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Volcano Preparedness

Learn about the hazards of an erupting volcano and how to keep your family safe.

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Did you know there are more than 150 active volcanoes in the United States and its territories? You might feel better to learn that an ‘active’ volcano is one that has erupted in the past 10,000 years. Nonetheless, millions of Americans live, work or vacation in places that could be affected by volcanic activity. (Consult our map of risks in your community.)

An erupting volcano can blast ash, lava, solid rocks and gases into the air, creating hazards that can kill people, disrupt air travel and destroy property many miles away. If you live near a known volcano, active or dormant, following these tips will help you keep your loved ones safe.

Before a Volcano Eruption

VIDEO: 3 Easy Steps to Prepare

Prepare in Advance

  • Assembling an emergency preparedness kit.
  • Creating a household evacuation plan that includes your pets.
  • Staying informed about your community’s risk and response plans.
  • Educating your family on how to use the Safe and Well website.
  • Download the Emergency App for iPhone >> or for Android >>
  • How to Prepare for a Volcano

  • Talk about volcanoes with your family so that everyone knows what to do in case of a volcanic eruption. Discussing ahead of time helps reduce fear, particularly for younger children.
  • Make sure you have access to NOAA radio broadcasts:
  • Find an online NOAA radio station

    Search for a NOAA radio app in the Apple Store >> or Google Play>>

    Purchase a battery-powered or hand-crank NOAA radio in the Red Cross Store

  • Keep handy a pair of goggles and a dust mask for each member of your household in case of ashfall.
  • Ensure that every member of your family carries a Safe and Well wallet card.
  • Talk to you insurance agent. Find out what your homeowners’ policy will or will not cover in the event of a volcanic eruption.
  • Prepare a pet emergency kit for your companion animals.
  • Make a list of items to bring inside in the event of ashfall.
  • During a Volcanic Eruption

    Staying Safe During a Volcanic Eruption
  • Listen to a local station on a portable, battery-operated radio or television for updated emergency information and instructions. Local officials will give the most appropriate advice for your particular situation.
  • Follow any evacuation orders issued by authorities, and put your emergency plan into action. Although it may seem safe to stay at home and wait out an eruption, if you are in a hazard zone, doing so could be very dangerous.
  • If indoors, close all window, doors, and dampers to keep volcanic ash from entering.
  • Put all machinery inside a garage or barn to protect it from volcanic ash. If buildings are not available, cover machinery with large tarps.
  • Bring animals and livestock into closed shelters to protect them from breathing volcanic ash.
  • If You Are Outdoors

  • Seek shelter indoors if possible.
  • Stay out of designated restricted zones. Effects of a volcanic eruption can be experienced many miles from a volcano.
  • Avoid low-lying areas, areas downwind of the volcano, and river valleys downstream of the volcano. Debris and ash will be carried by wind and gravity. Stay in areas where you will not be further exposed to volcanic eruption hazards. Trying to watch an erupting volcano up close is a deadly idea.
  • If you are caught in an ashfall
  • 1. Wear a dust mask designed to protect against lung irritation from small particles.

    2. Protect your eyes by wearing goggles. Wear eyeglasses, not contact lenses.

    3. Keep as much of your skin covered as possible.

    After a Volcanic Eruption

    Staying Safe After a Volcanic Eruption

    If you do nothing else:

    1. Let friends and family know you’re safe.

    - Register yourself as safe on the Safe and Well website

    2. If evacuated, return only when authorities say it is safe to do so.

    3. Continue listening to local news or a NOAA Weather Radio for updated information and instructions.

    4. If people around you are injured, practice CHECK, CALL, CARE. Check the scene to be sure it’s safe for you to approach, call for help, and if you are trained, provide first aid to those in need until emergency responders can arrive.

  • Stay indoors and away from volcanic ashfall areas if possible. The fine, glassy particles of volcanic ash can increase the health risks for children and people with respiratory conditions, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema.
  • Whether you are indoors or outdoors:
  • Wear a dust mask designed to protect against lung irritation from small particles

    Protect your eyes by wearing goggles. Wear eyeglasses, not contact lenses.

    Keep as much of your skin covered as possible.

  • Take time to ensure your emotional recovery by following our tips.
  • Keep animals away from ashfall and areas of possible hot spots. Wash animals’ paws and fur or skin to prevent their ingesting or inhaling ash while grooming themselves.
  • Help people who require additional assistance—infants, elderly people, those without transportation, large families who may need additional help in an emergency situation, people with disabilities, and the people who care for them.
  • Avoid driving in heavy ashfall. Driving will stir up volcanic ash that can clog engines and stall vehicles. Abrasion can damage moving parts, including bearings, brakes, and transmissions.
  • Follow these tips for inspecting your home’s structure and utilities & systems after a volcano.
  • Take pictures of home damage, both of the buildings and its contents, for insurance purposes.
  • Wear protective clothing, including long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and sturdy shoes, and be cautious.
  • As soon as it is safe to do so, clear your roof of ashfall. Ash is very heavy and can cause buildings to collapse, especially if made wet by rain. Exercise great caution when working on a roof.
  • Learn more about how to clean up after a volcano, including the supplies you’ll need and how to handle fire hazards such as gas, electricity and chemicals.
  • Fact vs. Fiction

    Volcano Fact vs. Fiction


    Volcanoes erupt with regularity.


    Volcanoes generally experience a period of closely spaced eruptions followed by long periods of quiet. Most volcanoes show no regularity, and thus on the basis of past history alone cannot be considered "overdue" or "ready to blow."


    Volcanoes are unpredictable, erupting at any time without warning.


    Volcanoes usually give warning signs that they are going to erupt weeks to months or more in advance. Although we cannot predict when a volcano will start to be restless, once activity begins, scientists can make general forecasts about how soon an eruption will occur. A more difficult challenge for volcanologists is forecasting the size of an impending eruption.


    Lava flows are the most significant hazards from volcanoes in the United States.


    Although this is true in Hawaii, the hazards differ at the more than 150 volcanoes in other parts of the United States. Principal hazards outside Hawaii include:

    1. Volcanic ashfall resulting from explosive-style eruptions. Volcanic ash, the shattered remnants of volcanic rock, rises into the atmosphere, where it is a hazard to aircraft and affects large areas downwind when it falls back to earth. Where it falls in sufficient quantity, it can cause difficulties for vehicles, machinery, and utilities, and can be injurious to human health.

    2. Volcanic mudflows (lahars) resulting from the sudden melting of snow and ice during eruptions. Lahars can inundate river valleys tens of miles distant, destroying bridges, highways, and other types of development, as well as endangering people.


    Earthquakes cause volcanic eruptions.


    Earthquakes indicate a geologically active landscape, but they are not the cause of volcanic eruptions. In rare cases, large tectonic earthquakes have triggered eruptions of nearby volcanoes that have been poised to erupt anyway. In the case of Mount St. Helens, a flurry of earthquakes under the volcano suggested potential eruptive activity.

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