On Sept. 6, 1983, Hawaii Civil Defense first alerted the public that it was expecting a “volcanic eruption that may have the potential to be explosive and dangerous.” Before Sept. 9, the public was greeted by television stations that were showing pictures of children climbing in and around massive fissures within Kilauea’s long-buried forest. By Sept. 10, the National Weather Service had deployed seismologists to the Hawaiian Islands.
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The week leading up to the Aug. 3 eruption, the U.S. Geological Survey was closely monitoring the 5,070-foot pahoehoe steamer as it docked on the west coast of Big Island.
And days before that, U.S. Geological Survey scientists had told The New York Times that the eruption could happen anywhere, with or without first being detected by the volcano observatory. The agency had given the Hawaii Fire Department a list of issues likely to trigger a volcanic eruption. They included a sudden change in the weather, a break in the current weather pattern or wind direction, an increase in the temperature at the summit or volcanic vents, a change in the wind, a sudden change in molten lava flow activity, melting snow or melting ice at the summit, and a shift in wind direction that could throw molten lava on to the surface or open a fresh crack in a large fissure. It even included a mention of energy in Hawaii’s east-west flow.
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If one thing was clear after four decades of close monitoring, it was that this type of volcano eruption could happen anywhere. So what is the best way to avoid being trapped by lava or swept into a lava lake as a result of a belching eruption?
Here are some tips from scientists and emergency responders gathered to examine the lessons of Hawaii’s 1980 eruption:
Listen to your local radio stations and the 24-hour news channels in your community if one of them is seeking an update from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, which manages the Kilauea observatory. This broadcasts is where information is being compiled on what’s happening at the summit of the volcano.
Read. Check. If you see an alert — if the volume of lava and steam in the ocean is rising, if the price of sulfur dioxide gas is increasing — make sure to call 911. If you live outside a designated earthquake and fire zone, make sure your family plans are ready to go into effect if there’s an evacuation order and it’s necessary.
Always be aware of the communities surrounding your home and the routes in and out.
Travel in a touristy area? Think about it: how can you do business? Can you send the family back to the mainland on a plane or automobile with time to spare?
(All these priorities and priorities were reflected in what the Kilauea volcano did with the government, and with every volcano. It has a 6-percent or more unemployment rate, as nearly half of the workforce could not return to work in its fields due to volcanic activity.)
Make sure that you think through your belongings and make sure you document anything that is left. If you’re a person with disabilities, that would be a priority. Take photos and write down stories. Take photos of items you can’t remove, something the Hawaii Insurance Advisory Board recommended in 2010, despite evidence that insurance rates for small rental property owners were higher in areas where lava destroyed people’s homes.
Stay in touch with your insurance agent and seek financing. Refinancing your mortgage can help. Taking out a loan from a state lender, to whom you may have previously insured your home for flood and earthquake risks, may be the best course. As hard as it may be, find out what avenues of government assistance are available. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Disaster Assistance Fund may offer grants of up to $40,000 to those who can prove a direct property damage.
Be prepared. In the case of an evacuation, the federal government may provide some help for individuals, but many of them will require assistance by the community. Take online classes to understand the earthquake, tsunami and volcanic evacuation systems available. Look into additional backup power systems. Get a vehicle and gasoline with multiple options of fuels, including home delivery. Find a full list of resources for these things at the Ready hub at preparedness.gov/resources.
Just say no.