Wildfire warning sirens could be coming to Malibu later this year

This map shows the potential locations of 32 warning sirens that would be placed in Malibu under a proposal by the city. Contributed Graphic

The preliminary design proposed 32 total sirens to be implemented throughout Malibu 

The Public Works and Public Safety joint meeting explored the installation of outdoor warning sirens that would be used to alert residents and visitors of impending disasters such as wildfires or tsunami threats with a specific focus on nighttime warnings.

In the aftermath of the Woolsey Fire, the city pursued a variety of grant opportunities to secure funding for emergency preparedness, including improvements to emergency communications, and worked closely with FEMA and CalOES representatives on HMGP applications. 

In December 2019, the city contracted with Mission Critical Partners to conduct a siren sound study to determine the optimum quantity and locations for an effective alerting system. Primarily for outdoors, a siren alerting system is designed to alert the public of an event or possible event. Indoor notification is not guaranteed but is available through various other technologies. 

Emergency alert systems representative Matthew Straeb, partners with Shake Alert, presented their company’s resources and said they could send a receiver to alert residents indoors. 

“Sirens are going to take a long time to install, and our system is up and running and can operate before this fire season,” Straeb said. 

Straeb said their receivers also provide text messages from safety organizations such as the sheriff’s and weather service. 

“The advantage of this is that you’ll be able to wake someone up in the middle of the night in their home, they’ll be able to get some directions even if the TV or the power is off or the cell network is not working,” Straeb said. “They’ll be able to take this receiver with them and will allow them during evacuation to continue to receive information that’s life-saving and also tell them where to go and not to go and also most importantly when to come back.”

Assistant Civil Engineer Nadia Fahoum presented the options to the commission and where the installation poles would be implemented.

Graphic Information System Specialist from Acoustic Technology Thomas Hinchliffe presented the pilot program and answered commissioners’ questions and concerns. 

The preliminary design proposed 32 total sirens, with alternates, throughout Malibu to provide adequate acoustic coverage, with most locations on city, county, or state land. The trial would involve the placement of trailers with pole-mounted speakers that can extend 30 feet high in various locations throughout Malibu.

While the project is being funded by a FEMA grant, Hinchliffe said the permanent poles are $19,000, and installation ranges from $10,000 to $20,000. The total amount is estimated to be $2 million. 

Commissioners Josh Spiegel and Wade Major were both skeptical about spending $2 million and hope to run a pilot test run of the sirens.

“I agree with what Josh has said, I’m skeptical after seeing all the specifics, but I am curious to see and pilot it in a couple of places, before we spend any money on this unless we know it’s going to do what we need it to do and what it’s designed to do,” Major said.

Public Works Vice Chair Jo Drummond proposed to have a trailer siren at the upcoming Public Safety Expo on June 10.

Commissioner Scott Dittrich moved, and Major seconded a trial program.

The design approach will be presented to the City Council for further direction. If city officials determine the trial-run a success, the city could explore installing similar technology on a more permanent basis. 

To view the agenda, visit malibucity.org/agendacenter.