Beginning in July, Civil Defense warning sirens in suburban Maryland and the rest of the metropolitan area will be used to warn residents of approaching major local peacetime disasters.

Under the new Attention Alert program, a single-pitch siren blare for three to five minutes warns residents to turn on their radios or televisions for instructions in the event of a major local disaster such as a tornado, flash flood, toxic chemical spill or terrorism.

Attention Alert is a locally controlled system, and selected public officials can activate the sirens in their own jurisdictions. Sirens could be sounded either throughout the area or in a single jurisdiction, in the case of a local emergency. Sounding of the sirens will be coordinated by the local governments and the Defense Civil Preparedness Agency Warning Center in Olney, Md.

Under an arrangement with area broadcast stations, local officials will issue detailed public announcements to radio stations WMAL, WRC and WTOP. Those stations will pass the announcements on to other stations for broadcast.

The new program was developed by the Disaster and Emergency Preparedness Committee of the Council of Governments. After the tornado that struck parts of Fairfax County in 1973, tropical storm Agnes in 1972 and Eloise in 1975, officials became concerned about getting information and instructions about peacetime disasters to the general public immediately.