Category Archives: Volcano Risk

Volcano ‘Oscars'(*)

Not since ‘Volcano’ was nominated for a ‘Razzie’ for ‘Worst Reckless Disregard for Human Life and Public Safety‘ has there been such a buzz about awards and volcanic films.

Volcanologists are rarely ‘ivory tower’ scientists, few are immune to the delights or the impacts of the phenomena they study on those who are around to witness them.

Instinctively we want to share the wonder we find in witnessing eruptions, the key messages for those wishing to avoid harm, and the joy of volcanological research! Increasingly, this instinct is also being supplemented by carefully devised and analysed communication strategies.

Film and video is one of the most important ways we communicate our science so the time was right to share, celebrate and inspire one another with the wide range of efforts being made across the globe by volcanologists and the researchers and communities with whom they work.

This playlist below forms the majority of  entries to the splendidly well received ‘Volcano Movie Night(s)’ at Cities on Volcanoes 9 in Puerto Varas. The enthusiastic audience of > 100 moviegoers voted for the winners across four categories.

See if you agree! Thank you to everyone who submitted their film.

CATEGORY ONE: CONVEYING NEW RESEARCH AND UNDERSTANDING OF VOLCANIC ERUPTIONS

(1) La erupción del Volcán Caulle: Eduardo Jaramillo & Felipe Dreves, Universidad Austral del Chile

(2) Monitoring Yasur, Vanuatu. Geoff Lerner, University of Auckland

(3) Huellas de eventos naturales extremos: Erupción del Volcán Calbuco, sur de Chile / Abril-Mayo 2015Eduardo Jaramillo & Felipe Dreves, Universidad Austral del Chile

(4) “Catching the Quakes: tracking seismic signals generated by debris flows: Liz Westby, United States Geological Survey

AND THE CATEGORY WINNER IS:

 academy_award_trophy(5) Il Proyecto Huayruro: Rachel Gusset (Universite de la Reunion)

CATEGORY TWO: CAPTURING ERUPTIVE PHENOMENA

(1) Lahar front at Merapi Volcano, Indonesia, Sandy Budi Obowo, Universite de la Sorbonne, France

(2) Volcanic Infrasound, Isaac Kerlow, University of Singapore

AND THE CATEGORY WINNER IS:

 academy_award_trophy(3) Eruption of Tolbachik, Marina and Alexander Belousov

For copyright reasons the original spectacular  video and the  soundtrack used can’t be shown, but here are two  excerpts containing some of that material.  It won’t disappoint- and if you would like access to the original video please contact the Belousovs!

CATEGORY THREE: RISK COMMUNICATION

(1) The Colombia-US Bi-National Exchange: Liz Westby, USGS

(2) Eruption – La Soufriere, St. Vincent. STREVA Project

(3) The 1932 Eruption of Quizapu: (uncovered by Gabriela Jara, Sernageomin)

Embedded in this link.

AND THE CATEGORY WINNER IS:

 academy_award_trophy(4) Memories of Nevado del Ruiz: Anna Hicks (BGS), Teresa Armijos (UEA) and Gloria Patricia Cortes (SGC) – STREVA Project

CATEGORY FOUR: GENERAL PUBLIC ENGAGEMENT

(1) Volcano’s Dream: Micol Todesco, INGV

(2) Water Volcanoes: Micol Todesco, INGV

(3) The Princess of Magayon, Isaac Kerlow, Earth Observatory of Singapore

(4) Geogirls: 5 days of discovery at Mt. St. Helens, Liz Westby, USGS

(5) Hazards from Pyroclastic flows and lahars: Sarah Brown and Steve Sparks. A refined version of these  video will be released soon for everyone to share and use.

AND THE CATEGORY WINNER IS:

 academy_award_trophy(6) ‘Alas por la Ciencia en Indonesia’: Antony Finizola and ‘Wings for Science’.

Finally, SERNAGEOMIN created a fantastic opening video for the start of the conference. Here it is:

(*) The Use of the Image of the Academy Award is interpreted as ‘fair use’ to illustrate the three dimensional work of art which represents those awards.

