Nevada County to roll out mobile evacuation sirens |

Nevada County to roll out mobile evacuation sirens

John Orona
Staff Writer


Click here for an example of the hi-lo siren systems to be installed by area law enforcement to assist in evacuation warnings.

Don’t seek out information. Don’t call 911. Get out immediately.

That’s the message being sent by new “hi-lo” sirens coming to all Nevada County Sheriff’s Office as well as Grass Valley and Nevada City police vehicles, as part of a pilot program rolling out this week.

“The sound of the siren means to evacuate immediately, it means nothing else,” Nevada City Police Chief Chad Ellis. “Don’t seek out information, don’t call 911. Get out immediately.”

The new European-style sirens are designed to warn people of an evacuation order and are not authorized for use on any other response call, with the hope that when residents hear the warning, they’ll instantly know to leave the area.

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“… it’s really an effective way, especially with what we’re seeing with potentially quickly moving forest fires in urban areas, to get evacuations done in a timely manner.”— Alex Gammelgard Grass Valley Police Chief

The sirens are being installed on each patrol vehicle, giving law enforcement officials the ability to nimbly orchestrate evacuations in only the specific areas affected by an emergency without causing a mass exodus or widespread panic.

“We’re excited about this because we think it’s really an effective way, especially with what we’re seeing with potentially quickly moving forest fires in urban areas, to get evacuations done in a timely manner,” Grass Valley Police Chief Alex Gammelgard said.

The system will undoubtedly be useful in the event of a fire, but the hi-lo sirens may also be used in any situation requiring swift and precise evacuations — such as a burst pipeline or flooding conditions — and will complement the CodeRED emergency alert system already in place, according to Emergency Services Manager Jeff Pettitt.

Officials, however, will be very selective in its implementation in order to avoid alarm fatigue,

Pettitt said. During the 2018 Paradise fire, CodeRED alerts failed to hold up to the flames, with call failure rates up to 60 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times.

“The decision (to initiate an evacuation) is made between the incident commander and other agencies involved at the scene,” Grass Valley FIre Chief Mark Buttron said. “We don’t take that lightly. We obviously want to be proactive in removing people from the area but we also understand that it can be very traumatic for individuals.”

The program was relatively quick and inexpensive to install, with the entire process taking about three weeks from ideation to troubleshooting.

“Obviously fire has been the number one topic of conversation, and it doesn’t matter if its on the law enforcement side or on the fire side, this is one more component of everyone working together,” Ellis said. “It’ll be consistent across the county and hopefully, eventually statewide.”

Law enforcement officials from across the county are still working to make sure all the patrol vehicle sirens work smoothly before they are officially announced and rolled out with an accompanying video next week.

“Keep your eyes on your social media feeds for a little educational component that will be coming out shortly to the community as a whole,” Gammelgard said.

Contact Staff Writer John Orona at or 530-477-4229.

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