Volcanic eruptions can be quiet or explosive, and they can produce such hazards as lava flows, poisonous gases, and volcanic ash that can fly through the air sometimes for hundreds of miles. Volcanic eruptions can also be accompanied by other natural disasters like earthquakes, fire, acid rain, landslides, and tsunamis.
Experts define an active volcano as one that has erupted within the past 10,000 years, and there are over 150 such volcanoes located within the US and its territories. Most of them are found in Alaska, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest. Knowing what to do in case of volcanic eruption can save your life and that of your family.
1. Have an Emergency Plan Ready
Put together an Emergency Supply Kit that includes water, non-perishable food, flashlights and batteries, and a battery-powered or hand-crank radio. Make sure the kit includes breathing masks and goggles for everybody in the family.
Plan on how to contact or locate people if anybody gets separated. Make plans on how to help children, seniors, or disabled family members. Figure out how to take any pets with you, for if your home is no longer safe for you, it won’t be safe for them either.
Choose a sanctuary ahead of time, for Red Cross shelters don’t accept animals other than service animals like guide dogs. Have everything ready, so that if you get an order to evacuate, you can leave within minutes.
2. Follow the News
Follow a local news station on a battery-powered and portable television or radio for the latest emergency information and instructions on what to do in case of volcanic eruption. Make you pick a local station, for local officials will have the most relevant advice for people in your area.
3. Obey All Orders
If the authorities give an order to evacuate the area, leave. Trying to wait out an eruption can be extremely dangerous. The danger area surrounding an erupting volcano is at least 20 miles – and can sometimes be over 100 miles.
Leave as soon as you get the order, for waiting too long increases the risk of being exposed to ash fall which can damage a car’s engine and make a roof collapse if it piles up there. Follow any official instructions concerning routes and roads, for the eruption may make some roads impassable.
Similarly, the authorities may simply order people to avoid certain areas. Such areas will be those most severely affected by the eruption. Obey the authorities and stay away. Trying to get a close look at a volcanic eruption is a good way to get killed.
4. Stay Inside
If you don’t get an order to evacuate, get and stay indoors. Close all windows, doors, and ventilation sources like furnaces and chimney vents to keep ash and cinders out. If you have pets or livestock, bring them inside, too. After securing the people and animals, put vehicles and other machines in a garage if you have the time. If you don’t have a garage, cover the cars and other machines with large tarps.
5. If You Can’t Find Shelter, Go to High Ground
Moving on to another tip on what to do in case of volcanic eruption, you should also consider altitude. A volcanic eruption will often produce lava flows, mudflows, and floods – and they all flow downhill. Therefore, you should avoid river valleys and other low-lying areas. When approaching a bridge, look upstream to see if anything is coming. Don’t cross the bridge if you see a lava flow, flood, or mudflow approaching.
6. Avoid Places with a Lot of Ash Fall
Volcanic ash consists of tiny particles made from pulverized rock, glass, and minerals. It can damage both your lungs and your car’s engine. You should, therefore, not walk or drive in areas where a lot of ash has fallen. If you’re traveling through the area, check your radio for reports on areas with the heaviest ash accumulations.
Avoid places downwind of the volcano, for they will get the heaviest accumulations of ash. If you need to drive through heavy ash, don’t go any faster than 35 mph to avoid stirring it up.
7. Wear Protective Gear If You’re Outside
Wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Put on a dust mask to make sure you don’t breathe in particles that can irritate or damage your lungs. If you don’t have a dust mask, hold or tie a damp cloth over your mouth. Wear goggles or eyeglasses to shield your eyes from debris.
8. Avoid Geothermal Areas
Volcanos are often associated with geysers, hot spots, and mudpots. The ground around such places tends to be very thin, so you could easily fall in and get severely burned. Even if the area seems to have cooled, it might be nothing more than a thin crust over dangerously hot lava. Never try to cross a geothermal area.
9. After the Volcano
The first thing to is to let your family and friends know that you survived. The Red Cross set up a website called Safe & Well. Registering on it will help people looking for you find you and let them know you’re alive. If you had to evacuate, don’t go home until the authorities send word that is safe to do so. If you see someone who is injured, practice the Red Cross’s CHECK, CALL, and CARE protocol. Check to see if it is safe to approach the person, call rescue workers, and then administer First Aid if you know how to do so.
The above advice on what to do in case of volcanic eruption is admittedly not exhaustive. There are different types of volcanic eruptions, and they can range in severity. Nonetheless, authorities agree on the basics of what to do in case of volcanic eruption. They also agree that anybody who lives near a known active volcano should take steps to prepare themselves in case of an eruption.
Have you ever survived a volcanic eruption? Please describe your experience and what advice you found to be most helpful.