Nevado del Ruiz, 1985 : mud, memories and moving on

Some of the valleys that surround the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz. The lahar bulked up as it travelled downwards and could have been up to 50 m thick at points
Some of the valleys that surround the slopes of Nevado del Ruiz. The lahar bulked up as it travelled downwards and could have been up to 50 m thick at points

I was 16 when the November 1985 eruption of Nevado del Ruiz sent hot slurries of melted snow, ash, rocks and pumice more than 70km downhill straight into several settlements in the middle of the night. At dawn the following morning the settlement of Armero had all but disappeared under this flow, taking around 75% of its residents with it. Across the valleys more than 24,000 people lost their lives to those flows.

Like me, even the youngest kids who survived or witnessed the scenes of this eruption are now middle-aged, the valleys are green again.

USGS Image of the lahars covering the town of Armero in November 1985
USGS Image of the lahars covering the town of Armero in November 1985

A kernel of volcanologists were created in that moment, and more importantly an army of eye-witnesses who directly recall the impact and agonies of that night and morning. They also have insights into the attitudes and issues that lead to the rudest possible awakening when the lahars ploughed down the slopes of the volcano.

I looked up the river, towards the mountain, and I could see so much mud. It was a huge thing with giant trees, it came with roots that have been taken from the earth, and then it hit me and covered me….I felt as if it was those machines that process rice (eyewitness account)

These eye witness testimonies contain a remarkable flow of information; as rich and insightful into past events as the deposits that volcanologists frequently scramble over.  When the STREVA team held one of our forensic workshops in Colombia with our Project Partners it became clear during this, and subsequent research that a great service would come from finding a way to capture these important memories, for the people who live with the volcano now.

Part of the point of this film to help with sharing experience of the 1985 eruption with the next generation. Alex from Lambdafilms shares some of his footage!
Part of the point of this film to help with sharing experience of the 1985 eruption with the next generation. Alex from Lambda Films shares some of his footage!

We are making a series of films to convey events according to those caught in it, how people live with the volcano today, and answering the most important questions the population has about living with volcanic risk. The first of these films is premiering this week at our partner Servicio Geological Colombiano’s (SGC) commemoration activities for Nevado Del Ruiz . We’ve worked with one of our UK Partners, (Lambda Films) to do this. We understand the value of well shot films, and they have been patient with our need for volcanic detail.

Watching the result of the filming
One of our interviewees watches her footage. Teresa Armijos (UEA) has been working on the films and researching community vulnerability and James from Lambda films has worked with us in Colombia and St. Vincent.

The aftermath of the eruption remains firmly in the world’s eye as a consequence of the images that spread around the world. Sometimes shocking,  awards were handed out for the photographs that captured that desparate tragedy.

The disturbing image Omayra Sanchez, taken just a few hours before she died, with her legs trapped in the wreckage of her home. This image was taken by Frank Fournier,who won the World Press Photo Foundation Award for this image.
The disturbing image of Omayra Sanchez, taken just a few hours before she died, with her legs trapped in the wreckage of her home. This image was taken by Frank Fournier,who won the World Press Photo Foundation Award for this image.

Back in 1985 and back in the UK, a fairly brave piece of children’s programming stuck with broadcasting these images and covered the last few days of life for Omayra Sanchez , as she was trapped in the mud. There was no fairytale ending for her and that remains with me today, a permanent reminder of the complex issues that surround volcanic disasters. With our films we’re not looking to shock anyone but we are looking to work with SGC to use these memories to learn how to improve the outcome from the next eruption. We hope we have done justice to the communities of Nevado del Ruiz who continue to thrive around the volcano.

family_ndR NdR_gang_together_civildefence

Thanks to everyone who participated in the films and the filming, and to the  UK Natural Environment and Economic and Social Research Councils for KE funding.  All photos in this blog by Anna Hicks, unless otherwise stated.

Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction.

The new Edition of Encyclopaedia of Volcanoes is almost here! It will have an awesome 78 Chapters of volcanic goodness. I’m a co-author of Chapter 69 (yes, really)  ‘Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction’.

Following the publication rights of the Encyclopaedia I can send you a formatted offprint if you email me at j.barclay’at’uea.ac.uk. Please do.

We were originally asked to focus on the perception and communication of volcanic hazards, which is a rich topic already. The Encyclopaedia has many fantastic chapters on volcanic hazards, their impacts and management, but had no others on social processes in affected communities…. so we asked to extend our remit. We got permission and accumulated a new author(*) along the way.

