Officials plan to improve a volcanic mudflow warning system for Mount Rainier in Washington.
Scientists say the upgrades could detect trouble sooner and give southeastern Puget Sound residents more time to evacuate.
Projections show up to 500 million cubic meters of debris could break loose during a volcanic event, Scott Heinze of Pierce County’s emergency management department tells the Seattle Times in a story on Monday.
Officials say a significant mudflow 5,600 years ago filled the valleys of the White River up to 300 feet with sediment in the area that now includes the cities of Sumner, Enumclaw and Auburn.
Officials say they want to increase the number of places with detection technology as well as install a volcanic-monitoring network that could provide weeks or months of advance warning of a lahar, or a mudflow that occurs on the slopes of a volcano.
“That for us is the end-all, be-all,” Heinze said. “The technology that’s going into the ground can be utilized in a more predictive way. We just need to have more of it on the ground in the right places.”
Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy asked for a review of the current system that had sensors installed in the 1990s. The review helped Heinze’s department and the U.S. Geological Survey determine where to plan improvements. Now they’re working to replace outdated analog equipment with digital devices.
“It’s the difference between having a flip phone and a smartphone,” Heinze said. “We can make phone calls, but we’d like to be able to do more.”
The current system has sensors in the Carbon and Puyallup river valleys connected to the state emergency-operations center at Camp Murray. If a mudflow is detected, a warning system can be activated.
Officials plan to ask the Legislature for money to double the number of sirens, costing nearly $2 million, Heinze said.
“We’re putting the most state-of-the-art equipment in the ground that will tell us a lahar is happening, and we’re trying to get additional sirens,” Heinze said. “But they also need to know what to do when the sirens go off. They have to have a plan.”
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