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Lahar Evacuation Exercise May 17
Lahar evacuation exercise brings student safety to a higher level
Posted on 05/18/2019
Lahar evacuation exercise brings student safety to a higher levelMore than 8,000 students and staff from twelve schools in the Puyallup valley successfully evacuated their buildings on May 17 and safely walked a portion of the route they would take during an actual lahar.

Lahar planningThe Puyallup Lahar Evacuation Exercise was the culmination of year-long planning between the City of Puyallup and the Puyallup School District. It was designed to test and improve the city and school district’s ability to evacuate students and staff from the Puyallup valley in the event of an incoming lahar from Mount Rainier.

A lahar is a massive mud flow coming off the side of the mountain.

The Puyallup School District valley schools, All Saints Catholic School, Cascade Christian School, and city staff practiced evacuating. At approximately 9:15 a.m. students and staff from Puyallup High School, Walker High School, Aylen and Kalles junior highs, Karshner, Maplewood, Meeker, Stewart, Spinning, and Shaw Road elementary schools began the evacuation. 

Lahar exerciseThe schools sited outside of the lahar hazard area did not evacuate. In a real emergency, these schools would serve as collection locations for students evacuating from the hazard area.

Stewart Elementary Principal Elissa Dornan says the school made it to the staging area ahead of schedule, while maintaining visible lines with adults in vests and teachers carrying flags. “We prepared staff of the last few weeks by reviewing the documents provided by our SRO, modifying plans for our preschool and WRAP teams, reviewing additional logistics at our Safety Team meeting, and having all staff drive the route prior to the drill.”

The City of Puyallup’s Emergency Operations Center was activated, and a media tent was staged. The movement of students and staff from 20 facilities was closely monitored on live streaming video feeds. Evacuation maps were shared with all participants, and evacuation times were recorded. Radio communications between school staff, administration, law enforcement, emergency management, and fire and rescue were carefully coordinated.

“First and foremost, the safety of staff and students is on our minds,” said PSD Director 

of Student Services Char Krause. “What we’re really hoping for is to generate awareness in our staff and students about what a lahar is and make sure everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency.”

Safety is a key component of the exercise. Roads were closed to traffic, police directed students safely across the streets, and fire and rescue were on hand if needed.

Coordinating resources and partnerships are essential to the success of the evacuation exercise. Many agencies came together to make it a successful event and to learn from it.

 • City of Puyallup Police Department
 • Puyallup School District
City of Puyallup Emergency Management
 • City of Puyallup Public Works Department
 • Central Pierce Fire and Rescue
 • Washington State Military Division Department of Emergency Management
 • Pierce County Department of Emergency Management


A debrief by all agencies involved followed the evacuation exercise to learn from the event, both those things that were successful and those than can be improved upon. For example, one elementary took longer than expected to reach the staging destination. The route and evacuation procedures will be evaluated.

“Today’s lahar exercise was a success because of all the work done on the front-end and the excellent performance when it was time to follow the plan,” said Krause.

In the Puyallup School District, we are committed to providing a safe environment for students, staff, and visitors. Working closely with national, state, and local safety officials such as fire, police, Pierce County Emergency Management and public health officials, our goal is to ensure Puyallup schools are well prepared in the event of an emergency – including a lahar.

Safety and security is our top priority. Each school regularly conducts drills throughout the school year to help students and staff prepare for possible emergencies. 

Dr. Guy Kovacs, principal of Kalles Junior High credits Puyallup Police Department for the success of today’s lahar drill. “Students responded more quickly than planned," said Kovacs, "in large part due to the coordination of the PPD."

Nancy French