Having asked to extend our agenda we then had to figure out how to cram a good synthesis of all the knowledge into 10,000 words or less.

Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)
Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)

Our starting point had to be the fact that ‘risk’ in volcanic communities is a combination of both dynamic hazards and dynamic population vulnerabilities. In many cases both change during the course of an eruption, and never in isolation from one another.  A good example is the current eruption of Calbuco: any new eruption will not only send ash and flows onto a landscape physically changed by last week’s activity, the social cultural and political landscape has also shifted in response to those events.

Thus we started by trying to map out end member ‘outcomes’ that have been documented as a consequence of both social vulnerabilities and volcanic behaviour. Outcomes can be negative and positive!

Our end member outcome 'map'. I can share this as, thanks to good advice from UEA's Open Access officer (Anna Collins), I retained the copyright.
Our end member outcome ‘map’. I can share this as, thanks to good advice from UEA’s Open Access officer (Anna Collins), I retained the copyright.

Understanding the range of volcanic activity and associated timescales created a good backdrop for considering the different ways in which risk communication occurs.

Mapping outcomes is fine but we also tried to consider the drivers of those outcomes – and given the Chapter Topic – we focussed on the social drivers. The topics as a list are: risk perception; knowledge transfer, governance, livelihoods and poverty, culture and religion, gender, age and disability, trust (and competing messages).

To keep the emphasis on our view that disaster never happens as a consequence of either a single social or physical aspect we used four case studies(**)  to illustrate how these social drivers interact with physical drivers.

Probably, the thinking of each  author has moved on and evolved a little in year or so since we finished the chapter, I know mine has. The interdisciplinary study of volcanic eruptions and the populations impacted by them is a pretty dynamic (and exciting) field itself. Hopefully when its time for the third edition of the Encyclopaedia to come around it will be time for another total re-write — and perhaps one or two Chapters more in this field.

Barclay, J., Haynes, K., Houghton, B., Johnston, D., 2015. Social Processes and Volcanic Risk Reduction. In: Sigurdsson, H., Houghton, B., Rymer, H., Stix, J., McNutt, S. (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of Volcanoes, pp. 1203–1214.

(*) I am a terrifically non-mysterious person by nature (in fact some might say utterly not very mysterious or completely not enigmatic at all). I like to experiment with it though. Not telling you which author was the new author.

(**) Eyjyafjallajokull, Mayon, Nevado del Ruiz and Goma. That was a tough short-list.

Social Impacts of Volcanic Eruptions: Soufriere Hills Volcano

 

cropped-streva2_bigger.jpgOne of the core aims of the STREVA Project is to use learning from past eruptions to better anticipate impacts and interactions from future activity. Sounds super-logical and simple. It’s not quite that easy: taking a ‘forensic’ approach (trying to gather evidence from a variety of different sources and disciplines) is a wrigglier, harder-to-pin-down process, than you might imagine.

Part of the STREVA process has involved learning about each other's perspectives. We are especially fond of making social scientists study field geology.
Part of the STREVA process has involved learning about each other’s perspectives. We are especially fond of making social scientists study field geology.

Data that you thought might be lurking under the metaphorical unturned stone melts away in the daylight, re-collection and facts can shape-shift as a function of how you pose the questions, and sometimes there is just so _much_ data its hard to know where to start.  No matter!

 

Another important part of the STREVA process is to bring those with direct experience of living with the eruption together with the scientists to discuss impacts.
Another important part of the STREVA process is to bring those with direct experience of living with the eruption together with the scientists to discuss impacts.

So, the last few weeks have seen a bit of a quiet ‘ta-dah’ moment for STREVA: some of the first papers from the ‘forensic process’ on Montserrat have started to appear in print.  As means of celebration here is my brief summary of their findings for two plus – for those of you interested in the social impacts of such a long-lived eruption my best attempt to provide a library of other worthwhile reading – these new papers have built on an already considerable body of work.

 Paper 1: All is not equal in an eruption

A key starting point in STREVA is that most of the drivers of risk are dynamic, and they will change in response to changing activity.  The  ‘trick’ with our analysis is determine which drivers make the biggest differences under what circumstance.

Remarkably, relatively little work has been done on social vulnerability during the Soufriere Hills eruptions and less still on the long term trajectory of this variable.  . The ‘vulnerability’ team tackled this by mapping out the outcomes of events for the population of Montserrat, then focussing in on some of the most vulnerable individuals.

