Puyallup Herald

State needs more participation in Mount Rainier lahar survey

Puyallup students practice lahar drill

Kindergartners walk beside high school students as multiple Puyallup district schools and city, police and fire officials practice a lahar drill together in June 2019.
Up Next
Kindergartners walk beside high school students as multiple Puyallup district schools and city, police and fire officials practice a lahar drill together in June 2019.

How ready are you for a lahar?

In the last survey the state did on lahar preparedness, 17 percent of respondents felt strongly they would be able to evacuate once a lahar warning was issued, and 4 percent felt sufficiently prepared.

The Washington State Emergency Management Division needs Pierce County residents to fill out this year’s survey to improve the public’s awareness.

Thus far, the survey has received 240 responses.

An overwhelming majority of people who responded to the 2006 survey thought evacuation routes were insufficient because there are “too many people/traffic/panic/too few routes.” About percent had actually driven an evacuation route. Many have created their own path to safety, concerned that official routes would be too congested once alarms go off, according to survey results.

As Pierce County continues to attract new residents, the questionnaire hopes to steer public educational campaigns on gaps in lahar preparedness.

“Getting more responses will certainly help us to get a clearer picture of the area’s perception of risk and understanding of volcanic hazards,” said Brian Terbush with Washington State Emergency Management Division.

Mount Rainier is considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world because of the potential for lahars. A lahar is ice and snow from the mountain’s peak melting during an eruption and forming mudslides that can travel up 40 mph The last lahar from Mount Rainier was in 1500, and not caused by a volcanic eruption. A weak section of the volcano collapsed under the weight of the rock and ice, but Terbush said that is rare.

The state said Puyallup River Valley residents could have as little as 40 minutes to evacuate before mudslies reach tens of thousands of homes. Lahars have reached the Puget Sound lowlands at least every 500 to 1,000 years.

The Puyallup and Carbon rivers have automated lahar detection systems, with 34 sirens. They’ll blare, flash lights and instruct in multiple languages to evacuate.

Puyallup and Orting schools practiced evacuation routes this past May, with more than 9,000 students participating, the drill was the largest volcano evacuation in the U.S.

The voluntary questionnaire closes on Friday.

Josephine Peterson covers Pierce County and Puyallup for The News Tribune and The Puyallup Herald. She previously worked at The News Journal in Delaware as the crime reporter and interned at The Washington Post.
  Comments