Interactive, educational materials provide guidance for staying safe following a volcanic eruption

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In Brief

Volcanic activity can cause widespread public health problems, including respiratory illness, water contamination, and issues with eye safety. The state of Washington, with five active volcanoes in its borders, faces serious volcanic threats from such post-eruption events as mudslides and ash fall. To prepare residents, the state developed materials for adults and children, including interactive educational strategies and booklets that target children's interest in volcanoes, while also encouraging them to educate and prepare their families.


Preparing for volcanic (and related seismic) activity is an issue that affects a small number of states, but volcanic eruptions can also be accompanied by a variety of hazards experienced in nonvolcanic states, such as earthquakes, mudslides, environmental damage, and poor respiratory health. The unique circumstance of living near an active volcano also presents numerous opportunities for integrating preparedness and evacuation skills into everyday life.
Of the five volcanoes within the state of Washington, Mount Rainier (the largest) is a little more than 50 miles away from the city of Seattle. Following the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980 and the subsequent deaths and destruction of environment and property, Washington has focused significant efforts on enhancing its residents' preparedness for volcanic eruptions and their consequences.

Specific issues
  • Residential development and population growth in the Cascades Range valleys have grown in the past decade, due partly to the region's natural beauty. A greater number of people living near active volcanoes increases the likelihood that more lives and property will be at risk during and following an eruption.

  • Primary hazards associated with volcanic eruptions are myriad, including pyroclastic flows (fast-moving clouds of super-heated gas and rock), mudslides, landslides, avalanches, and lava flows.

  • Secondary hazards are likely to affect human health and lifestyle and generally occur due to the effects of airborne and settling ash (composed of jagged, pulverized rock). These effects may include respiratory discomfort or damage, eye injury or irritation, slippery driving conditions, damage to electronic equipment and vehicles, roof collapses from ash buildup, contamination of drinking water, and damage to septic systems and drains.

The practice

The Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division developed volcano preparedness materials for adults and children that emphasize environmental understanding and evacuation/clean-up skills.

A variety of resources are available year-round in Washington to prepare resident are for hazards associated with the volcanoes in the Cascades Range. Several resources are tailored to Washington's Volcano Awareness Month in May, when preparedness activities are especially encouraged. Resources include:

  • Fact sheets addressing the effects of volcanic ashfall, including guidelines for cleaning clothing and household materials after ashfall and removing and disposing of volcanic ash
  • A brochure offering steps to mitigate ashfall damage, including steps appropriate for addressing the needs of children and pets and assuring that ashfall does not cause damage to vehicles or electronic equipment. Brochures are available in English and Spanish.
  • A video on sheltering in place during times when going outside may be unsafe
  • Educational, interactive materials for children, including:
    • A comic book for children in grades K-6, titled "The Volcanic Adventures of Terry the Turtle and Gracie the Wonder Dog," that discusses various elements of school planning for volcanic eruptions. The book describes a day in the lives of several animal "schoolchildren" and a superhero dog named Gracie. Issues raised include evacuation planning, storing emergency food and supplies, and how to behave when ashfall occurs.
    • A picture book for children in grades K-6, titled "The Beautiful Mountain in the Sky: How to Be Safe if a Lahar Flows Down the Mountain," presents basic facts about volcanoes and volcanic eruptions, describes the experience of living in Washington following the eruption of Mount St. Helens, discusses the problem of lahars (landslides of mud and debris caused by an eruption or associated seismic activity), and how to evacuate during a lahar warning.
  • Specialized communication campaign materials for Volcano Awareness Month, such as:
    • Preparedness information related to a variety of hazards, including earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, and chemical releases
    • Emergency response guides to volcanoes and lahars, sheltering in place, and releases of chemical agents and radiation
    • A poster with information on the five active volcanoes in Washington's Cascades Range
    • Resources for the "Prepare in a Year" program that encourages Washington residents to complete different activities each month
    • An interactive site where children can learn about volcanoes, lahars, tsunamis, severe weather, and earthquakes by reading entertaining information and playing online crosswords and jigsaw puzzles
    • A volcano preparedness curriculum for elementary and middle school teachers, created by the U.S. Geological Survey
What made this practice possible?
  • Planners, consultants, and designers focused on the learning needs of children, especially addressing the fact that information learned in school often is used later to prepare an entire family

  • An annual Volcano Awareness Month that brings attention to volcano preparedness activities and resources in May every year

  • Information and research on volcanoes available from such sources such as the US Geological Survey (USGS)

  • Creative uses of information and design allowed volcano preparedness information to be presented in an interactive format. Polling during Volcano Awareness Month even tested people's awareness of how to behave during seismic activity. Out of 957 respondents, 92 percent of people correctly replied that they would drop, cover, and hold onto something, rather than running or staying still.

  • A significant amount of preparedness information is applicable to children and able to be integrated into school curricula if teachers and/or administrators choose to do so.

  • Integration of information about volcanoes with other hazards that can accompany an eruption (eg, mudslides, earthquakes, chemical/radiation releases if facilities are disrupted) increases awareness of a variety of hazards and may make the information applicable to other jurisdictions.

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