USGS/Cascades Volcano Observatory, Vancouver, Washington
The USGS/OFDA Volcano Disaster Assistance Program
-- John W. Ewert and C. Dan Miller, 1995,
The USGS/OFDA Volcano Disaster Assistance Program:
U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 95-553.
(text only, no images or graphics)
An erupting volcano is one of nature's truly spectacular sights. From a
distance, or perhaps through the cameras of the news media, we often observe
roiling mushroom clouds of ash or flows of incandescent lava issuing from the
volcano's throat. If, however, you happen to live near that erupting volcano,
your life or livelihood may be endangered and your property at risk of
destruction -- a spectacle of power and beauty may become one of fear and
devastation. To help mitigate the effects of volcanic eruptions around the
world, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the U.S. Agency for International
Development's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) have developed the
Volcano Disaster Assistance Program.
Impact of Volcanic Eruptions
The decade of the 1980's and the first half of the 1990's was a period of
frequent destructive volcanic eruptions. During the past 15 years volcanic
activity killed more than 29,000 people, forced over 830,000 to flee from their
homes, and caused economic losses in excess of $3 billion (Simkin and Siebert,
1994). As rapidly growing populations in both developed and developing
countries encroach on areas of high volcano hazard, the potential for
volcano-related casualties will increase. Worldwide, more than 1,500 volcanoes
have erupted in the last 10,000 years, and about 630 of these have erupted in
historical time (Simkin and Siebert, 1994). On average, about 50 volcanoes
erupt each year; of these, about a dozen cause appreciable damage and may cause
human casualties. Several times a decade, volcanic eruptions cause major damage
and disruption and kill many people.
Development of VDAP
Following the tragic 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz Volcano, Colombia, in
which over 23,000 people lost their lives, the USGS and OFDA began the Volcano
Disaster Assistance Program (VDAP). The primary mission of this interagency
cooperative program is to reduce eruption-caused fatalities and economic losses
in developing countries. The principal components of VDAP are operational
funding from OFDA, a small core group of scientists at the USGS' Cascades
Volcano Observatory (CVO) in Vancouver, Washington, a large group of
contributing scientists from CVO and other USGS offices, and a cache of portable
volcano-monitoring equipment ready for rapid deployment.
The strategy employed by VDAP to reduce loss of life and minimize economic
disruption includes instrumental monitoring to detect the movement of
(molten rock) toward the surface and thereby forecast eruptions, and assessments
of volcano hazards and risk based on past eruptive events at a volcano.
A great majority of the world's potentially active volcanoes are unmonitored.
Less than twenty-five percent of volcanoes that are known to have had eruptions
in historical time are monitored at all, and, of these, only about two dozen are
thoroughly monitored. Moreover, seventy-five percent of the largest explosive
eruptions since 1800 occurred at volcanoes that had no previous historical
eruptions (Simkin and Siebert, 1994). Thus, until regular volcano surveillance
is much more widespread, a mobile crisis-response capability is needed to
quickly assess hazards and install monitoring equipment when a volcano becomes
restless. Otherwise, tragedies like the one at Nevado del Ruiz will be repeated.
Mobile Volcano Monitoring System
Recognizing that many potentially dangerous eruptions will occur at un-monitored
or under-monitored volcanoes, the USGS has developed a mobile volcano-monitoring
system which includes instrumentation to monitor seismicity, ground deformation,
certain volcanic gases, and debris flows
(Ewert and others, 1993).
Also included in the cache are weather radar and microbarograph instruments to
detect eruptions at times when darkness or inclement weather hide the volcano.
The technologies developed and experience gained by the USGS in other countries
also help prepare the USGS for future eruptions in the continental U.S. and
Alaska. The recent success of the VDAP team in minimizing loss of life and
property during the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, Philippines, illustrates
the capabilities of the VDAP. Locations of other recent VDAP responses are
shown on the map.
Response to Mount Pinatubo
In April 1991, following steam explosions and earthquakes at Mount Pinatubo,
VDAP helped the Philippine Instutute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS) to
assess and forecast volcano hazards at Mount Pinatubo. The VDAP team also
provided critical advice to the U.S. Air Force at Clark Air Base and the U.S.
Navy at Subic Bay Naval Station. The joint Philippine-U.S. team worked quickly
to install monitoring equipment to conduct reconnaissance geologic mapping and
dating studies to better understand Pinatubo's eruptive history, to prepare a
preliminary hazards-zonation map, and to educate and alert the population at
risk. Timely warnings issued by the PHIVOLCS-VDAP team -- combined with
effective communications between the scientists, emergency-management officials,
military commanders, and the public -- enabled the safe evacuation of at least
58,000 people prior to the volcano's climactic eruption on 15 June 1991. The
successful response to the Mount Pinatubo eruption validated the VDAP
mobile-team concept: A rapid response team such as the VDAP
be deployed in time to significantly assist a country to mitigate risks
associated with a major volcanic eruption, saving both lives and property.
Since the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo, VDAP has reponded to other volcano
crises in Mexico, Papua New Guinea, the Cape Verde Islands, and Indonesia.
Ewert, J.W., Murray, T.L., Lockhart, A.B., and Miller, C.D., 1993,
Preventing volcanic catastrophe: The U.S. International Volcano
Disaster Assistance Program: Earthquakes and Volcanoes, v.24, no.6,
Simkin, T., and Siebert, L., 1994, Volcanoes of the World, 2nd edition:
Tucson, Geoscience Press, 349p.
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