THOUSAND OAKS (CBSLA) — With wildfires a year-round concern in Southern California, Ventura County Sheriff patrol vehicles have been equipped with a new siren to let residents know they need to evacuate immediately.
The warning siren will be used in all disasters, including wildfires, earthquakes and floods, according to the Ventura County Sheriff's Office.
"With wildfires increasing in frequency and severity, this distinct siren will serve as a powerful tool in efficiently notifying the public of an encroaching fire and the need to evacuate," authorities said in a statement. "If residents hear the Hi-Lo siren in their community, it is a signal that they are in imminent danger and should evacuate immediately."
When the Woolsey Fire tore through homes two years ago, resident Janet Jackson watched helplessly as her home was destroyed after evacuation alerts went into effect.
"I waited too long," Jackson said.
Jackson said she wrongly thought she could ride things out until her neighbor, who is a firefighter, told her she had to go.
"In all sincerity, we were fine until we weren't. It was hell," she said. "Everything was on fire."
The Ventura County Sheriff's Department is adding the hi-lo siren to about 130 of its patrol vehicles. The objective is simple: Leave if you if you hear it during a wildfire, flood or any major disaster.
"Because of the high pitch noise level, it gives it is a very recognizable sound that will help people to know it's time to leave," said Ventura County Sheriff's Department's Don Aguilar.
Survivors of the Woolsey Fire said the new program will make messaging clear.
"I think it's really important for people to know to react," said Oak Park resident Lisa Solny.
Jackson moved into her reconstructed home a few weeks ago. She says she suffers from PTSD every time there's a siren but if she hears that hi-lo sound, she'll run, not just for own sake.
"It makes our firefighters and sheriff's lives easier too if we get out because they're not risking life to get in and save us," Jackson said.
The new siren doesn't come at a huge cost to taxpayers. It's simply a software update to the existing equipment.
The European-style Hi-Lo siren was recently authorized by Gov. Newsom to be used in emergency evacuations, Ventura County sheriff's officials said.
Ventura County residents were also encouraged to register for emergency alerts at www.vcalert.org.
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