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Community preparedness for volcanic hazards at Mount Rainier, USA

Vinnell, L.J., Hudson- Doyle, E.E., Johnston, D.M., Becker, J.S., Kaiser, L., Lindell, M.K., Bostrom, A., Gregg, C., Dixon, M. & Terbush, B. 2021. Community preparedness for volcanic hazards at Mount Rainier, USA. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 10(1), p.10. doi:10.1186/s13617-021-00110-x


Lahars pose a significant risk to communities, particularly those living near snow-capped volcanoes. Flows of mud and debris, typically but not necessarily triggered by volcanic activity, can have huge impacts, such as those seen at Nevado Del Ruiz, Colombia, in 1985 which led to the loss of over 23,000 lives and destroyed an entire town. We surveyed communities around Mount Rainier, Washington, United States, where over 150,000 people are at risk from lahar impacts. We explored how factors including demographics, social effects such as perceptions of community preparedness, evacuation drills, and cognitive factors such as risk perception and self-efficacy relate to preparedness when living within or near a volcanic hazard zone. Key findings include: women have stronger intentions to prepare but see themselves as less prepared than men; those who neither live nor work in a lahar hazard zone were more likely to have an emergency kit and to see themselves as more prepared; those who will need help to evacuate see the risk as lower but feel less prepared; those who think their community and officials are more prepared feel more prepared themselves; and benefits of evacuation drills and testing evacuation routes include stronger intentions to evacuate using an encouraged method and higher self-efficacy. We make a number of recommendations based on these findings including the critical practice of regular evacuation drills and the importance of ongoing messaging that focuses on appropriate ways to evacuate as well as the careful recommendation for residents to identify alternative unofficial evacuation routes.

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