SAFETY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR VOLCANOLOGISTS AND THE PUBLIC
The following report was presented in 1994 in the Bulletin of Volcanology, volume 56, pages 151-154.
Prepared by: Shigeo Aramaki, chairman; Franco Barberi; Tom Casadevall; and Steve McNutt.

A copy of the IAVCEI poster "Safety at Volcanoes" can be acquired for your school by contacting Jon Dehn.

 

Introduction
Planning and Logistics
Operations
Equipment
Recommendations

INTRODUCTION

To research and monitor the activity of a volcano it is often necessary to approach dangerous sites, such as active vents and fumaroles. In such situations unexpected eruptive activity can jeopardize the lives of volcanologists as well as the lives of those attracted to volcanoes by simple curiosity. In recent years there has been a large number of unfortunate accidents involving volcanologists: in June 1991 three volcanologists together with 40 other people were killed when they were engulfed by a pyroclastic flow from the collapse of a lava dome at Unzen Volcano, Japan; in January 1993 six volcanologists and three other people were killed by an explosive eruption as Galeras volcano, Colombia; and in March 1993 two volcanologists were killed by a phreatic explosion at the crater of Guagua Pichincha volcano, Ecuador. Because of these accidents IAVCEI (the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior) created a Sub-Committee in March 1993 to consider procedures that could prevent, or at least reduce, the incidence of such disasters at active volcanoes.

The Sub-Committee considers that because IAVCEI is an international body for the promotion of the science of volcanoes and the mitigation of volcanic disasters, it cannot impose rigid regulations upon the conduct of individual volcanological researchers. However, IAVCEI can help it minimize the possible loss of human life and reduce social damages by suggesting various safety measures backed by intensive discussion and by the compilation of available data. It is hoped that this advice will drastically reduce unnecessary disasters involving volcanologists as well as the general public.

Because of the limited time available, the discussions of the Sub-Committee were mainly through tele-fax and e-mail exchanges between members and other interested participants. Initially the Sub-Committee collected existing documents pertinent to safety, and solicited opinions from specialists. The preliminary report of the Sub-Committee was presented at the IAVCEI General Assembly in Canberra, Australia, in September, 1993. The following report incorporates recommendations from discussions among the Sub-Committee members and from other discussions during the Canberra meeting.

PLANNING AND LOGISTIC

 

1. A research program on a volcano should include a comprehensive safety plan. Such a plan will minimize hazards and could save lives.

2. It is advisable that during the planning stage, the local authorities responsible for civil defense, disaster mitigation, and rescue should be contacted by the volcanologists, and the procedures to be taken in case of an emergency should be discussed.

3. The daily work schedule of the field party should be left with local authorities or colleagues who remain outside the hazardous area.

4. It is advisable to contact local researchers, especially where a volcano observatory is in operation. Such contact would reduce possible confusion at the time of an accident and minimize the possible embarrassment of local colleagues who would be the target of mass-media attention.

5. While working alone should be avoided, the size and composition of the field party should be optimum for the specific field work. A large group would require a different action plan to that for a smaller group. Visits to hazardous areas by very large groups, such as field excursions connected to scientific meetings, should be avoided.

6.
Do not include inexperienced people like tourists, reporters, TV crews, and others, for travel with scientists into hazardous areas. Dissuade such people from entering hazardous areas on their own.

7. In some situations the question of litigation arising from an accident or disaster should be considered. Prearranging insurance and indemnity declarations may reduce unnecessary complications.

8. Participants should be trained in basic first aid and other safety operations, such as the safe use of helicopters and operations in winter-time conditions.

9. In winter or at high altitude, cold, snow, and ice conditions should be expected and the effects of snow avalanches, phreatic explosions, and collapse of snow bridges and creation of caves due to melting of snow and ice should be considered. A snowstorm may totally obstruct movement to and from the volcano.

10. An integral part of planning is to evaluate risks of fieldwork and to establish personal guidelines for safe conduct. Common sense must always be foremost when planning fieldwork.

OPERATIONS

 

1. Knowledge of precursory eruption phenomena should be acquired whenever possible. Precursors may differ from volcano to volcano and consultation with local specialists is essential.

2. It is advisable to keep in radio communication with the observatory or monitoring headquarters located outside the hazard area, especially if seismographs and other monitoring equipment are available and under surveillance by the observatory staff.

3. Each time the field party enters the hazardous area, they should inform the local authorities or scientific colleagues of the proposed work schedule.

4. Always be alert and avoid hasty action. Approach dangerous spots such as active craters, fumarole fields, lava flows, pyroclastic flows, and debris flows with care and only when absolutely essential.

5. Work efficiently and spend the minimum time necessary inside the danger area.

6. Exposure to noxious gases can be minimized by working upwind of active craters, solfataras, fumaroles, and so on.

7. Avoid difficult routes that may cause fatigue. Avoid valleys that could channel avalanches and flows. Avoid depressions that could collect heavy gases. Avoid fresh lava surfaces which may conceal hot lava and gases.

8. Be alert for possible alternative routes into and out of dangerous areas, especially in the event of sudden changes in conditions.

EQUIPMENT
1. Hand-held, two-way radios are very useful for communications

2. Protective helmets (hard hats) with chin straps are essential.

3. Full-face and half-face gas masks (respirators) should be carried always, especially when working in thick fumes or in areas of high gas concentrations. Use the correct type of absorbers. filters with an ample supply of spares.

4. Clothing should be suitable for harsh weather conditions and for protection from ash fall and heat. Brightly colored clothing will increase visibility of field party members and help during possible rescue operations.

5. Heavy-duty boots with good ankle support are recommended.

6. Gloves provide protection from cuts, abrasions, and burns and are essential when working on fresh lava.

7. A basic first-aid kit for burns, cuts, and abrasions is essential.

8. Adequate water and food supplies are essential.

9. Topographic maps, compass, altimeter, knife, whistle, signal mirror, and so on, may be useful.

10. Identification tags or equivalent, with blood type, name and address of person to contact, and so on, will greatly help in case of serious accidents.

11. Goggles or other suitable eye wear may be useful for protecting eyes from blowing ash and corrosive fumes.

RECOMMENDATIONS

The Galeras and Guagua Pichincha accidents were from low-energy events -a blast from a glowing lava dome, and a phreatic eruption, respectively. Such minor events are possibly the most dangerous for volcanologists, as their precursors can be weak and may not be detected. The Sub-Committee recommends that the IAVCEI Commissions of Volcano Geophysics and on Geochemistry of Volcanic Gases should consider possible monitoring techniques that will lead to improved prediction of such low-energy events. The development of remote sensing and automatic telemetred techniques should be given special attention to reduce the time that volcanologists are exposed at dangerous sites.

Because of the limited time available, the discussions of the Sub-Committee were mainly through fax and e-mail exchanges between members and other interested participants. Initially the Sub-Committee collected existing documents pertinent to safety, and solicited opinions from specialists. The preliminary report of the Sub-Committee was presented at the IAVCEI General Assembly in Canberra, Australia, in September, 1993. The following report incorporates recommendations from discussions among the Sub-Committee members and from other discussions during the Canberra meeting.