'We are prepared for the real thing.' Partnership, planning pays off in lahar drill

When asked why it’s important to practice lahar drills, Maple Lawn Elementary fifth grader Morgan G. didn’t beat around the bush:

“It's very important for lahar drills to happen because if we don't do lahar drills, we won't know what to do and everyone's going to be running around screaming,” he said.

Morgan went on to explain that a lahar is a big, hot mud flow that can occur when a volcano - such as Mount Rainier - erupts, melting ice and creating a moving wall of dirt and debris that can destroy nearly everything in its path. 

Fortunately for Morgan and his classmates, they practiced how to evacuate in a regional lahar drill on April 29.

The Sumner-Bonney Lake School District was one of five school districts in the region to participate in the exercise, deemed to be the largest full-scale drill in the nation. SBLSD’s valley schools - Sumner High School, Elhi Hill High School Program, Sumner Middle School, Daffodil Valley Elementary, Maple Lawn Elementary and the Sumner Early Learning Center all evacuated school by walking to the Gordon Family YMCA, where they were bused back to school. SBLSD’s remaining schools on the hill practiced a “shelter in place” drill. If this were a real emergency, students would continue to walk from the YMCA up the hill to Bonney Lake, where students would be sheltered in our hill schools. 

In total, more than 25,000 people across the region participated in the drill, with about 14,200 people evacuating and 11,600 people sheltering in place. In the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District, about 3,600 staff and students evacuated and 7,200 staff and students practiced sheltering in place.

The drill was meant to familiarize students with evacuation routes to higher ground and give them the practice and knowledge to be prepared for a real-life evacuation. 

In that regard, the drill succeeded, if you ask Maple Lawn Elementary Principal Elli McDaniel. 

“I learned that we are absolutely prepared for the real thing,” she said. “It's all in the preparation and educating our students on what to do and why it's important. They were kind, they were respectful and they followed our Husky Way expectations, which is all about safety. And they did a fantastic job.”

Sumner Police Chief Brad Moericke also saw the drill as a success.

“Undertaking an exercise of this scale and magnitude requires a lot of people, and a lot of hands, and a lot of work,” Moericke said. “The students and staff did an amazing job having an orderly, safe evacuation route.”

Maple Lawn third grader Elsie H. said that she and her classmates did really well in the drill - everyone was in line and not talking too loud, she said. 

“I know that I can trust my teacher and she will guide me to where I need to go,” Elsie said.

A big thank you to the SBLSD staff and departments, local police departments and public works departments at the cities of Sumner and Bonney Lake for ensuring that the roads and evacuation routes were safe for our students and staff.

“It is important for our families to know that we take this seriously like any drill, whether it's a fire drill, a lockdown drill, or a lahar drill, we take it very seriously. We prepare and we plan for it and we practice and educate our kids because ultimately student safety is number one for us,” McDaniel said. 

For more information, visit sumnersd.org/lahar.