City of Carnation to take legal action against Seattle after more false alarms of possible dam break

The City of Carnation said it plans to take legal action against the City of Seattle after Carnation heard its eighth false alarm about a possible dam break in the past several years.


Leaders of the City of Carnation have been asking for the City of Seattle to fix its alarm system after experiencing false alarms since 2020.

The alarm system notifies residents that the Tolt Dam may be breaking, which would put the valley underwater and threaten the lives of thousands of families.

Seattle Public Utilities (SPU)controls the dam. The reservoir provides drinking water to around 500,000 people in Seattle and its surrounding areas, but not Carnation.

On Wednesday morning, Carnation city officials said the city heard another false alarm.

Residents said many people had been traumatized – again – following the sudden noise, including Collienne Becker, who was attending her online art class when the alarm sounded off.

“I started my 10 a.m. and it went off and I never picked the paint brush back up because I was traumatized the whole day,” she said. “Nobody can really understand the trauma it causes.”

City leaders said they directed SPU to disable the alarm Wednesday.


City leaders held a press conference the following day to address the reoccurring issue as patience was running low for many.

“This is now the 8th time that this dam alarm has gone off and it needs to stop,” said Sabrina Warren, transportation supervisor with Riverview School District, which has more than 3,000 students. “SPU needs to be responsible for their actions and they need to be accountable for their actions.”

Ana Cortez, Carnation City Manager, said the city is now working to decommission the dam and is against relicensing it.

“We will build a coalition to decommission the dam regardless of how many years it takes. We know it’s not going to happen overnight. We know it will be difficult. We know it will be nearly impossible, but somewhere we have to get started, and we can get started in 2024,” she said. “Since 2020, Seattle has victimized Carnation time and time again. We will exhaust all measures until the dam is decommissioned.”

“We oppose the relicensing of the Tolt Dam. We will be taking the steps that are necessary to have those conversations and the proper documentation with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” she added.

Cortez said she blamed two partners for Wednesday’s incident – King County Office of Emergency Management (KCOEM) and Seattle Public Utilities – while announcing to the public that she is requesting a full investigation into KCOEM’s protocols, budget and staff capacity.

“King County is responsible for emergency communications. It failed this community last night. Yesterday was not the first time. King has been unable to demonstrate that it can and that it will be a reliable partner. King County has one job. King County does not help evacuate. It does not help with funding. It does not provide any type of social capital. The one job they have is to help communicate -- communicate the facts in a timely manner. The Office of Emergency Management failed to do this one job yesterday,” Cortez said.

“The City of Seattle is our second partner. It has demonstrated, once again, that it cannot safely reliably operate the alarm system that is in place for the safety of this community,” she added.

Cortez said predictability and consistency are two sacred principals in government, but Seattle Public Utilities has lacked in these areas.

“Seattle has failed in these two areas. As of the time of this press conference, Seattle does not have an explanation for what happened yesterday,” she said. “At this time, the system has become more traumatizing than the dam itself.”

City Councilmember Brodie Nelson took the podium and shared an experience he and his family, including his five-year-old child, had experienced.

“We left our pets behind. We got sobbing kids as they think a mudslide is going to come over our town. Only to realize, ‘Oh, it’s just another false alarm, head back home.’ This is PTSD for everyone in our community. SPU needs to take action and be accountable to what they have done to our community,” he said.

“We are done with apologies. We are done with, ‘I’m so sorry’ because it will happen again. We were told it won’t happen again, but it keeps happening,” another city official said.

“There are some areas that can barely hear it (alarm system). We are left with a system that is far worse since October 18th,” an official said after sharing the City of Seattle provided what it had called an updated alarm system last October.

Thursday’s announcement comes after the city’s previous press conference last November sharing its concerns about the false alarms.

#NEW: The City of Carnation is holding a press conference sharing its concerns and frustrations with the Tolt Dam early...

Posted by Louie Tran on Wednesday, November 15, 2023


KIRO 7 News stopped by Seattle Public Utilities in downtown Seattle to request an in-person interview.

A spokesperson declined our request, but sent the following statement:

“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.

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

We asked for further clarifying details on the agency’s statement.

A spokesperson for the agency said they had disabled a portion of the alarm system at the request of the City of Carnation.

The alarm’s weekly tests will no longer sound off, but in the event of an emergency, residents will still be alerted through the system, a spokesperson for the City of Carnation added.

A spokesperson for SPU also said they have been in communication with the City of Carnation immediately after Wednesday’s incident.


A week later, on Apr. 3, Seattle Public Utilities released the following statement with the latest on the investigation.

“Seattle Public Utilities’ (SPU) investigation into the unplanned siren activation in Carnation on March 27, 2024, is ongoing. To date, we have learned that one of our vendors, Federal Signal, accidentally caused the activation while doing remote work on the system. Federal Signal has said that one of their employees failed to follow procedures by not turning off siren communications while performing the planned work. Federal Signal has apologized to SPU and asked us to convey their apology to the Carnation community.

“As part of our investigation, SPU is asking anyone in the Carnation area who heard the unplanned siren on the morning of March 27 to contact us so we can gather some information: short survey about unplanned sound on March 27, 206-494-5986, or email at tews.info@seattle.gov

“The Tolt Dam remains safe. SPU monitors it 24/7, 365 days a year, and following the March 27 unplanned sounding, we have increased daily inspections. Our robust dam safety program includes daily visual inspections and instrument readings by operators, dam safety quarterly inspections, federal annual inspections, and independent consultant inspections every 5 years.

“SPU has cancelled the weekly noon siren test on April 3 in Carnation while we continue to investigate. We have worked with King County Office of Emergency Management to ensure the community would be notified in the unlikely event of a dam emergency through the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) System. WEA would broadcast a safety message, similar to an Amber Alert, to all cell phones in the impacted area. No one needs to subscribe-these alerts are automatic.”

For information about the Tolt Dam Early Warning System, visit: Tolt Dam Early Warning System - Utilities | seattle.gov


KIRO 7 News also reached out to King County to get its response following the press conference.

A spokesperson shared the following statement:

“Seattle Public Utilities owns, maintains, and operates the Tolt River Dam Early Warning System, which is a series of outdoor sirens in and near the City of Carnation to warn of dam failure. This is the system that sent out a false alarm yesterday. ALERT King County is a robust, all-hazards alert and warning system managed and operated by King County Emergency Management; ALERT King County notifies the public through phone calls, texts, and/or emails in the event of an emergency. Following verification of the false alarm with the SPU siren system yesterday, KC OEM followed procedures and sent an ALERT King County message to the Carnation area about the false alarm.”

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