There was no wailing alert Tuesday morning in East Pierce County when 17 lahar sirens scheduled for a minute-long test failed to go off.
The sirens in Fife, Orting, Puyallup, Sumner, McMillin, Alderton and Riverside all stayed silent at 10 a.m.
Evacuation drills at schools in Orting continued as planned.
County officials are working to determine exactly why the sirens didn’t sound, said Sheri Badger, spokeswoman for the Pierce County Department of Emergency Management.
At this point, the error seems to be the result of an unidentified software glitch, she said.
A technician from the company that installed the system is scheduled to look at it today, Badger said. The contractor is also trying to conduct remote tests, she said.
The sirens are supposed to warn local communities of a potentially catastrophic mudflow, or lahar, rushing down from Mount Rainier.
The county runs silent tests of its software and computer programs roughly every week, Badger said, but hasn’t conducted a systemwide audible test of the sirens since October 2007.
Some officials in valley cities said they were anxious to find out what went wrong with the sirens, but trusted that Pierce County was working hard to fix the problem.
“It’s very concerning, but it would be more concerning if we hadn’t done the test,” Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow said. “This is about finding a solution.”
Individual sirens have failed to activate in past years, but this is the first time the entire system has stayed mute.
Badger said that’s because the system has been upgraded so that the sirens are now connected via satellite technology. That means either they all work, or none do.
The county paid its contractor, Federal Signal of Oak Brook, Ill., about $277,000 last year to install five new sirens and connect 12 older ones to the satellite system, Badger said.
The money came from a $300,000 state legislative appropriation in 2008.
The county also pays Federal Signal $1,800 monthly for satellite connection service, Badger said.
County officials will meet soon with valley cities to discuss the best way to test the sirens again, Badger said. The county may decide to re-test each siren individually for now and wait until October to try another systemwide test, she said.
City officials in Sumner and Puyallup said they have the ability to activate their sirens independently of the county if the system fails to work during an emergency.
Merle Frank, Puyallup’s emergency management director, said that despite Tuesday’s failed test, he still thinks the upgraded sirens are a vast improvement from the earlier system.
Previously, all the sirens were so outdated that it was difficult to find the parts needed to repair them, Frank said. Many sirens were holdovers from the Civil Defense era of the 1960s and ’70s.
“We’re happy with the new ones,” Frank said. “We’ll be happier when the bugs are worked out of them and they work.”
Melissa Santos: 253-552-7058 firstname.lastname@example.org
Staff writer Matt Misterek contributed to this report.