Can You Prepare For A Volcano?

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Can You Prepare For A Volcano?

There are a number of disasters, natural or man-made, where a great deal of preparation greatly increases your chances of survival. Then there are others, like volcanic eruptions or asteroid strikes, where your option are, to say the least, more limited. You might not consider a volcano as the most likely event to ruin your day, and you’d be right. Still, it makes sense to know about them and what you might be able to do to prevent being a victim of one.

A volcano is a rupture in the crust of the earth which allows lava (molten rock at 750-1250 degrees Fahrenheit), ash, and gases to escape from deep below the surface. The violence of volcanic eruptions is so great that boulders can come raining down from the sky to flatten houses and, perhaps, you.

Most have the impression that a volcano is a conical mountain with smoke and fire spewing from the top, such as you see today in Hawaii. In actuality, however, most volcanos can be active without displaying physical signs for thousands of years.

Volcanoes can also take a number of forms: In Yellowstone National Park, a huge dormant super-volcano looks more like flat land than a cone. Indeed, it takes some observation to know you’re walking on top of it. Geysers like ‘Old Faithful” exist as evidence that there’s still a great deal of pressure and molten rock below the surface.

Old Faithful Geyser

One doomsday scenario includes the eruption of this huge land feature, which is called a “caldera” (meaning “cauldron” or “cooking pot”). This disaster last happened 640,000 years ago, but it’s thought to be an event that is likely to occur again “soon”. In geologic time, “soon” means in the next 40,000 years or so.

If you live in a volcanically active area, there are a few things that you can do to decrease the chance of becoming a victim. Monitor volcanic activity reports via NOAA radios and evacuate the area if authorities believe an eruption is imminent. Have a plan in place to get the family together via texting, email, social media, etc.

Know several routes out of the area; roads may be blocked by fire, thick ash, or lava flows. Visibility and breathing might become difficult, so respirator masks and goggles should be worn by every member of the group.!

Ash can also damage engine parts and stall escape vehicles, so be prepared to go on foot if necessary. Any equipment with moving parts that must remain outside as your evacuate should be covered with tarps.

The most intelligent decision is to hit the road, Jack, and take a good amount of supplies with you. There are circumstances, however, where you might be unable to leave your home. While you can’t expect even the most solid house to be much protection from a wall of lava, you might still be able to achieve protection from volcanic ash:

·       Close all windows and doors

·       Block chimneys

·       Stay under the sturdiest part of the roof (ash can be very heavy)

·       Have food and water stored in quantity

It imperative to have at least several days supplies packed and ready to go at a moment’s notice. I call this a “G.O.O.D.” bag (Get Out Of Dodge!).

It’s also important to have a good kit to deal with medical issues. You’ll need materials that that treat burns and orthopedic injuries as well as masks, goggles, and flashlights for every member of the family. You might not consider these items to be medical in nature, but they’ll help you breathe and see even if the ash is falling thickly, and you’ll be in better physical shape and more likely to survive.


No masks and no shelter? Place a damp cloth over your nose and mouth and cover your skin as much as possible. Of course, protection in the form of work gloves, sturdy high-top boots, and head coverings (a hard hat even seems prudent here) will decrease your chance of injury as you escape the area. Avoid low-lying areas that might be a natural conduit for lava. Stay clear of areas downwind of the volcano; ash and flying debris will be thickest there.

Don’t forget your pets: Have a “G.O.O.D.” bag for them as well. Here’s the Red Cross’s recommendations for emergency pet kits and a plan of action that will increase your animals’ safety in times of trouble:

You might not always have a lot of options in a disaster, but you can always improve your chances of surviving even in the worst situations. 

Here’s a last piece of advice: If your home survives the volcanic eruption, be sure to clear the ash off the roof, as the weight may cave it in!

Joe Alton MD

Dr. Alton
Dr. Alton

Find out more about disaster preparedness and 150 medical topics you might face off the grid in the award-winning Third Edition of the Survival Medicine Handbook: The Essential Guide for When Medical Help is Not on the Way. Plus, fill those holes in your medical supplies at!

Third Edition
Third Edition

ASIDE: Can you stop a lava flow? Here’s some ways they’ve tried:

Hey, don’t forget to check out our entire line of quality medical kits and individual supplies at Also, our Book Excellence Award-winning 700-page SURVIVAL MEDICINE HANDBOOK: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE FOR WHEN HELP IS NOT ON THE WAY is now available in black and white on Amazon and in color and color spiral-bound versions at

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