The Management of Volcano Emergencies: Nevado del Ruiz

  • B. Voight

Abstract

This chapter analyzes the circumstances and events that contributed to the loss of 23 000 lives in the 1985 Nevado del Ruiz catastrophe, providing useful guidelines for the management of future volcano emergencies. The presentation is organized into two principal sections. The first is a condensed chronicle of events and actions taken from November 1984 through to November 1985 that provides the background for the crucial events of November 13. In the second section, factors are evaluated that influenced the catastrophic outcome, and lessons are identified to avoid similar future occurrences.

In hindsight, the government on the whole acted sluggishly, although with vigor after September; but it was not willing to bear the economic or political costs of early evacuation or a false alarm. Scientific studies foresaw the hazards — including the recognition that several towns were in the “wrong place”, vulnerable to lahars generated by eruption-induced snowmelt — but were insufficiently precise to prompt reliable warning of the crucial event before the last possible minute. Catastrophe was therefore the calculated risk, and this combination — the limitations of prediction/ detection, the underadvised and inadequately prepared local authorities, the unprepared populace, the refusal to accept a possible false alarm, and the lack of will to act on the uncertain information available — provided its immediate and most obvious causes. The crucial event occurred just two days before the Armero emergency-management plan was to be critically examined and improved. The numeroes misjudgments which delayed progress of emergency management over the previous year — especially the lack of a timely hazard map — contributed significantly to the tragic outcome. Thus, the catastrophe was not caused by technological ineffectiveness or defectiveness, nor by an overwhelming eruption or an improbable run of bad luck, but rather by cumulative human error.

The main lessons are that hazard assessments and maps should be prepared well in advance of volcanic crises, the most vulnerable communities should be identified and reliable mitigation measures (including thorough public education and a tested warning system) should be undertaken at a very early stage, and emergency management must confront in advance the issues of risk communication, uncertainty, and false alarms so that decision making is not delayed and rapid public response may occur during times of crisis.

Keywords

Explosive Arena Sorghum Boulder Dispatch 

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1996

Authors and Affiliations

  • B. Voight
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

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