Jun 27, 2012 8:50 PM by John Reger

GQ: Why don't I hear early warning sirens in Nipomo?

If you live in San Luis Obispo, you've probably heard sirens being tested once a year for about five minutes, or a 10-second test done every three months. They're the early warning system for a major emergency. Darcy Ryan from Nipomo asked this question: Why doesn't Nipomo have any sirens?

When the emergency sirens go off in San Luis Obispo County, you should immediately turn on a radio or TV to see if you should evacuate or shelter in place. "If a siren had to be activated for any reason, that would be done by the county," said Emergency Services Director Ron Alsop about the county Early Warning System. "So the county operates it, has control of it, but PG&E owns it and maintains it."

PG&E installed the sirens when it built the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Federal law requires an early warning system that radiates out 10 miles from any nuclear facility: that's about from Morro Bay to Shell Beach, and inland to Los Osos Valley Road in San Luis Obispo. However, the county siren coverage goes farther, extending from Cayucos in the north down to upper Nipomo, ending north of Willow Road.

"They're only located in the Diablo Canyon Emergency Planning Zone," said Alsop. "They're not located anywhere else in the county, not only not in Nipomo but not in Atascadero, Paso Robles, up in Cambria, there are no early warning sirens either."

The 131 sirens sit atop telephone poles and are activated by a radio signal hitting a antennae. Along with an emergency at Diablo Canyon, the county can use the system in a levee failure, tsunami, or hazardous materials spill. The sirens don't cover all of the county, but it's one of the few early warning systems in the country.

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