Siren Swan Song: Boise retires outdated Foothills sirens

February 7, 2014 

Boise will remove seven flood alert sirens: The city installed the sirens in four Boise Foothills gulches to protect residents from flood waters and debris following the Eighth Street Fire in 1996.

Time to retire: The sirens are outdated, say city officials. Emergency managers will now rely on newer communication forms to alert the public.

Reverse 911: The system sends a prerecorded alert to residents’ land lines. The Idaho State Alert and Warning System also will send emergency messages through cell phones, pagers and email accounts.

Wireless Emergency Alerts: This federal public safety system lets customers with newer wireless phones and other mobile devices receive emergency messages. Notifications also will be sent out over television and radio. The National Weather Service also has a radio warning system.

A lessened threat: Officials say that Foothills rehabilitations projects and new flood-control structures installed since the 1996 fire have reduced the risk of flooding.

Sirens were standard during the Cold War: Emergency sirens installed on civic buildings, including the Old Ada County Courthouse and public schools, were common during the Cold War Era in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when leaders feared an attack from Russia. Most of those sirens — like the yellow-and-black fallout shelter signs that once dotted city streets, are gone. Doug Hardman with Ada City-County Emergency, said he remembered a time in 1990 when a radio frequency accidentally activated the sirens atop the courthouse. They had been unused for so long, no one knew how to turn them off. Hardman and the county electrician had to pull the sirens’ fuses. Eventually, City-County Emergency removed all the old civic defense sirens and stored them near the landfill. The agency donated some sirens to surrounding counties for use by volunteer fire departments.

Questions?: Contact Ada City-County Emergency at 577-4750 or visit

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