Emergency Preparedness Essentials



Volcanos are mountains that cover large pools of molten rock that sit below earthís surface. Periodically, volcanoes erupt, pushing molten rock to the surface. Eruptions occur after pressure created from gases rapidly increases. Sometimes volcanic eruptions are mild, but occasionally they are intense. Volcanic eruptions often create lava flows, dispersion of poisonous gasses, aerosolized ash, and leveled landscapes. Volcanic eruptions frequently move 100 miles or more downwind.

Since lava flows generate extreme heat, eruptions often create massive wildfires. Lava flow typically destroys massive amounts of property, forests, and other landscapes, but since they move slowly, people have time to evacuate their homes to safety.

Volcanic ash, which is composed of pulverized rock, is typically acidic, abrasive, smelly, and gassy. Although adult lungs are usually not harmed by volcanic gasses, these gasses can be harmful to the elderly, individuals with pulmonary disorders, and infants. Volcanic ash often damages machines, engines, and electrical devices. During volcanic eruptions, water often becomes saturated with heavy ash, which frequently causes roofs and weak structures to collapse. Cities far from the source of a volcanic eruption often get covered with ashes.

Volcanoes often eject molten rock in a sideways direction, traveling at high speeds for long distances. This phenomenon is called a "lateral blast." Lateral blasts often create high causalities and property damage. In fact, these explosions have destroyed large forests.

Fires, floods, acid rain, landslides, earthquakes, and other natural disasters often occur simultaneously with volcanic eruptions. Sometimes, tsunamis accompany volcanic eruptions.

In the United States, active volcanoes are located in the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii. Volcanoes are most dangerous within a 20 mile radius, but damage can occur within 100 miles of a volcanic eruption.

What to Do Before a Volcanic Eruption

Take these steps to safeguard yourself and property if you live near an active volcano:
  • Create an emergency preparedness kits with the following items: water, a battery-powered radio, freeze dried and canned food, bandages and other first-aid items, goggles, and face masks. Itís advisable to keep a small kit in your car in case youíre required to evacuate on short notice.
  • Develop a family emergency plan. Since your family may be separated during a disaster, itís essential to know how to establish contact with each other, how you will reunite, and other steps to take during an emergency.

What to Do During a Volcanic Eruption

  • Evacuate immediately from your home if an order is issued by local authorities.
  • Be cautious of potential mudflows and landslides. Mudflow danger increases near stream channels during heavy rainfall. Mudflows move at a quicker pace than a person can move. Never cross a bridge during a mudflow, but if you have to, always check upstream to ensure it is safe.
  • Stay clear of low-lying regions and river valleys.
  • Assist neighbors with special needs, including the elderly, infants, and the disabled.

What to Do After

  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on what is happening and what you should do. However, you should listen to NOAA Weather Radio, watch TV, listen to the radio or check the Internet often for official news and instructions as they become available.

More Information and Resources

  • Volcano Hazards Program. Website with volcano activity updates, feature stories, information about volcano hazards and resources.
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