CALISTOGA — The City of Calistoga is considering installng five early warning emergency sirens around town to alert the community and first responders of a wildfire.
The system consists of five 60-foot poles, paid for and installed by the international company Illumination Technologies, which has its California office on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga.
The towers would serve a dual purpose, as the company would rent the towers to wireless phone carriers — with up to 4G capability — allowing Illuminations to recoup some of the project’s $600,000 cost, said Chris Canning, the company’s CEO of Information Technology. Canning is also mayor of Calistoga, but will have to recuse himself from any discussion or votes by the city council.
The proposed sites for the towers are on Cedar Street near Rancho De Calistoga, Anna Street, Rosedale Road, Petrified Forest Road and Mora Avenue.
The towers are solar powered with battery back-up, and are designed to be camouflaged to blend in with residential and business surroundings. The proposed design coverage for the towers in Calistoga is that of a cypress tree.
Residents, however, have seemed wary. At a city council meeting last week, nearly a dozen residents of Mora Avenue expressed concerns in the public comment period about the safety and possible health risks of the cell towers, the “profoundly ugly” appearance, and the potential conflict of interest of the project given the mayor works for Illumination Technologies.
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Residents also questioned the speed at which the project was being moved forward. They did not have an issue with the safety aspect of the sirens as an early warning system.
The project is currently in the permitting process and should come before the city council at a regular meeting Aug. 6 or 20, said Canning, and he said he will recuse himself from that portion of the meeting. The goal is to have them in place by September, before the start of wildfire season, he said.
Illuminations Technology has been operating such systems, which also include security cameras on the towers, for more than 18 years with 4,800 telecom structures and sites. The company is a sister organization of the largest private telecom infrastructure provider in Latin America, with partnerships with another 5,000 municipalities worldwide, according to its website.
Illuminations has also approached all other municipalities within the county with the idea for the fire warning system, Canning said.
The wireless cameras function by rotating atop the towers to scan the landscape, and the alarm system has an 80-decibel output (a NASCAR auto race reportedly averages about 100 decibels).
The wireless towers are not automatically triggered when they sense potentially hazardous conditions. The towers send data back to a central monitoring location, in Germany, where it is then analyzed, Canning said. The alarm is activated only by the city according to best practices protocol.