California town that lost 85 to wildfire installs sirens. Maui officials failed to use theirs.

“If that fire would have happened just a few hours earlier than what it did, we would have had hundreds of people die from that because they’d have been in bed,” Bolin said.

The new sirens, similar to a tsunami warning system, are being incorporated into the city’s emergency services, which include mass cell notifications, an emergency call center for people to call, and an AM radio station to broadcast public safety information.

‘Every community needs a full toolbox’

Paradise’s siren system can be controlled manually, over the internet, or by satellite. The towers’ power is hard-wired underground, but each siren also has a solar panel that can store two weeks worth of power.

“We’ve got back-up after back-up on these,” Bolin said.

University of California forest expert Yana Valachovic said the redundancy in emergency services is needed to address different scenarios.

“We cannot guarantee that we’ll have power and cellphone communication capacities so, every community needs a full toolbox of resources,” she said.

Authorities also need to consider designating temporary refuge areas and practice evacuating their communities at different times of the day, she added.

As part of rebuilding Paradise, crews have removed thousands of trees, cleared defensible space around homes to slow down fires, buried power cables underground, and widened evacuation routes to handle more traffic, Bolin said.

‘It makes me feel safer’

Like Paradise, communities across California are coming up with systems to notify people in case of an emergency, from sirens to police patrol cars and other emergency vehicles to cellphone notification systems. In May, officials in Santa Rosa, where the wine country fires broke out, tested a new cellphone alert system. In March, Beverly Hills began installing 12 outdoor sirens. Sonoma County has installed a sophisticated fire camera system to detect blazes early.

The California Office of Emergency Services in 2019 issued alert and warning guidelines for counties. It warns sirens can have limited effectiveness because people inside well-insulated homes and buildings may not hear them well.

“If a public siren is used for alert and warning, it should include an extensive public outreach campaign to train residents and visitors on what the siren means and the intended protective action,” it says.

Jen Goodlin, a Paradise native and director of Rebuild Paradise who moved back after the fire to help with the reconstruction, said she supports the sirens because many in the community don’t have easy access to the internet or media.

Having the sirens “is a way to help them escape sooner. It makes me feel safer,” Goodlin said.

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