Siren Malfunction Update

Stanford DPS has been working with the vendors to identify the cause of Tuesday morning’s unintentional activation of the university’s outdoor warning system. Although not the conclusive cause of the activation, it appears there was a system malfunction after a software update that took place at 3am, which resulted in a system reboot. DPS is working with the vendor to ensure the situation will not repeat before we reactivate the siren system. Moving forward, we intend to set controls so that software updates will take place during typical waking hours. Additionally, the vendor will be examining the tower located on Stanford Ave to determine if there is anything about this specific tower that caused it to continue to activate even after the alarms had been cleared in the system.

Numerous persons have inquired about the delay in notifying the community about the nature of the alert. Because we were so focused on silencing the sirens and identifying the reason for the unintentional activation, we failed to notify the community about the non-emergency in a timely manner. Had there been an actual emergency, a text and email would have been sent concurrent with the activation of the siren. We immediately updated our protocols to minimize the chances of this type of delay occurring in the future.

Another observation provided by the community was that the verbal message was unintelligible in some areas. We were aware of this deficiency as a result of the annual test performed the previous week and are taking steps to address it.

After the annual system test, DPS received feedback that some people were unable to hear the siren from inside buildings. The system is designed to be an outdoor warning system and is not intended to be the sole means of notifying people of an emergency. A serious emergency that warrants the intentional activation of the outdoor warning system would most likely be accompanied by a text, email and possibly even a phone call. In the future, the university will also be able to utilize VOIP phones to send emergency messages.

Lastly, many asked what they should do in the event of an emergency in response to the activation of the siren system. Each situation will dictate what actions to take to best protect yourself and others. Absent further instructions or additional information, sheltering in place would be the recommended course of action. Additional information about how to react to an emergency notification as well as what steps to take in different types of situations can be found in the Annual Safety and Security report available on the police website at and in the Emergency Response Guide available on the EH&S website at

Members of the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and surrounding communities have inquired about how they would receive information in the event there were an emergency at Stanford. Stanford posts information about emergencies on its publicly viewable websites including and Additionally, the dispatch centers serving these cities and jurisdictions routinely communicate with one another and share information. In an actual emergency, these jurisdictions would communicate with one another and their respective communities. There is a certain level of uncertainty associated with emergencies. Information changes, sometimes quickly, so it will take some time to coordinate responses. Incidents like last night’s malfunction provide opportunities for emergency response personnel to address these types of issues and seek ways to improve existing protocols.

Stanford DPS wants to apologize yet again for the disruption. We appreciate the feedback provided by members of the Stanford and surrounding communities as well as the general graciousness of the community in response to the malfunction. We are taking steps to improve our response so that we can better serve the community.