Emergency Public Alert System
While the county already has emergency alert capabilities, County Executive Ball wants the businesses, residents, and visitors of Ellicott City to have as much warning and direction as possible during severe weather events. As such, the county executive directed his Office of Emergency Management to develop a comprehensive plan to bolster the county’s Emergency Public Alert System, with new technology and elements to enhance capabilities during extreme weather situations.
As part of EC Safe and Sound, an outdoor tone-based alert system was implemented to complement existing alert and warning tools. The mobile, trailer-based speaker arrays (pictured) provide tone alerts to historic Ellicott City when flash flood conditions are imminent. The units produce a very loud tone (technically rated at 120 decibels within a 100 ft radius) warning individuals in outdoor spaces. These sound levels are equal to an ambulance or emergency services siren at full volume. The temporary units are currently in place and operational.
A permanent solution is being developed in parallel with this effort. The permanent solution will have additional units for enhanced coverage and may add voice capabilities for better direction during emergencies.
On February 25, 2019, County Executive Ball, in coordination with the Office of Emergency Management, hosted a public meetings to provide additional information about the temporary speaker arrays and to solicit feedback regarding a permanent speaker system. The presentation from that meeting can be found here.
Frequently Asked Questions
What activates the outdoor emergency tone alerts?
Can I hear the audio alerts inside my house or when sleeping?
How will visitors know what an audio alert means?
The alert is intended to notify individuals in imminent danger to find a safe location and tune in to local news, news/weather apps, a weather radio, or official government notices for more information. This system will be part of the broader campaign for Historic Ellicott City to inform residents and visitors of the ongoing risks of flooding and details about the alerts.
What am I supposed to do when it goes off?
- Do not walk or drive through moving water
- Do not go to your car
- Look for HIGH GROUND access signs to lead you out of the floodplain
- If it is necessary to remain in a building, go to higher floor
How much time do I have when I hear the tone alert?
Take immediate action once an alert is heard. There may only be minutes or seconds before conditions worsen.
How else will I get the notification?
Who do I contact if I have questions or concerns about the system?
Will the tone alerts be used for other things besides flooding?
Will there be tests of the tone alerts?
Silent Test- High pitched short burst (under 2 seconds). This type of test will be scheduled for every Thursday at 10 am.
System Test- A voice alert announcement of the test, and short single tone. This type of alert will be once a month and on the second Thursday at 10am in place of the silent test.
Annual Test- A full alert of a pulsed tone (Flash Flood Warning Alert Tone) for under 2 mins. This test will be held once a year in December.
A System or Annual Test will not occur if there is a Flash Flood WATCH in effect during the test date/time. However, if a Flash Flood WATCH is issued for Ellicott City a silent test may be done to ensure the system is properly operating.
Are there other audio alerting systems in HoCo?
What does it sound like and how loud is it?
The units will produce an alert at 120db at a 100 feet radius. This is equal to a emergency services vehicle’s siren at peak volume. A Flash Flood alert produces a sound that is described as a continued pulsed tone over a 3 min period.