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October 19, 2020

TACOMA, Wash. — Deputy Secretary of the Interior Katharine MacGregor, U.S. Geological Survey Director Jim Reilly, and Counselor to the Secretary Margaret Everson, Exercising the Delegated Authority of the Director of the National Park Service, today visited Mount Rainier National Park to announce the successful permitting and ongoing installation of five new lahar monitoring stations.

 A distant view of Mount Rainier volcano over Puyallup Valley, near Orting, Washington.
A distant view of Mount Rainier volcano over Puyallup Valley, near Orting, Washington.

The group toured the site of one of the new monitoring stations designed to detect fast-moving volcanic debris flows – called lahars – with seismometer and infrasound sensor technology. Two of the five stations are complete and have begun transmitting potentially life- and property-saving data to scientists from Mount Rainier National Park. The recent installation of these new stations continues the USGS’s ongoing expansion of volcanic monitoring capabilities at high- and very-high-threat volcanoes in Washington and Oregon providing rapid community notifications in the event of volcanic unrest, volcanic eruption, or other hazardous events.

“The Trump Administration is working tirelessly to enhance public safety around America, including wildfires and now volcanoes,” said Deputy Secretary MacGregor. “I first heard about this concept back in 2015, and with more than 90,000 people living in lahar danger zones, it’s great to announce the first install of a modern early warning system in over a decade in Mount Rainier - with more to follow.”

The USGS currently monitors Mount Rainier volcanic activity in partnership with the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network at 13 seismic and six Global Positioning System installations located within 12 miles (20 kilometers) of the summit. In addition to the two lahar stations announced today, three more stations are scheduled to be installed in the park in the coming weeks. Together, these five new stations are part of a larger effort by the USGS to upgrade and expand the lahar capabilities with an additional 12 sites that are currently being scheduled for installation next year.

Geophysicist works at station PR05, part of the Mount Rainier lahar detection network.
USGS-Cascades Volcano Observatory geophysicist Rebecca Kramer works on station PR05, which is part of the Mount Rainier lahar detection network (Mount Rainier is pictured in the distance). The purpose of the site visit was to upgrade the power system and deploy infrasound equipment. 

"The efforts of the USGS to expand monitoring capabilities for lahars that could put tens of thousands of our citizens at risk is of utmost importance,” said Director Reilly. “The information we provide is designed to give public officials and communities the early warning capability that will reduce the risk of natural events becoming catastrophes. We continue to work closely with the National Park Service and other federal and state partners to ensure the safety of lives and property in the vicinity of very high-risk volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest. This early warning detection system is another example of how USGS science is contributing in direct and meaningful ways to our society.”

“Mount Rainier National Park provides unique opportunities for visitors to learn about and understand the nature of the Mount Rainier volcano,” said Counselor to the Secretary Everson. “Given President Trump and Secretary Bernhardt's focus on increasing access to parks and being a good neighbor in communities where our parks are located, this is a smart investment. The National Park Service supports improved monitoring of volcanic hazards in continued partnership with USGS to help protect local communities and the visiting public, while also preserving important park resources and values.”

The lahar monitoring effort at Mount Rainier began in 1995, in response to the lahar-hazard concerns of local and state emergency management agencies. The USGS and partners developed the first version of the Rainier Lahar Detection System, installing it along the Carbon and Puyallup River valleys in the southeastern Puget Sound region in 1998. The system being installed now consists of a detection component and a warning-dissemination component run by regional authorities. Pierce County Department of Emergency Management maintains and operates the lahar detection component with technical assistance from USGS. Data from each site are transmitted within 10 seconds to computers located in the 24/7 emergency operations centers at the Washington State Emergency Management Division and at South Sound 911. This system gives most communities at least 40 minutes and as much as 3 hours warning to move to safety once a large lahar is detected. The system is designed to deliver indications and warnings promptly and widely, working closely with local and state partners to establish the means to make sure people in harm's way know how to respond to the warnings and take protective actions. 

Station PARA at Mount Rainier
Seismic and infrasound station PARA, installed October 6-8, 2020 at Mount Rainier.

This project is part of a broader effort by the USGS to provide detection and early warning for a suite of hazards that can impact the safety of Americans across the nation, from volcano eruptions and lahars to earthquakes, post-fire debris flows, water quality issues, and harmful algal blooms. In 2019, President Trump signed legislation, co-sponsored by senators Lisa Murkowski and Maria Cantwell, authorizing USGS to establish the National Volcano Early Warning System. The goal of NVEWS is to ensure that the most hazardous volcanoes will be properly monitored well in advance of the onset of activity, making it possible for scientists to improve the timeliness and accuracy of hazard forecasts and for citizens to take proper and timely action to reduce risk. When NVEWS is fully implemented, all hazardous volcanoes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Hawai’i, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming, will be monitored at levels consistent with the threat they pose to communities, infrastructure and aviation. This year, weather permitting, USGS will install three more new NVEWS monitoring stations in Washington state. Two have already been installed at Mount Rainier, as well as three installed at Mount Hood in Oregon.

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