Best Strategy for Surviving
Volcano Disasters...

What are the Characteristics of a Volcano?

A volcano is usually a mountain that opens downward to a reservoir of molten rock below the surface of the earth. Unlike most mountains, which are pushed up from below, volcanoes are built up by an accumulation of their own eruptive products. When pressure from gases within the molten rock becomes too great, an eruption occurs. Eruptions can be quiet or explosive. There may be lava flows, flattened landscapes, poisonous gases, and flying rock and ash.

A Volcano Eruption Spewing Hot Lava

However, at least two types of volcanoes exist in the U.S. that are not mountains. One exists in Hawaii on the Big Island. It has a lot of volcanic action at the edge of the island that has been ongoing for some years. The Yellowstone Park area in Wyoming is classed as a potential super volcano. If it ever erupted, probably life as we know it today would change globally and the rest of this discussion would be mute!

There is a dangerous volcano myth that some believe as fact!

Myth: Volcanoes take months or years in erupting after the first signs of activity.

Fact: Volcanoes can actually erupt within one week after the first signs of activity. The first steam eruption at Mount St. Helens on March 27, 1980, was preceded by only 7 days of intense earthquake activity. The climactic eruption, on May 18, followed seven weeks later. An eruption of Redoubt Volcano

The danger area around a volcano covers approximately a 20-mile radius. Some danger may exist 100 miles or more from a volcano, leaving Montana and Wyoming at risk.

To determine the chances of a volcanic eruption in your area or if you might be affected by one by living downstream from one, click on the following FEMA link.

How can you protect yourself from a volcanic eruption?

The following information will be helpful in understanding volcanoes; what happens; how you need to prepare and take proactive steps during and after a local volcanic eruption.

Are all Volcano Eruptions Similiar and What Typically Happens?

Below are three video's of volcanos. The first is from USGS which is the scientist perspective. The second shows a live volcano eruption with hot magma and earth ejections. The third video is a CBS News report by Dan Rather of the Mt. St. Helen's eruption in 1980 in Washington.

Volcanic eruptions may occur at many different levels of intensity. Many are just “grumblings” that may not materialize for some period of time. At some point, some volcanoes finally release their full fury into the surrounding environment.

The interest and concern of this topic deals with those eruptions that are truly explosive, sending tons of volcanic ash high into the air or creating large lava flows. Mount St. Helens eruption in Washington in 1980, blew millions of tons of ash and steam but did not have significant lava flow like the volcanoes of Hawaii typically do.

Because of their intense heat, lava flows are great fire hazards. Lava flows destroy everything in their path, but most move slowly enough that people can move out of the way.

Fresh volcanic ash, made of pulverized rock, can be abrasive, acidic, gritty, gassy, and odorous. While not immediately dangerous to most adults, the acidic gas and ash can cause lung damage to small infants, to older adults, and to those suffering from severe respiratory illnesses. Volcanic ash also can damage machinery, including engines and electrical equipment. Ash accumulations mixed with water become heavy and can collapse roofs. Volcanic ash can affect people hundreds of miles away from the cone of a volcano. The Mount St. Helens volcano blew ash miles into the atmosphere affecting the turbines of jetliners passing through its plume even many miles away.

Sideways directed volcanic explosions, known as "lateral blasts," can shoot large pieces of rock at very high speeds for several miles. These explosions can kill by impact, burial, or heat. They have been known to knock down entire forests. Wildlife is totally decimated.

Volcanic eruptions can be accompanied by other natural hazards, including earthquakes, mudflows and flash floods, rock falls and landslides, acid rain, fire, and (under special conditions) tsunamis.

Surviving Volcano Disasters by Proper Planning and Actions

To begin with, contact your local emergency management office to learn about community emergency plans and what you should include in yours.

  • Inquire about emergency plans and procedures at your child’s school, at your workplace, and at any nursing home, assisted living or day care center where a member of your family is receives care.