Annotated visualisation of the time-series analytical component of vulnerability. Major volcanic, social and political events are shown. Dates and details of evacuations are outlined on the right of the image. The five phases of volcanic activity are shown at the bottom of the image. While there is no scale (or x-axis) to this diagram, the ‘lenses’ signify population movements and economic growth. From Hicks and Few (2015)
Annotated visualisation of the time-series analytical component of vulnerability. Major volcanic, social and political events are shown. Dates and details of evacuations are outlined on the right of the image. The five phases of volcanic activity are shown at the bottom of the image. While there is no scale (or x-axis) to this diagram, the ‘lenses’ signify population movements and economic growth. From Hicks and Few (2015)

Volcanoes can be devastating; it does not matter if you have a crown upon your head when a pyroclastic flow comes calling, if you are in the way, you will die.

However, no-one spends the entirety of a volcanic eruption in the direct pathway of an oncoming density current. So, pre-existing inequalities had a role to play beyond the emergency, particularly in driving individuals back to the land to farm. In essence fewer ‘livelihoods assets’ prior to the eruption constrained options for adaptation to new conditions. The most vulnerable in this sense were: evacuees in long-term shelter accomodation; poorer non-migrants who re-settled in the north and assisted passage migrants to the UK. Stress was a unifying theme across all of these groups.

Trajectories did shift, for example, the capacity for some people to cope tumbled when they found themselves having to pay mortgages on abandoned homes; and there has been some upwards social mobility for those re-located in the UK with access to a wider job market.

The eruption in its initial stages was a great leveller but very soon the unequal playing field onto which it erupted had a strong role to play in individual outcomes.

Paper 1: Hicks, A. and Few, R. (2015) Trajectories of social vulnerability during the Soufriere Hills volcanic crisis. Journal of Applied Volcanology. 4:10

Paper 2: Learning from a crisis that lasts longer than a political lifecycle

Following the initial crisis period on Montserrat, which culminated in a series of devastating pyroclastic density currents that killed 19 people and injured several more (see Paper 1 above and Loughlin et al., 2002 for how and why this happened) there was a well publicised review of the UK Governmental Response known as the ‘Clay Report’ (after the first author) published in 1999.  Since then there have been several papers by Amy Donovan that have focussed on the interaction between the science of forecasting future activity and policy making (e.g. Donovan and Oppenheimer, 2014,  Donovan et al., 2013)  but little else that has looked at how governance has shaped and been shaped by the volcanic activity.

The paper maps out the chains of decision-making and the nature and impact of these governance processes across the whole length of the eruption to examine the extent to which the process of the disaster helped to shape or even transform preparedness or adaptations to volcanic activity in this complex governance environment.

In small island states disasters on this scale inevitably need external support; the effectiveness of that support depends on good coordination; and in turn should inspire rapid transformation and adaptation to the new circumstances.

Speaking of transformation; Montserrat has now had 5 years without new magma appearing at the surface of Soufriere Hills and recovery should be taking root. A country well worth a visit.

Paper 2: Wilkinson, E. (2015) Beyond the volcanic crisis: co-governance of volcanic risk on Montserrat. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 4:3

These references below focus entirely on the social impacts of the eruption, not including physical health impacts. 

Open Access: 

Clay E, Barrow C, Benson C, Dempster J, Kokelaar P, Pillai N, Seaman J (1999) An evaluation of HMG’s response to the Montserrat volcanic emergency, 2 vols. Evaluation report EV635. Department for International Development, London.

This is ‘The Clay Report’

Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C. (2014) “Science, policy and place in volcanic disasters: insights from Montserrat“, Environmental Science and Policy 39:150-161

Sword-Daniels V, Wilson TM, Sargeant S, Rossetto T, Twigg J, Johnston DM, Loughlin SC, Cole PD (2013) Consequences Of Long-Term Volcanic Activity For Essential Services In Montserrat: Challenges, Adaptations And Resilience. In: Wadge G, Voight B, Robertson R (eds) The Eruption Of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat From 2000 To 2010, Geological Society, London.

Commentaries, Books and individual accounts:

Brown, L. (2015) Montserrat, the volcano and me: 20 years with an active volcano. Amazon e-book.

