“Vancouver, Vancouver, this is it!” These immortal words spoken by USGS geologist David Johnston at the onset of the May 18, 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens still echo and remind us that our volcanoes can quickly awaken causing major disruption and destruction to our communities.
May is Volcano Awareness Month and though no volcanoes in Washington State currently show indications of immediate reawakening, experience has taught us that volcanoes often give us just a few days of warning before an eruption begins.
Consider these facts:
• During the last 4,000 years, eruptions at Cascade volcanoes—from Washington State to northern California happened at an average rate of 1-2 per century, with individual eruptions lasting months, to years to decades.
• Seven volcanoes in the Cascade Range have erupted since our country’s birth; four of these eruptions would have caused substantial damage and loss of life if they occurred today.
• As the population increases in the Pacific Northwest, areas near volcanoes are being developed and recreational usage is expanding, putting more people and property at risk from volcanic activity.
To prepare for future eruptions and thus reduce their negative consequences, the Washington Military Department’s Division of Emergency Management (EMD) and the US Geological Survey (USGS), together with local emergency management agencies, work in partnership to develop emergency coordination plans with communities, and to coordinate communication and recovery efforts. The USGS is also working to improve eruption forecasting and warning capabilities at Cascade volcanoes as part of the National Volcanic Early Warning system. If you need information about plans for your area, please contact your local emergency management office.
Preparing to survive and recover from Washington’s next volcanic eruption will help keep our communities safe and bring peace of mind to inhabitants. Learn about the simple steps we can take to get ready. Preparing today will also help us get back to normal sooner after the next volcanic eruption.