San Francisco Shuts Off Outdoor Warning Sirens During Upgrade
Wednesday, December 04, 2019 | Comments

San Francisco’s outdoor warning sirens will take a break during the next two years to upgrade the reliability and security of the system. The Outdoor Public Warning System (OPWS) will sound the test alarm Dec. 10 for the last time before the system is temporarily shut down for upgrades.

OPWS is a system of 119 sirens located throughout San Francisco. The purpose of the alarm system is to alert residents and visitors of San Francisco about critical life-safety emergencies such as a tsunami, contaminated water supply or radiological attack. In the event of an emergency, a 15-second tone will sound repeatedly for five minutes with audible instructions. The last major upgrade of the OPWS was in 2005. The last real-event use of the OPWS was on Treasure Island in 2012 because of potential water contamination on the island caused by a water main break.

“The Outdoor Public Warning System has stood guard in San Francisco since World War II. As we temporarily relieve the antiquated sirens from their watch for much needed upgrades, San Franciscans can be confident that the city will continue to provide timely alerts and warnings,” said Mary Ellen Carroll, executive director, San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

San Francisco maintains a multilayered and redundant alert and warning system. During the OPWS upgrade, San Francisco will still have access to long-standing alert and warning tools such as AlertSF, the emergency alert system (EAS) and wireless emergency alerts (WEA). The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management also uses traditional and social media to amplify emergency alerts. The final layer deploys first responders, disaster service workers and community-based organizations to impacted areas to help warn and provide instruction to residents.

During the OPWS upgrade, San Francisco residents and visitors are encouraged to sign up for AlertSF, which is San Francisco’s emergency text message system. AlertSF issues emergency information by text message or email following a natural disaster, major police, fire, health emergencies or significant transportation disruptions. People can text or register to receive the alerts.

About $2.5 million is required to upgrade the antiquated siren system. Funding for upgrades to OPWS will be pursued during the fiscal year 2020 – 2021 budget cycle. Once funded, the OPWS upgrade is estimated to take 18 to 24 months. The upgrades include a new operating system, stronger encryption and hardware that will improve the reliability and security of the siren system. The San Francisco Department of Technology (DT) maintains the system. The San Francisco Department of Emergency Management (DEM) may use the system to send alerts and warnings for critical life and safety incidents.

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