Pierce County to test Mount Rainier lahar siren system this Monday

Pierce County will test its lahar warning sirens at 10 a.m. on Monday, May 17 in an effort to educate and prepare citizens for potential volcanic hazards in the Puyallup and Carbon River valleys.

This drill will test the alert call-down process and allow officials to monitor sound coverage throughout the valley. According to scientists at the U.S. Geological Survey, lahars (mudflows) from Mount Rainier are the primary hazard to developed areas in the valley including Orting, Sumner, Puyallup and Fife.

At the appointed hour, outdoor warning sirens will run for approximately 10 minutes. Local television and radio news stations may run an Emergency Alert Signal (EAS) test and NOAA “All-Hazard” Weather Radios will be activated. Some valley schools will coordinate at least partial evacuation drills with this test. Residents and businesses are not encouraged to conduct evacuation drills at this time.

“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,” said Emergency Management Director Steve Bailey.

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 scientific understanding of its geologic history and potential is vastly improved, the timing of lahars is unpredictable.

However, chances of their occurrence – indicated by landslides and eruptions – are enhanced when the volcano becomes restless.

Much 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 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 prepare themselves for this potential hazard.

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