Atascadero launches new emergency evacuation system amid peak wildfire season

Jun 17, 2021

Peak wildfire season is here, and the state's massive wildfires throughout the last few years have magnified the importance of emergency alert communications to get people to evacuate in time.

When wildfire evacuation alerts failed to reach everyone during the string of catastrophic wildfires throughout the state of California in 2017, a new alert system was formed, called the Hi-Lo sirens.

While these sirens are being used in Northern and Southern California counties, Atascadero Battalion Chief David Van Son said they are the first to launch the sirens in SLO County.

“All those other sirens, people have come accustomed to hearing," Van Son said. " This is something that you do not hear.”

Van Son said people have become somewhat numb to the sounds of the regular sirens, while the Hi-Lo siren, causes people to pay better attention.

“It’s only authorized to be used for emergency evacuations. So then, people will recognize that distinct sound," Van Son said. " If we are out in the neighborhoods and people hear that Hi-Lo siren, then they’ll know it's time to go. It’s time to evacuate.”

But you don’t have to wait to hear a siren to know when it’s time to leave the area. Rachel Dion with the SLO County's Emergency Services urges people to register their cell phone number to the sheriff's office reverse 9-1-1.

“Reverse 9-1-1 send automated text messages and phone calls during an emergency if someone needs to evacuate or take some type of action," Dion said. " It automatically pulls landline phone numbers but if you have a cell phone, you have to actually go to register your phone in the system.”

Dion said in cases where cell phone towers are down, or you can’t get online to see evacuation zones, there is another tool you can stash in your emergency kit. 

“We encourage the public to purchase an NOA weather radio. They are about $20, you can buy them at an electronics store," Dion said. " NOA radios receive our emergency alert system messages. It's kind of an extra step to have just in case your power is out, or your cell phone is not working.”

With drought conditions plaguing most of the state and heat waves expected this summer, emergency service officials are encouraging people to have to-go bags ready.