Recommended Safety Measures for Volcanologists

The following safety measures were recommended by a committee of professional geologists appointed by the International Association of Volcanology and Chemistry of the Earth's Interior (IAVCEI). It was prompted by a high number of volcanologists that lost their lives in the line of duty during the 1990's and also by those who lost their lives during their studies of volcanoes in previous decades. The recommended safety measures were published in the Bulletin of Volcanology, volume 56, number 2, May 1994, on pages 151-153 under the title of IAVCEI News.

1. Planning and logistics.

1.1 A research program on a volcano should include a comprehensive safety plan. Such a plan will minimise hazards and could save lives.

1.2 It is advisable that during the planning stage, the local authorities responsible for civil defence, disaster mitigation, and rescue should be contacted by the volcanologists, and the procedures to be taken in case of emergency should be discussed.

1.3 The daily work schedule of the field party should be left with local authorities or colleagues who remain outside the hazardous area.

1.4 It is advisable to contact local researchers, especially where a volcano observatory is in operation. Such contact would reduce possible confusion at the time of an accident and minimise the possible embarrassment of local colleagues who would be the target of mass-media attention.

1.5 While working alone should be avoided, the size and composition of the field party should be optimum for the specific field work. A large group would require a different action plan to that for a smaller group. Visits to hazardous areas by very large groups, such as field excursions connected to scientific meetings, should be avaoided.

1.6 Do not include inexperienced people like tourists, reporters, TV crews, and others, for travel with scientists into hazardous areas. Disuade such people from entering hazardous areas on their own.

1.7 In some situations the question of litigation arising from an accident or disaster should be considered. Prearranging insurance and indemnity declarions may reduce unnecessary complications.

1.8 Participants should be trained in basic first air and other safety operations, such as the safe use of helicopters and operations in winter-time conditions.

1.9 In winter or at high altitude, cold, snow, and ice conditions should be expected and the effects of snow avalanches, phreatic explosions, and collapse of snow bridges and creation of caves due to melting of snow and ice should be considered. A snowstorm may totally obstruct movement to and from the volcano.

1.10 An integral part of planning is to evaluate risks of fieldwork and to establish personal tuidelines for safe conduct. Commonsense must always be foremost when planning fieldwork.

2. Operations

2.1 Knowledge of precursory eruption phenomena should be acquired whenever possible. Precursors may differ from volcano to volcano and consultation with local specialists is essential.

2.2 It is advisable to keep in radio communication with the observatory or monitoring headquarters located outside the hazard area, especially if seismographs and other monitoring equipment are available and under surveillance by observatory staff.

2.3 Each time the field party enters the hazardous area, they should inform the local authorities or scientific colleagues of the proposed work schedule.

2.4 Always be alert and avoid hasty action. Approach dangerous spots such as active craters, fumarole fields, lava flows, pyroclastic flows, and debris flows with care and only when absolutely essential.

2.5 Work efficiently and spend the minimum time necessary inside the danger area.

2.6 Exposure to noxious gases can be minimised by working upwind of active craters, solfataras, fumaroles, and so on.

2.7 Avoid difficult routes that may cause fatigue. Avoid valleys that could channel avalanches and flows. Avoid depressiosn that could collect heavy gases. Avoid fresh lava surfaces which may conceal hot lava and gases.

2.8 Be alert for possible alternative routes into and out of dangerous areas, especially in the event of sudden changes in conditions.

3. Equipment

3.1 Hand-held, two-way radios are very useful for communications.

3.2 Protective helmets (hard hats) with chin straps are essential.

3.3 Full-face and half-face gas masks (respirators) should be carried always, especially when working in thick fumes or in areas of high gas concentrations. Use the correct type of absorbers/filters with an ample supply of spares.

3.4 Clothing should be suitable for harsh weather conditions and for protection from ash fall and heat. Brightly coloured clothing will increase visibility of field-party members and help during possible rescue operations.

3.5 Heavy-boots with good ankle support are recommended.

3.6 Gloves provide protection from cuts, abrasions, and burns and are essential when working on fresh lava.

3.7 A basic first-aid kit for burns, cuts, and abrasions is essential.

3.8 Adequate water and food supplies are essential.

3.9 Topographic maps, compass, altimeter, knife, whistle, signal mirror, and so on, may be useful.

3.10 Identification tags or equivalent, with blood type, name and address of person to contact, and so on, will greatly help in case of serious accidents.

3.11 Goggles or other suitable eye wear may be useful for protecting eyes from blowing ash and corrosive fumes.

The above recommendations should be considered as basic precautions. Depending upon the roughness of the land, the activeness and type of volcanic activity, other precautions not anticipated herein may be required. Above all, use good sense and protective gear.