PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A Washington senator wants people living near volcanoes to be as prepared as possible for future eruptions.
U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, visited the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver on Thursday. She used the opportunity to highlight the need for greater seismic and GPS monitoring of more active volcanoes in the Pacific Northwest.
“We definitely can’t stop volcanoes from erupting,” the senator said. “But we can put better tools in place to give the communities and scientists better data and information and from that, our local communities can develop better communication and response plans.”
Cantwell said one in three volcanoes in the United States is under-monitored.
In a report published last year, the United States Geological Survey identified 161 active volcanoes in 14 states and U.S. territories. Of those 161 volcanoes, 11 in Washington, Oregon or California pose the highest threat, according to the USGS.
Experts say five active volcanoes — including two of the top three most dangerous volcanoes in the entire country — are in Washington.
Congress recently took its first steps toward addressing the issue. In 2018, the U.S. Senate approved the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act introduced by Cantwell.
The legislation will strengthen existing monitoring systems and connect them into one unified system.
Part of improving existing monitoring systems includes installing very sensitive underground sensors on under-monitored volcanoes.
The devices will allow experts to keep detailed tabs on volcanic activity — which translates to giving communities — like those near Mt. Hood and Mt. Rainier — more time to prepare or even evacuate.
“With additional warning time, we’ll have more notice to mobilize emergency response resources, prepare for ashfall and to reach historically underserved populations before the eruption,” said Dan Douthit with the Portland Burau of Emergency Communications.
Cantwell’s legislation is part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act signed into law by President Trump this month.
Congress still needs to specify that some of the budget will be used on volcano monitoring.