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Santa Barbara installs new evacuation sirens on emergency vehicles

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Beth Thornton
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Santa Barbara's police vehicles are now equipped with a hi-lo siren for evacuation alert.

After the many wildfires and evacuations of 2020, California passed legislation to allow for a new siren on emergency vehicles that alerts residents to evacuate.

Santa Barbara recently updated their police vehicles with the new hi-lo siren for this purpose.

The tone is intentionally different from the siren used for traffic stops or other police activity. You can hear it in this video made by the Santa Barbara police department.

Lieutenant Shawn Hill from the Santa Barbara police department said the new siren is for one purpose only.

“When we deploy these sirens, we are encouraging our community members to prepare to evacuate immediately and to tune into some sort of trusted media source so they can get more information about what’s happening,” Hill said.

He said hi-lo sirens will be used in addition to other evacuation notifications like texts, knocking on doors, and reverse 9-1-1.

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Atascadero Fire Department
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The Atascadero Fire Department has hi-lo sirens in case of emergency evacuations.

“This is a way to try to get the word out a little bit faster and a little bit more efficiently,” he said.

At this point, Hill said they have only tested the sirens, but they are available if needed for wildfires, natural disasters, hazardous material spills, or any other emergency that requires evacuation.

“As far as I know, we haven’t used it in an actual natural disaster yet, but we are prepared to, and we’re trying to put this information out there in the community so that people are aware of what’s happening when they do hear these unique types of sirens,” he said.

Hill said the Santa Barbara sheriff’s department also installed the new sirens on their vehicles to extend the reach throughout the county. For more information on the hi-lo sirens for evacuation, watch the video by the Santa Barbara police department.

The San Luis Obispo police department does not currently have hi-lo sirens on vehicles, but there will be a test of the Early Warning System sirens for SLO county on Saturday, August 27, 2022 at 12:00 and 12:30pm

The Early Warning System test will broadcast on KCBX and other media outlets. To find out more, go to prepareslo.org.

Beth Thornton is a freelance reporter for KCBX, and a contributor to Issues & Ideas. She was a 2021 Data Fellow with the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism.