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Another tool in the toolbox for the next Woolsey: an emergency siren system. On Monday, Feb. 8, the city received a hazard mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to install sirens that would sound to alert Malibuites to wildfires and other disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods or terrorist attacks. Mayor Mikke Pierson said in a prepared statement from the city that he was proud of the city’s progress after the Woolsey Fire, which he described as “unprecedented” in its size, duration and severity. 

“[T]he Woolsey Fire ... showed us the dangerous new normal of drought, climate change and California mega-fires,” the mayor said. “This siren system ... could be a powerful step toward community-wide preparedness.”

According to the city’s press release, the grant will cover the cost of the system’s design, permitting needs and environmental compliance. The statement said the design and environmental phase of the project is estimated to cost up to $951,633. The grant will cover 75 percent of the total costs—approximately $714,000. The rest—$238,000—needs to be matched by locals.

The city has been developing the system since 2019. It contracted a company called Mission Critical Partners to study the best locations for the system and the role that factors such as temperature, humidity, building height and Santa Ana winds might play in the sirens’ effectiveness. The study was completed in June 2020.

These sirens would be especially useful during disasters where other types of communication, such as telephones, were not available, as occurred during Woolsey.

“The outdoor siren system is part of the city’s Zero Power Plan, which the city developed following the Woolsey Fire, when infrastructure was destroyed or damaged and power and cell phone service was lost citywide creating a dangerous obstacle to providing timely emergency information to the community,” the press release stated. 

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