If you live in Alaska, Hawaii, or the Western half of the United States, you are probably within 200 miles of an active volcano.
An important clue to understanding volcanoes is knowing the location of the volcanic bands. Many of the world’s active volcanoes are located around the edges of the Pacific Ocean: the West Coast of the Americas; the East Coast of Siberia, Japan, the Philippines, and Indonesia; and in island chains from New Guinea to New Zealand–the so-called “Ring of Fire” (diagram to left). Recently, active volcanoes were also found in Iceland, the Kenya Rift Valley in Eastern Africa, Italy, and Hawaii. Looking at the locations of these volcanoes through the glasses of plate tectonics, we also notice that most volcanoes occur near the edges of the large “plates” that comprise the solid surface of Earth. Looking even more closely, we also notice that the dangerous explosive volcanoes, such as Mount St. Helens and Mount Pinatubo, that make the evening news are located where plates are crunching together. The quieter, “effusive” volcanoes, like Iceland and Hawaii, are found mostly where plates are coming apart or in the middle of a plate.
Hikingware.com wants you to play it safe if you are in a volcanic zone. Here are the procedures to follow, approved by the American Red Cross:
- Learn about your community warning systems and emergency plans.
- Be prepared for the hazards that can accompany volcanoes:
- Mudflows and flash floods
- Landslides and rockfalls
- Ashfall and acid rain
- Make evacuation plans.
- If you live in a known volcanic hazard area, plan a route out and have a backup route in mind.
- Develop an emergency communication plan.
- In case family members are separated from one another during a volcanic eruption (a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), have a plan for getting back together.
- Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the “family contact,” because after a disaster, it’s often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone knows the name, address, and phone number of the contact person.
- Have disaster supplies on hand:
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit and manual
- Emergency food and water
- Non-electric can opener
- Essential medicines
- Dust mask
- Sturdy shoes
- Get a pair of goggles and a throw-away breathing mask for each member of the household in case of ashfall.
- Although it may seem safe to stay at home and wait out an eruption, if you are in a hazardous zone, doing so could be very dangerous. Stay safe. Follow authorities’ instructions and put your disaster plan into action.
- Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities.
- Avoid areas downwind and river valleys downstream of the volcano.
- If caught indoors:
- Close all windows, doors, and dampers.
- Put all machinery inside a garage or barn.
- Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters
- If trapped outdoors:
- Seek shelter indoors.
- If caught in a rockfall, roll into a ball to protect your head.
- If caught near a stream, be aware of mudflows. Move upslope, especially if you hear the roar of a mudflow.
- Protect yourself during ashfall:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.
- Use goggles to protect your eyes.
- Use a dust mask or hold a damp cloth over your face to help breathing.
- Keep car or truck engines off.
- Stay out of the area defined as a restricted zone by government officials.
- Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many miles from a volcano. Mudflows and flash flooding, wildland fires, and even deadly hot ashflow can reach you even if you cannot see the volcano during an eruption. Avoid river valleys and low lying areas. Trying to watch an erupting volcano up close is a deadly idea.
- If you see the water level of a stream begin to rise, quickly move to high ground. If a mudflow is approaching or passes a bridge, stay away from the bridge.
- Mudflows are powerful “rivers” of mud that can move 20 to 40 miles-per-hour. Hot ash or lava from a volcanic eruption can rapidly melt snow and ice at the summit of a volcano. The melt water quickly mixes with falling ash, with soil cover on lower slopes, and with debris in its path. This turbulent mixture is dangerous in stream channels and can travel more than 50 miles away from a volcano. Also intense rainfall can erode fresh volcanic deposits to form large mudflows.
- Listen to a battery-operated radio or television for the latest emergency information.
- If possible, stay away from volcanic ashfall areas.
- When outside:
- Cover your mouth and nose. Volcanic ash can irritate your respiratory system.
- Wear goggles to protect your eyes.
- Keep skin covered to avoid irritation from contact with ash.
- Clear roofs of ashfall:
- Ashfall is very heavy and can cause buildings to collapse. Exercise great caution when working on a roof.
- Avoid driving in heavy ashfall.
- Driving will stir up more ash that can clog engines and stall vehicles.
- If you have a respiratory ailment, avoid contact with any amount of ash. Stay indoors until local health officials advise it is safe to go outside.
- Remember to help our neighbors who may require special assistance — infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.