Carnation frustrated with Seattle again after 8th false emergency alarm induces widespread panic

Mar 28, 2024, 2:22 PM | Updated: Apr 25, 2024, 3:45 pm

Image: A bridge in Carnation....

A bridge in Carnation. (Image courtesy of the City of Carnation)

(Image courtesy of the City of Carnation)

Imagine going about your day when an emergency alarm goes off, alerting you that you have only 45 minutes to evacuate before your house is flooded, so you grab what you can and get to safety. Now imagine that happening eight times in four years — but they are all false alarms.

That’s what’s happening to the citizens of Carnation, a small town in Western Washington, about 40 minutes east of Seattle. The Tolt River Dam shadows Carnation however, it is owned and operated by the City of Seattle. The alert system, signaling the dam has breached, has malfunctioned eight times over the past four years.

If the dam ever broke it would “cause catastrophic damage to Carnation and force city-wide evacuation,” a news release states from the City of Carnation on Wednesday.

After a series of false alarms, including two on Wednesday, Carnation residents don’t know if they can trust the alarm system and are continuing to call on the City of Seattle to fix it.

Carnation citizens face ‘ongoing PTSD’

“After every false alarm, we are told that this issue is a priority for The City of Seattle and Seattle Public Utilities (SPU). But these false alarms continue to happen and cause panic, fear, and ongoing PTSD for our citizens,” said Carnation Mayor Jim Ribail in the news release. “After four years, The City of Seattle and SPU have yet to deliver a reliable, effective system for a Seattle asset that puts Carnation residents in harm’s way.”

Last August, the Carnation City Council declared a State of Emergency after a false alarm went off. Carnation leaders were and still are concerned about SPU’s ability to operate the dam.

Past coverage: Carnation residents call for Seattle Public Utilities accountability after false evacuation alarms

“Carnation was incorporated in 1912, and Seattle built its dam in 1964. Seattle’s Dam puts all our lives and property at risk,” said City Manager Ana Cortez in the news release. “The city gets no benefit from it. We get no water from it. We get no revenue from it. Yet we have 100% of the risk.”

In July of 2020, the false alarm sounded for over 40 minutes. Carnation said there was no communication from SPU and residents were “forced to navigate confusion, misinformation and stress.”

Carnation put together a video, which includes a public comment meeting.

Carnation tries to confirm emergency with Seattle but gets no response

“We try to call city, city has no idea, we call Seattle Public Works, it’s busy, then we finally get through they’re like ‘I don’t know. Let me transfer you.’ That’s unacceptable,” said one person in the video.

September coverage: Carnation Mayor addresses Tolt Dam false alarms at Seattle City Council meeting

KIRO Newsradio spoke with Carnation resident, Henry Simon who was told his house could be under 20 feet of water in a matter of hours.

“When the dam is supposedly breached we have 35 to 45 minutes to get out of town and out of the valley and you should grab whatever’s important to you like your children, your pets,” Simon said.

Simon also said the community is on edge.

“We’re kinda at the mercy of what the Seattle Utility District is doing so it’s just kind of frustrating how little is being done, or at least in our areas, to get this done right, as there are other emergency systems across the nation it doesn’t seem like this one should be that hard to put together,” he added.

November coverage: Carnation officials blast Seattle after new problem with Tolt River Dam alert system

Carnation leaders held a press conference Thursday morning, calling for the Tolt Dam to be drained.

“Eight separate times we’ve left our pets behind we’ve got sobbing kids because they think that a mudslide is gonna come over our town only to realize ‘Oh it’s just another false alarm, head back home,'” Carnation Council member Brodie Nelson said in the meeting as reported by KIRO 7.

Seattle begins appliction to relicense Tolt Dam

According to the City of Carnation’s video, the City of Seattle is in the beginning stages of applying for the relicensing of the Tolt Dam. Seattle is said to submit its application by 2028.

“This is the City of Carnation’s opportunity to influence the operation of the Tolt Dam. We must act now,” wrote Carnation.

Leaders asked citizens to email to make their concerns known.

SPU sent a statement to KIRO Newsradio on Thursday regarding next steps:

“Following Wednesday’s unplanned alarm, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) has been in frequent contact with Carnation officials, and we are aware and sympathetic to the frustration and concern expressed by residents and officials at last night’s City Council meeting and today’s news conference.

SPU staff continue to investigate what happened yesterday morning. After residents and officials began reporting what they heard shortly after 10 a.m., SPU activated its emergency response plan with its emergency partners. We verified the dam was safe and immediately launched an investigation. We continue to monitor the dam 24/7 as we do 365 days a year.

As part of our investigation, SPU is asking anyone in the Carnation area who heard the unexpected alarm/siren yesterday morning to contact us so we can gather some information: 206-494-5986.

SPU will not stop investigating until we determine what happened. We sincerely apologize for the confusion and worry following the event.”

Julia Dallas is a content editor at MyNorthwest. You can read her stories here. Follow Julia on X, formerly known as Twitter, here and email her here.

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Carnation frustrated with Seattle again after 8th false emergency alarm induces widespread panic