An eyewitness account of the early days of the eruption with some further accounts as time rolls on.

Greenaway, S. (2011) Montserrat in England: the dynamics of culture (e-book).

A mixture of personal recollections combined with collective experiences of those re-located in the UK and re-visiting Montserrat., uses some data from a Masters thesis.

O’Garro  (2004) Montserrat on my mind: tales from Montserrat. Paperback. Authorhouse.

Pattullo P (2000) Fire from the mountain: the tragedy of Montserrat and the betrayal of its people. Constable, London. OpenURL

A  generally well researched reconstruction,  by journalist Polly Patullo, now apparently out of print -or at least the copies are going for a lot of money!

Possekel, A. (1999) Living with the unexpected: linking disaster recovery to sustainable development on Montserrat. e-book. Springer-Verlag

Hiding Behind Academic Paywalls

Donovan, A.R., Oppenheimer, C., Bravo, M., “Science at the policy interface: Volcano-monitoring technologies and volcanic hazard management” Bulletin of Volcanology 74(5): 1005-1022 doi:10.1007/s00445-012-0581-5

Hill L (2014) Life after the volcano: the embodiment of small island memories and efforts to keep Montserratian culture alive in Preston, UK. Area 46(2):146-153 doi: 10.1111/area.12084

Kokelaar, B.P. Setting, chronology and consequences of the eruption of Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat (1995-1999) (2002) Geological Society, London, Memoirs21:143,doi:10.1144/GSL.MEM.2002.021.01.02

Overview of the eruption and the scientific response from one of the co-authors on the Clay Report

S. C. LoughlinP. J. Baxter,  W. P. Aspinall,  B. Darroux,  C. L. Harfordand A. D. Miller (2002)  Eyewitness accounts of the 25 June 1997 pyroclastic flows and surges at Soufrière Hills Volcano, Montserrat, and implications for disaster mitigation Geological Society, London, Memoirs21:211230,doi:10.1144/GSL.MEM.2002.021.01.10

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(Volcano) Science and Disaster Risk Reduction

All this week the World Conference in Disaster Risk Reduction is happening in Sendai. You may recognise the #WCDRR in your Twitter timeline.

This includes the launch of the UNISDR Science and Technical Advisory Group Report. They conclude that science should be ‘useful, usable and used’ and when that happens its a powerful tool in reducing the impact of hazardous events. The science community can still offer even more by making their information, evidence and monitoring more available and accessible. The Group recommends doing this via knowledge sharing, multidisciplinary approaches and partnerships at many scales. Bravo!

 

Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)
Tungurahua with Banos in the foreground and the communities around the flank (Photo: Jon Stone)

USEFUL, USABLE and USED: the monitoring of Tungurahua in Ecuador

One of the case studies used in the Report provides a powerful example of this type of usuable science. The  UNISDR case study focusses on the relationships between the monitoring organisation (IG-EPN) and a network of volcano watchers (vigias) drawn from the villages nearest to the volcano. However, the scientific effort extends far beyond that, and a new open-access paper in the Journal of Applied Volcanology provides a fantastic first-hand record of:

  1.  the data from 15 years of eruptive activity;
  2. the social, political and cultural landscape into which the volcano erupted and
  3.  the experience of that for the scientists involved and the steps they took to cope and to encourage the most effective use of their monitoring data.

The IG-EPN have set up a local observatory (Observatorio del Volcan Tungurahua, OVT), partly thanks to the loan of a local hacienda. Staff provide a sustained presence from Quito on shifts lasting 8 days, this sustained presence has contributed to a turnaround in local attitudes to the monitoring scientists and in turn the utility of the data and intepretations they provide.

“..at the most critical moment [ in 2000] some hotel owners threatened to chase out OVT scientists with machetes and even to set the observatory on fire! (Mothes et. al. 2015)”

The willingness of the IG-EPN to continue to engage via frequent interaction with both local communities and decision-makers in addition to their collaboration with the vigias is a truly inspiring example of making life work for communities around an active volcano. Despite the fact that the scientists involved have numerous volcanic crises to deal with they have taken the time to share their data and experiences to date in this fascinating paper. What a priviledge, you should read it!

