Campus emergency siren system to be installed

The university is preparing to install an outdoor siren system that would be activated during an emergency. Meant to supplement Stanford's current emergency-notification measures, the system will consist of three sirens mounted on poles and four installed on the roofs of select buildings across campus.

Stanford currently has a mass-notification system in place called AlertSU. In the event of an emergency, the university can send out time-sensitive information directly to students, staff and faculty simultaneously via e-mail, voice mail and text messages to cellular phones or any other devices listed in the system.

The siren system will be capable of emitting a range of tones and blare notification, as well as verbal messages, allowing for a variety of uses in an emergency. Tones might differ depending on the severity of the situation, for instance, and instructions to evacuate or take shelter—or make announcements—can be communicated instantly.

The three pole-mounted siren-speakers will be installed along Arboretum Road, in Frenchman's Park near Gerona Road and on Stanford Avenue across from Nixon School. Each pole will stand 50 feet tall, and staff in the Department of Project Management expect minimal impact on traffic during installation.

The four sirens being mounted to buildings will be placed atop the Lyman Graduate Residences, the Beckman Center, Meyer Library and the Hoskins mid-rise in Escondido Village. The rooftop installations will require cranes and will be scheduled during hours when construction is likely to be least disruptive.

Emergency planners say the noise level will be at about 70 decibels at the perimeter of campus when the sirens are on, which is comparable to the volume of a vacuum cleaner. The system will be tested during and immediately after installation, and then twice annually—in April and October—in conjunction with Stanford's other emergency-notification tools. During tests, the sirens will be on at full volume for about 30 seconds.

Prior to testing, e-mail notifications will be sent campus wide, as well as to neighbors such as the Stanford Campus Residential Leaseholders Association, residents of the Oak Creek and Stanford West apartment complexes and the College Terrace Neighborhood Association. Letters about upcoming tests also will be sent to the cities of Palo Alto and Menlo Park and to the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Emergencies that would trigger use of the sirens could include a hostage situation, shooter on campus, large chemical release or other situations that pose a life-safety threat. Those authorized to activate the system include senior administrators in public safety, emergency management and university communications, as well as the president and provost.

Using a layered approach to emergency communication, Stanford also employs a website—http://emergency.stanford.edu—and a hotline (725-5555 or 800-89SHAKE), depending on the situation. The university also can broadcast urgent information via KZSU, 89.1 FM.

The university received county approval on Dec. 11, 2008, during a public hearing conducted by the Architecture and Site Approval Committee, allowing Stanford to now obtain building permits for the pole-mounted sirens. If the permits are issued promptly, construction could finish by the end of January.

The project is headed by emergency-management staff in Environmental Health and Safety.