Boise removes outdated flash flood sirens in foothills

BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) -- Work crews have started taking down seven flash flood sirens put up in the edgy atmosphere that followed the 8th Street fire in 1996.

North Ender Frederick Scott has lived next to one since the beginning and says it was, well, annoying when the siren was tested.

"Big time," he told KBOI News. "It seemed to go off at the worst time, too. You were sleeping, or watching a movie and it would be that great part of the film -- and you'd have to rewind it."

He laughs now but nobody was laughing back in the summer of 1996.

Remember, the 8th Street fire burned thousands of acres in the Boise foothills, seriously increasing the threat of a devastating flash flood which the sirens would sound alarm.

The city concedes the testing of the sirens was often confusing.

"People often didn't know what it meant, " said Rob Bousfield, assistant city engineer for the City of Boise.

But since 1996, technology has improved dramatically.

Alerts now come in seconds over your land line, cell phone or e-mail.
And emergency managers will rely on these newer forms of mass communication.

There are now several ways of alerting the public about potential hazards directly to their home or cell phone:

- Emergency alert notifications send a prerecorded alert to residents with a land-line;

- The Idaho State Alert and Warning System (ISAWS - ) sends emergency messages through cell phone, pager and email;

- WEA-Wireless Emergency Alerts - a federal public safety system - allows customers with newer wireless phones and other enabled mobile devices to receive geographically-targeted, text-like messages;

- EAS-Emergency Alert System- emergency notifications over radio and TV;

- And NOAA Weather Alert Radio.

And the foothills themselves have undergone extensive rehabilitation.

Over the years, the city has greatly improved the capacity of its flood control ponds.

"Everybody agrees the threat of a flash flood is lower," said Bousfield, "But it still can happen."

So it's farewell to the flash flood sirens.

But if the sirens are destined for the scrap-heap of history, let history note that, fortunately, they never had to blast a real warning for a dangerous flash flood, a warning, that while rather rudimentary now, might have made all the difference in the world.