The threat of a volcanic eruption is minimal in most areas of the United States. For people in Alaska, Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest, the threat is more common. These areas are prone to volcanic activity, and residents should be prepared for an unexpected eruption.
Portable Emergency Kit
If your community is in close proximity to a volcano, you should prepare a portable emergency kit (or kits) for your family. If you have to evacuate, an emergency kit can save your life, or at least make life more comfortable for you until you can go home. Include a portable water purifier and several days’ worth of food for each family member. Your portable kit should also contain medical supplies, a hand cranked radio, and N95 or N100 masks. Make sure you have masks that comfortably fit the face of each member of your family.
Preparing Your Home
You may not have to evacuate if there’s a volcanic eruption. In this case, you’ll need to be prepared for potential ash fall. Have the necessary supplies on hand to seal off any entrances to your home, to keep volcanic ash out. You don’t want to have to make a trip to the store to purchase duct tape if ash fall is imminent. If you have a ventilation system for heat or air conditioning, shut it off.
Volcanic ash is gritty, and can damage electronics and appliances. Protect computers or other expensive items that have fans and moving parts by wrapping them in plastic bags.
Traveling Outside During an Ash Fall Event
You can still drive outside during a light to moderate ash fall, if you’re prepared in advance. Wear your N95 mask to protect against breathing any of the ash. Goggles are necessary for eye protection. Without goggles, the ash will irritate or possibly even scratch your eyes.
Purchase two extra air filters for your vehicle. When Mount Augustine erupted in Alaska in early 2009, vehicle air filters sold out in many shops, in less than one day. Figure out which air filter your car or truck uses, and purchase at least one. Your original air filter will eventually clog with volcanic ash, and you’ll need to replace it. That filter should last through the eruptive event, but the ash can hang around for weeks after it’s all over, making a second replacement filter necessary.
Listen to the radio or watch the news for updates on conditions. Winds can change direction and send a potential ash fall away from your city, or can make conditions worse. Emergency officials will continually give updates, if possible, about air quality and other conditions you’ll need to be aware of. Advisories will let you know when it’s safe, or at least acceptable, to go out outside.
The most common problems for people after a volcanic eruption involve the ash fall. This can be prepared for in a short amount of time, and is more of an inconvenience than a life-threatening situation. However, in the event of a catastrophic eruption, you need to be prepared to evacuate, and to carry your portable emergency supply kit with you.