  • Make a family disaster plan that includes out-of-town contacts and locations to reunite if you become separated.

  • Be sure everyone knows home, work and cell phone numbers, and how to call 9-1-1.

  • Assemble a 3-day disaster supplies kit with food, water, medical supplies, battery-powered radio and NOAA Weather Radio All Hazards, batteries, flashlights, and other items.

  • Put important documents such as birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, wills, deeds, financial and insurance records in a fire- and water-safe location or safe deposit box.

  • Close all windows, doors, and dampers.

  • Bring animals and livestock into barns and sheds if possible, other enclosed shelters otherwise.

What Things You Should Do to Survive a Volcano Disaster...

Although large volcano eruptions are rare occurrences on the planet, they are not to be taken lightly. Generally, in populated areas, a number of scientist and experts are monitoring the symptoms 7X24 and provide the general public with timely information and probabilities of an eruption. There are many signs that alert scientists to a pending eruption but even then, it’s not a perfect science.

  • If you live near a known volcano, active or dormant, be ready to evacuate at a moment's notice. Globally, people have been known to get accustomed to the “false eruptions” and then ignore the final warning all too late.

  • If you have no other choice but to live in the area, build up an exit kit with a pair of goggles and disposable breathing mask for each member of the family.

  • Stay away from active volcano sites if at all possible—they are pretty unpredictable.

  • Even if within 5 miles, be prepared for the hazards that can accompany volcanoes: mudflows and flash floods; landslides and rock falls; forest fires; earthquakes; ash fall and acid rain; and tsunamis.

Actions to Take After Surviving a Volcanic Disaster.

If a Volcano Erupts Where You Live

  • Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities and evacuate immediately from the volcano area to avoid flying debris, hot gases, lateral blast, and lava flow.

  • Have the appropriate exit transportation for the area and plan as many escape routes as possible.

  • Have extra air filters for your car to protect the engine from ash—very abrasive to mechanical internals.

  • Be aware of mudflows. The danger from a mudflow increases near stream channels and with prolonged heavy rains. Mudflows can move faster than you can walk or run. Look upstream before crossing a bridge, and do not cross the bridge if a mudflow is approaching.

  • Avoid river valleys and low-lying areas.

  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

If Caught Inside or Near to Shelter

  • Close all windows, doors, and fireplace dampers.

  • Put all machinery inside a garage or barn.

  • Bring animals and livestock into barns and sheds if possible, other enclosed shelters otherwise.

Protect Yourself from Falling Ash if Caught Outside of Shelter

  • Seek shelter indoors as soon as possible.

  • Listen to a battery-powered radio or television for the latest emergency information.

  • If you have a respiratory ailment, avoid contact with any amount of ash.

  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants.

  • Use goggles and wear eyeglasses instead of contact lenses.

  • Use a dust mask or hold a damp cloth over your face to help with breathing.

  • Stay away from areas downwind from the volcano to avoid volcanic ash.

  • Close doors, windows, and all ventilation in the house (chimney vents, furnaces, air conditioners, fans, and other vents.

  • Clear heavy ash from flat or low-pitched roofs and rain gutters.

  • Avoid running car or truck engines. Driving can stir up volcanic ash that can clog engines, damage moving parts, and stall vehicles.

  • Avoid driving in heavy ash fall unless absolutely required. If you have to drive, keep speed down to 35 MPH or slower.

Additional Resources for Surviving Volcano Disasters:

Get additional information from:

Historical Notes for Surviving Volcano Disasters:

For a general education of one of this country’s most recent volcanic eruptions go to the Wikipedia link below.

Mount St. Helen's Eruption

For a video and encapsulated set of facts, follow this YouTube video from USGS:

For some incredible footage of the eruption view this BBC YouTube video.


The content of this guide is in the public domain. Requested attribution is as follows:


From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard Messages. Produced by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.


American Red Cross:


Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):


Produced by the: National Disaster Education Coalition consisting of:



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