Paper No. 55-6
Presentation Time: 3:15 PM
EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION STRATEGIES DURING A VOLCANIC EVENT: LESSONS FROM THE 2014-2015 KILAUEA EAST RIFT ZONE LAVA FLOW
Kīlauea Volcano has been erupting nearly non-stop since January 1983. During the past 34-plus years, lava erupted from Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō and other East Rift Zone vents has covered about 142 km2 of private and public land, including 13.5 km of highway, and burned 215 structures in several communities within Hawaiʻi Island’s Puna District. The most recent threat to island infrastructure was the “June 27th flow,” a tube-fed pāhoehoe flow erupted from the northeast flank of Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō. This flow, active from June 2014 through March 2015, extended 20 km downslope from the vent toward Pāhoa Village and neighboring subdivisions, causing great concern for residents and emergency responders. As they have throughout this ongoing eruption, USGS Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) scientists closely monitored the June 27th flow, mapping flow progress, assessing hazards, and providing timely information to the at-risk populace and agencies responsible for public safety. Communication strategies employed by HVO included daily eruption updates available as online posts and recorded telephone messages; frequent updates of web-hosted lava flow maps and images; forecasts of likely lava flow paths based on “paths of steepest descent;” participation in weekly (or more frequent) community meetings; presentations at twice-weekly briefings with County, State, and Federal officials; replies to telephone and email inquiries; participation in near-daily media briefings; and weekly “Volcano Watch” articles. The lava flow ultimately caused only modest impacts to infrastructure, but it provided valuable lessons, both learned and reinforced, about effective communication strategies during a volcanic event. These include: (1) direct, frequent interaction with affected residents and public safety officials builds critical trust and understanding; (2) images, maps, and presentations must be tailored to audience needs and background; (3) uncertainties in lava flow forecasts can be easily misunderstood, which can lead to unnecessary alarm among residents; (4) plain, jargon-free language is essential to successfully convey science and hazards; and (5) scientists and emergency responders working as unified team to present critical messages is an effective communication strategy in times of crisis.