The Montecito Fire Protection District has added a new emergency notification system to its arsenal of information dissemination.

Beginning Sunday, July 4, residents within the district’s boundaries will be able to purchase a tone alert radio for their home. The radio will transmit a 90-decibel tone and scrolling text with instructions on how to respond when activated by the district.

After the recent devastating fires, the district conducted several tests of various alerting systems and devices, including sirens, external voice systems and internal notification systems.

Some of the concerns regarding emergency notification that surfaced after the Tea Fire included:

» Emergency notification failures: Many calls were not received because of power outages and phone lines being burned.

» Night time/late evening notification: Many don’t hear or answer their phones and might miss the notification.

» Sirens and bull horns are difficult to hear indoors and in windy conditions.

» Not enough personnel to go door to door.

The sirens tested were 117 decibels on a 30-foot tower and reached a distance of less than 1,000 feet. In many cases, the sirens were ineffective because of topography and weather conditions. Given the limited range, it was determined that in order to be effective, the district would have needed many sirens installed or increase the height of the tower up to 70 feet as well as increase the decibel range. 

The fire district decided on the Ambient Control Systems Home Alert Local Alerting System to augment its emergency notification methods. It has been used in Oklahoma for tornado alerts and Florida for hurricane warnings. Montecito will be one of the first agencies on the West Coast to utilize the system.

The new system consists of a receiver that functions regularly as a FM clock radio and weather radio, but can be activated by the fire district via FM frequencies to enable a 90-decibel tone and text message across the display with emergency instructions. The radios also have a 60-hour battery life, so in the event of a power outage, they will still be functional. Radios cost about $100.

The new system will utilize FM frequencies to distribute the notifications through a partnership established with KDB Radio, FM 93.7. The system can be activated by Montecito fire dispatch or remotely by authorized personnel.

Montecito residents who reside within the district’s boundaries who attend the Montecito Village Fourth of July activities at Lower Manning Park can receive a free raffle ticket to win one of eight radios donated by the Montecito Firefighters Association.

Radios also can be ordered from the Montecito Fire Protection District. Call 805.969.7762 for more information.

— Geri Ventura is a spokeswoman for the Montecito Fire Protection District.