By Tracy Correa
To quote a familiar line, “This is a test… This is only a test.”
Throughout San Luis Obispo County on Saturday (Aug. 25), the piercing sounds of sirens were indeed just part of an annual test.
From northern Nipomo Mesa to coastal Cayucos and east through San Luis Obispo, The sirens are a critical part of the county’s emergency preparedness efforts. In the event of a real disaster the sirens can be used to notify the public – from an emergency at Diablo Canyon Power Plant to a tsunami or wildfire.
Helpers waited underneath each siren to make sure they went off as planned first at noon and again at 12:30 p.m. – for three to five minutes each time. The two tests were to ensure that both the primary and backup activation centers were connecting properly to the siren sites.
“One hundred thirty one out of 131 passed,” said Tracey Vardas, emergency planning coordinator at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
The sound, she said, is “very loud and distinct.”
Surprisingly, it’s not difficult to find people willing to give up part of their Saturday to staff the sirens.
PG&E works with Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD) to line up siren test volunteers. In exchange for the assistance, a $10,000 grant is provided and later divided up between several worthy organizations that work with VOAD. Receiving a portion of the grant funds this year are: Woods Humane Society, Food Bank Coalition of SLO County, Horse Emergency Evacuation Team, American Red Cross (SLO Chapter), San Luis Obispo County Emergency Communications Council and the Homeless Animals Rescue Team.
The amount paid out ends up being about $70 per siren, said Vardas, who adds that 10 PG&E employees also staffed some of the sites. The funds are welcomed by the relief organizations to offset costs for their own disaster preparedness work, said Vardas. “And it helps PG&E by allowing us to have visual and audio validation that the sirens work as designed.”
Many of those who volunteer are retired, sometimes entire families help out, and a number return year after year asking to assist, said Vardas. Immediately after the drill, volunteers were treated to a barbecue lunch at Dairy Creek Golf Course.
More information on the siren test and emergency preparedness in San Luis Obispo County is available on the website of the county’s Office of Emergency Services. The Office of Emergency Services offers a short video of the siren test on its Facebook page.
Email Tracy Correa at firstname.lastname@example.org.