ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • Geography, Nature & Weather

How to Prepare for a Volcanic Eruption

Updated on September 10, 2012

How to Prepare for a Disaster

Volcanic eruptions are unpredictable. This characteristic and the tremendous power they release during volcanic activity turns them into extremely dangerous natural phenomena. People living in areas where volcanic activity is known to occur should be prepared for a potential natural disaster. It is extremely important to take the necessary precautionary measures so as to avoid the consequences of a volcanic event.

It is vital to evaluate the possible risks and if necessary find a safer location where to take shelter with anticipation. A few days or weeks may not be time enough to prevent the consequences of an eruption. Safety plans should be practiced before the signs of a disaster begin to manifest. Evacuation maneuvers must have been learned, as well. It's fundamental to maintain communication with your local authorities, so as to have on hand disaster response plans ready to be used when needed.

How to Monitor Volcanoes

Correlation Spectrometer
Correlation Spectrometer | Source

Volcanic Eruption Prediction

Geologists utilize various instruments to monitor the behavior of volcanoes and predict their activity. Scientists use seismographs to predict the displacement of magma underground. Hours or days before an eruption, seismographs often detect intense ground movements, signaling volcanic activity is about to occur. Orbiting satellites provide images and through the use of special sensors, they can detect heat, sulfur dioxide and minor changes in the Earth's crust. A correlation spectrometer is used to measure ultra-violet radiation as an indicator of sulfur dioxide content, one of the main gases during an eruption.

Before an eruption, there is usually intense seismic activity. This is a sign that magma is moving up into the underground channels finding its way into a vent and out to the surface. Magma moving towards the surface can produce series of earthquakes, along with ground deformation, changes in water and gas chemistry, and sinking and cracking of the flanks of a volcano. When volcanic activity is detected, trained personnel may perform ground surveys, and install instruments to determine the probability of an eruption.

What to Do During a Volcanic Eruption

One of the most important things to bear in mind in the event of a volcanic eruption is preparation. If you live near a region of high volcanic activity, make all efforts to be prepared in advance for an unwanted but latent natural disaster. You may want to establish permanent communication with your local officials; follow their instructions and learn information pertinent to evacuation and sheltering.

If you are instructed to evacuate, don't hesitate and do it as soon as possible. With modern advances and technology, your local authorities may have already monitored geological volcanic factors, and evaluated the economic and human risks. Do not remain in your home, even though you consider it to be safe. Volcanoes eject ash, lava, rocks, and hot gases that can put your life at stake.

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit
First Aid Kit | Source

Avoiding Traffic Jams

Traffic Jam
Traffic Jam | Source

Emergency Preparedness

During a natural disaster, there are some basic supplies that you should have at hand, as they will help you endure stressful moments. One of this basic provisions is an emergency kit. An emergency kit should include sufficient amounts of food and water for you and your loved ones, as well as the pets. You should include essential medicines, for those under medication; flash light and batteries; first aid kit, including, adhesive bandages, sterile gauze pads, tweezers and scissors, disposable gloves, chemical ice pad or ice bag, disposable syringes, eye patches, antiseptic wipes and soap, thermometer, and manual.

Volcanic ash can seriously damage your health. It is advised to protect yourself with appropriate respirators, such as an N-95 disposable respirator, which you can purchase at hardware stores. You may use a dust mask; however N-95 respirators offer 95% filtration of particles. A map or GPS system, and a working cellular may help to find the way out from these tragic episodes. Volcanic ashes can obscure visibility and may turn the road slippery, as well.

Have your car ready in advance before the event of a natural disaster. One of the most important aspects to be aware of is the car's tires. During an eruption, pyroclastic fragments (material ejected from a volcano) may fly away for miles in the air and land on the road. Pyroclastic fragments usually contain a mixture of materials varying in size from fine ash to blocks and bombs which can be as large as a house. A worn tire could blow out easily if it rolls over a pyroclastic particle.

Second most important aspect in regards to your car is: You should make sure that your car's tank is full at all times, especially if you live in an area under high risk of an eruption. It could be necessary to travel for miles away from the point of disaster. During natural disasters, the demand for car's fuel may increase at gas stations. It's a good practice to maintain your car's tank full at all times to prevent jams at gas stations.

Follow Evacuation Instructions

Evacuation Route
Evacuation Route | Source

How to Evacuate

Maintain your radio or TV tuned to the local news for volcano updates. Maintain your senses alert for warning signals and disaster sirens. Go over your emergency kit and make sure that you have packed all pertinent supplies. Disconnect electrical appliances to prevent the risk of electrical shock when the power is restored.

Make sure that your car is ready. Take only the essential items with you. Follow the designated evacuation driving routes only. During evacuation maintain the radio tuned for further evacuation instructions and do not turn it off until you are safe.

Volcano Facts

  • Sulfur dioxide is one of the principal gases in an eruption. Increased amounts of sulfur dioxide often signal the danger of a volcanic eruption.
  • On May 13, 1991, 500 tons of sulfur dioxide were detected at Mt. Pinatubo in the Philippines. Two weeks later, the emissions of sulfur dioxide increased to 5,000 tons.
  • In 1985, the eruption of Nevado del Ruiz in Armero, Colombia, buried the town of Armero, in mud and rubble, only hours after the eruption.
  • Lack of communication between local authorities and the inhabitants of Armero prevented the evacuation of 90% (21,000) of the population who perished a few hours later.
  • When volcanic activity began to manifest on Mt. St. Helens in 1980, scientists increased the monitoring of the volcano. Monitoring was further increased when steam, ash eruptions and a bulge on one side of the volcano appeared. Restriction and evacuation measures were put into practice, as well as a great flow of information. The economic losses amounted more than $1.8 billion, and 68 lives were lost. Without monitoring, the effects on both economic and human loss could have been much greater.
  • On September 29, 1996, a volcanic eruption melted an icecap in Iceland. From this event, and by using monitoring equipment, scientists were able to predict a large outpouring flood along the Skeidar River. The flood caused $15 million in economic damages, fortunately, there were no lives lost.
  • Mt Rainier in the State of Washington in the U.S. is considered among one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world. Due to its large amount of glacial ice, Mt. Rainier could produce massive lahars during an eruption.
  • Popocatepetl volcano, which remained dormant for many years, has become active, placing nearly one million nearby inhabitants and another 30 million, who reside inside a 34 miles radius, at risk.
  • Two million residents are at risk under Mt. Vesuvius latent threat of eruption in Naples, Italy.

Geologic Survey

Do you know someone who has been directly impacted by a volcano?

See results


Submit a Comment

  • unvrso profile image

    Jose Juan Gutierrez 5 years ago from Mexico City

    Both earthquakes and volcanic eruptions can produce tremendous devastating results. Plate tectonic movements, which play an important role in both natural disasters, occurs often, placing many major cities, largely populated, at risk around the world.

    There are very useful techniques that detect earth movements in the earth's crust or sufur dioxide levels, which can signal a volcanic eruption; however, predicting earthquakes is more complicated.

    Knowing how to react during these events can help save your own life, as well as that of others.

    Thanks for leaving your comment on this hub.

  • profile image

    whowas 5 years ago

    This was a very interesting and informative hub and also of quite deep personal significance to me.

    I spend a great p[art of my year in my adopted home of Italy which is rife with seismic activity. In the last few years there have been two major earthquakes - which are not identical with volcanic eruptions I know - but have a similarly devastating impact on whole regions and communities.

    Both seismic activity and volcanic activity seem equally difficult to predict, despite everyone's best efforts so far. It is very important for the proper precautions, education and evacuation systems to be in place in any community which is at risk.

    Very interesting hub.