Affairs, IS&T, and KALX-FM, the campus radio station.

The campus will test its sirens and communication services at noon on the first Wednesday of each month.

When you hear the siren at other times, what should you do? Klatt said a three-step “Shelter/Shut/Listen” response should become automatic:

• Shelter: Go inside your office or residence, a nearby building, or your car to avoid exposure to a hazard.

• Shut: Close all doors and windows. Building managers are advised to turn off ventilation systems when feasible.

• Listen: Connect with one of three campus communication services – each of which is designed to work whether power is on or not. (See the “Three Ways to Get Emergency Information Fast” box at left.)

The new 800 emergency phone number and the emergency website address have been printed on the inside cover of the 2002-03 campus phone book. It is the first of several efforts underway to alert the campus, nearby residents, parents, and the news media to the new array of emergency-information options.

“We learned in the power outage that even if people don’t initially remember the 800 number or the emergency website address, the news media will help us quickly get word out on where to go for official campus emergency information,” says Felde.


Three ways to get emergency information fast


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