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Community News Safety & Reliability October 09, 2023

Annual Sultan School District Evacuation Drill Prepares Community

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Annual Sultan School District Evacuation Drill Prepares Community

SULTAN, Wash. – On a cool fall morning on October 4, approximately 1500 Sultan students, age preschool to high school, made the trek from their school yard to the peak of Love’s Hill, in less than 40 minutes. Though some heart healthy cardio was had by all, that was not the primary purpose of the exercise. The real motivation for the movement was to practice how the students would evacuate to high ground in the unlikely event that a breach occurred at the Snohomish PUD’s Culmback Dam.

“The Sultan School District is dedicated to the safety of our students and the annual evacuation drill is one way that we deliver on that commitment,” said Dan Chaplik, Sultan School District Superintendent. “I’m very proud of our teachers, support staff and students for once again successfully completing this drill and improving on our total time from earlier years.”

The PUD’s Culmback Dam is an earthen embankment dam located approximately 16 river miles north of Sultan on the Sultan River, built in 1965, and expanded in 1984. In addition to generating affordable hydroelectricity for homes and business in Snohomish County and Camano Island, the dam also provides clean drinking water for the City of Everett, recreational opportunities at the Spada Reservoir, and appreciable flood control for the lowland areas in the town of Sultan.

While the PUD engages in extensive 24/7 monitoring operations at Culmback and has a robust dam safety program, a breach of the dam remains a remote, but real possibility.

“The PUD does everything in its control to ensure the safety and resilience of Culmback Dam and the community members we serve,” said Eric Schneider, Principal Engineer. “Culmback Dam has never had any issues, but we are not complacent. The PUD is constantly engaged with federal regulators and independent consultants to analyze, study and proactively address potential failure modes of the dam. Culmback Dam is designed to withstand the maximum credible earthquake for this region, but we will continue to plan for the worst, and that is why a drill like this one so important. I was beyond impressed with the organization and execution of Sultan School District’s evacuation drill.”

The annual evacuation drill is led by the Sultan School District with support from the City of Sultan, Snohomish County Fire District 5, Sultan Police, Gold Bar Police, Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office, and the Snohomish PUD. The drill has been happening annually for decades.

“The annual drill allows us to teach our community about the importance of having a plan if there is an emergency situation at the dam,” said Sultan Mayor Russell Wiita. “We hope that students will go home and pass that knowledge on to their parents. We know that Sultan is a growing community, and doing this drill every year helps us make sure that this important information is out and available if the unlikely worst-case scenario with the dam should occur.”

Sultan drill: map of the inundation area
Map of the inundation area

If a catastrophic dam breach occurred suddenly, community members in the inundation area would have approximately 90 minutes to seek high ground before flood waters arrived. PUD staff are responsible for notifying the Sultan Fire Chief who would then activate the four sirens located around the community. Residents and students in the inundation zone would then activate their plan to evacuate.

“It’s important that everyone living in Sultan and surrounding areas has a plan in case of a dam breach,” said Fire Chief Seth Johnson. “Even those residents who do not need to evacuate may be without electricity and access to basic services for an extended time after a catastrophic earthquake. This is why it’s so important that everyone has a plan in place and their emergency kit prepared.”

Information about preparing your emergency kit is available at

In addition to the annual drill, the PUD also provides dam safety related training for local emergency management agencies and city officials, including a functional exercise every five years where agencies practice their respective roles in a scripted dam failure emergency. More information on how the PUD manages safety at Culmback Dam can be found at