Community Police & Fire

Pierce County participating in regional evacuation alert system

Posted on June 13th, 2024 By:

Ahead of what could be a busy wildfire season, Pierce and six other Puget Sound-area counties are promoting a regional evacuation alert system.

The Ready, Set, Go program creates a standardized three-step evacuation messaging system for most counties bordering Puget Sound, including Pierce, Kitsap, King, Skagit, Thurston, Snohomish and Whatcom. Emergency Management officials are hoping the unified system will help create a more informed public.

Last summer, Pierce County experienced several wildfires, including one that resulted in the deaths of two people, said Jody Fuerguson, director of the county’s emergency management department. The Gig Harbor area saw several significant brush fires, including two highly visible blazes along Highway 16 in June 2023.

With wildfires becoming more common near urban areas in Western Washington, the ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ approach to evacuation is critical for all of us to learn, understand and follow when instructed to do so,” she said in a press release.

Standardized response

The evacuation program launched last year as an effort to standardize emergency evacuation across four counties. Kitsap, Skagit and Whatcom joined the partnership this year.

“With the threat [of wildfires] increasing, we wanted to use, across the region, a standard platform for communicating that could be easily understood,” said David Rasmussen, a spokesperson for the Kitsap County Emergency Management Department.

Emergency managers can employ the evacuation system for a variety of emergencies, Rasmussen said. But a united wildfire response is the catalyst for participation by Puget Sound counties.

Under the program, residents will generally get two alerts before an evacuation call. An initial ‘ready’ notification will alert the community of possible danger in the area, asking them to begin preparing for an evacuation.

A ‘Set’ notification could follow, telling residents a short notice evacuation is likely. Then the ‘Go’ notification would tell residents to immediately evacuate. 

Notifications will be sent through the county alert system, NOAA weather radios, and social media. Residents can sign up for Pierce County’s alert system here

Above normal wildfire risk

The system is yet another result of the growing wildfire risk west of the Cascades.

The West Sound remains at a low risk of wildfire, but the Western Washington region is expected to see “above normal” wildfire potential throughout much of the summer, according to a June outlook report from the National Interagency Coordination Center.

Forecasters expect drier-than-normal conditions this summer. The Washington Department of Ecology declared a drought in April, citing low snowpack and a dry spring.

Michele Laboda, a spokesperson for North Kitsap Fire and Rescue, said wildfire risk is weather dependent, and thus hard to predict. “However, we know there is a pre-existing lack of snowpack in the Olympic Mountains and that’s typical when we experience dryer conditions,” she said.

Conor Wilson is a Murrow News fellow, reporting for Gig Harbor Now and the Bremerton-based newspaper Kitsap Sun, through a program managed by Washington State University.