Lahar warning system tested

Pierce County Emergency Management tested its lahar warning sirens Monday in an effort to educate and prepare citizens for potential volcanic hazards in the Puyallup and Carbon River valleys.

The drill tested the alert call-down process and allowed the county to monitor sound coverage throughout the valley.

According to scientists at the United States Geological Survey, lahars (mudflows) from Mount Rainier are a primary hazard to developed areas in the valley. Those areas include Orting, Sumner, Puyallup and Fife.

During the test, outdoor warning sirens ran for approximately 10 minutes. Local television and radio news stations also ran an Emergency Alert Signal (EAS) test and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration "All-Hazard" Weather Radios were activated. Some valley schools conducted at least partial evacuation drills in association with the test.

"The evacuation sirens in the Puyallup valley provide a critical early warning mechanism that can help save lives. Sirens and evacuation signs are a critical reminder to residents and visitors alike that the valley is potentially at risk should Mount Rainier become restless again," Emergency Management Director Steve Bailey said.

There are currently five sirens in Orting, one in Sumner, five in Puyallup, four in Fife and two in the unincorporated area between Orting and Sumner.

Mount Rainier remains quiet, with no signs of renewed volcanic unrest. While the timing of lahars is unpredictable, the chances of their occurrence, by landslides and eruptions, are enhanced when the volcano becomes restless. Much of the county's planning efforts are based on the fact that scientists have found some large lahars caused by landslides may not have been accompanied by such precursory warning. The 500-year-old Electron lahar, for example, provided no evidence of eruptive activity.

The siren installation is a culmination of many years of hard work by emergency managers, community leaders, scientists and planners. The lahar warning system, evacuation signs and sirens are the first steps in helping citizens to prepare for this potential hazard.

During a lahar, emergency responders will not be in the valley communities to assist with evacuations. Tests, such as the one Monday, are intended to help citizens recognize the warning sirens, learn evacuation routes and prepare to be on their own for 72 hours.

For more information, contact Jody Woodcock, public information officer for Pierce County Emergency Management at 253-798-7021 or 253-377-0475.

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