Volcano Response Workshop to be Held in U.S. for the First Time


[featured image: G.E. Ulrich, USGS]

The United States Geological Survey has announced that the international Volcano Observatory Best Practices workshop will be held in the United States. Normally located in Italy, this year’s meeting will be at the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Washington.

August 6th marked the 30th anniversary for the Volcano Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP), which is a joint venture between the United States Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Agency for International Developments office of U.S Foreign Disaster Assistance (USAID/OFDA). The USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver, Washington, has invited the news media to visit on November 14th and interview VDAP scientists about their work with their foreign counterparts. This includes responding to eruptions and promoting hazard awareness and preparedness.

On hand for interviews will be VDAP scientists Andy Lockhart, Martin LaFevers, Aron Rinehart, Heather Write, CVO Scientist-in-Charge Seth Moran and Samuel J. Heyman Service to American Medal finalist, John Pallister.

“In order for volcano observatories to create the very best assessm , they collaborate and exchange information, methods and insights with international counterparts,” said Pallister. “One of the many ways that scientists collaborate is through meeting face-to-face at international workshops.”

The program was a response to the 1986 eruption of the Nevado del Ruiz volcano in Colombia that killed over 23,000 people. The USGS and USAID/OFDA formed VDAP after they recognized that the tragedy could have been avoided with assistance before the eruption. The program brings together the scientific community in the different countries to address common problems. The U.S. and its territories have more active volcanoes than any other country except Indonesia. Having access to the volcanoes worldwide (approximately 1,550 potentially active) together with cooperation among the scientists helps improve the ability to understand potential threats and develop ways to best present disasters from happening.

In November 1985, a lahar (volcanic mudflow) originating from Nevado del Ruiz volcano inundated the town of Armero, destroying all infrastructure in its path and killing 23,000 people. VDAP was developed in response to this tragedy. (USGS/VDAP)

In VDAP’s 30 years, they have sent teams to more than 30 foreign volcano crises, assisting with hundreds of volcanic events, and they’ve strengthened monitoring and response capacity in 12 countries.

Not only does it allow them to avoid tragedies, it also build international relationships. Based on the situation, VDAP will supply satellite data, donate monitoring equipment and any other support functions depending on the situation. The program also trains and helps countries establish and/or enhance their own capabilities to prepare in advance and manage volcanic crises. They also help with installing scientific instruments to monitor networks.

Staff from VDAP and the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology install electronic tiltmeters to monitor inflation of the ground at Mt. Pinatubo in the Phillipines in June 1991. (USGS/VDAP)

In return, the work gives the U.S. access to other active locations to improve the ability to understand potential threats and develop strategies that will be most effective in preventing disasters. Some of these include on ground assistance or remote. VDAP can supply satellite data, donate monitoring equipment and other support functions.

Some of the successes of VDAP include:

  • Nicaragua – On December 1, 2015, Momotombo volcano had its first eruption in 110 years. VDAP assistance included advising local scientist on eruption forecasting and providing equipment to allow real-time delivery of volcano motoring data based on monitoring sulfur dioxide volcanic gas.
  • Indonesia – VDAP has been assigning the Indonesian Center for Volcanology and Geologic Hazard Mitigation (CVGHM) since 2004 to improve its monitoring networks. Indonesia is the world most volcanically active nations. Mt. Merapi had its largest eruption in more than 100 years in October 2010. Thanks to the evacuations from the VDAP assistance, preemptive evacuations saved thousands of lives.
  • Chile – After an entire town of about 5,000 people were evacuated when Chaitén volcano reactivated in 2008, VDAP worked with the Servicio Nacional de Geología y Minería to install the first radio-telemetered monitoring instruments at the volcano. This allows transmission of information to scientists for rapid analysis. They also prompted a new plan ensuring adequate monitoring of the country’s hazards.
  • Colombia – Nevado del Huila erupted in 2007 and 2008 after being dormant for hundreds of years. Before the eruption, Servicio Geologic Colombiano reached out to VDAP, improving monitoring and establishing warnings that allowed evacuations ahead of time. This shows huge progress since the 1985 disaster at Nevado del Ruiz.
  • Philippines – VDAP worked with the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology to install an entire volcano-monitoring network to issue warning prior to the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo. They were able to evacuate and save thousands of lives before the massive eruption in June of 1991 with the help of their government and the U.S. military officials at Clark Air Base and U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay.

The event at CVO will take place on Monday November 14, 2016.


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