“Developing trust between local people, authorities and scientists is mutually beneficial, especially when the mission is long (Mothes et al., 2015)”

References

Patricia A Mothes*, Hugo A Yepes, Minard L Hall, Patricio A Ramón, Alexander L Steele and Mario C Ruiz (2015) The Scientific-commuity interface over the fifteen-year eruptive episode of Tungurahua Volcano, Ecudaor. Journal of Applied Volcanology 4:9

Aitis-Selmi et al., 2015 UNISDR STAG REPORT 2015 Report: Science is used for disaster risk reduction. http://preventionweb.net/go/42848

PreventionWeb (2015) Scientific and Technical Advisory Group. Online Case Studies Using Science for DRR. http://www.preventionweb.net/files/workspace/7935_7935jstoneecuador.pdf

 

 

Volcanic Crises and Social Media: Top 5

Volcanoes. Lots of them have been erupting recently.

Volcanologists are a sociable bunch and many of them are present in the ‘social ether’. Believe it or not our parent organisation has a protocol for Professional Interaction during Volcanic Crises. It’s contested; and it was written in 1999. It’s about time we as a ‘social community’ acted collaboratively and sought to create a New Protocol for a new media.

I ‘do research’ on risk communication processes and I’ve worked on active systems.  I would not pretend to have a definitive overview, but, here are my top 5 tips. This is done with reference to that initial, carefully created, protocol and inspired by observing some pretty cool teamwork on Twitter in the face of a volcanic crisis.

(i) Act to help not hinder the monitoring organisation. In the midst of a volcanic crisis, life will be tense and abundantly reliant on good teamwork.

Bad teamwork from the Twitterati can include: unhelpful observations of timeliness of statements or information; strongly dissenting critiques of a monitoring organisation’s actions; interpretations in the absence of complete knowledge;speculation on what might happen next or possible impacts (Twitcasting).

Good teamwork could include: a strong trail to the definitive information where available (see iii); recognition of the ‘real’ experts; judgement free info-tweeting.

(ii) It’s not a race. Don’t let the excitement of being the first person to find a photo/image/interpretation get the better of you. With crisis info. treat it like research and only pass on verified or verifiable information. That amazing thing you think you’re the first to spot might be : last year’s eruption; a speck of dirt on a webcam lens; some fog; some nonsense article written by someone who has spent the last 25 years in a locked bunker. That’s all going to end in the clicking of the dustbin sign and feeling embarassed, in the meantime you could have caused real confusion.

(iii) If it’s not your expertise RT not re-interpret. This relates to (i) and (ii). My assumption here is RT’d Tweets don’t annoy your colleagues (they’ll see them once) and this helps to lay the trail back to a definitive source (observatory scientist or eruption expert).  This is helpful communication. If you do know the situation well and want to offer an interpretation just pause for a second to question whether you are in full possession of the facts. Plus, do ask, would you like someone to take your data and do that with it, latte in hand in a cosy office, while you’re out fixing the bust solar panels in the ash? Social media are not the vehicle for the first announcement of your intent to ‘help out’ with data analysis or risk management.

(iv) Respect the affected population. Other people are on Twitter. Yes, it’s true. Mass media like to portray the personal in amongst the terrible. Have a good think about quite how your exhuberant excitement might seem to the person whose house has just been trashed  — if they saw your Tweet.

(v) Do nothing that encourages reckless behaviour. Yes, it’s very exciting and that’s a cool picture. But did they do a very stupid thing to get it?  If they get hurt will other people have to risk their lives to save them? If you were evacuated but could see images of people precisely where you were told not to live would you feel cross? Personally I even steer clear of the ‘Look at the unbelievably stupid thing this person has done to get that picture’ style Tweets but the choice if yours! You may wish to call this out!

Clearly, this is not exhaustive. I’m not sure that it properly acknowledges the role that Twitter Q&A between experts can play in understanding a crisis – and how that plays into open discussion. Science is, after all, a journey and not a destination. However, this is about the height of a crisis – and we at least have to be aware that with social media we’re going on that journey in a crowded room.

The brilliant thing here is that there is absolutely no limit on the extent to which you can provide additional information or share your background knowledge and how this relates to the current activity. Things open up much more when you resort to blogs and think carefully: a  fantastic example of that is of course EruptionsBlog. We can and should do this as much as we all can!

Creative science education is the a brilliant foundation for excellent science communication (e.g. Fischhoff, 2013).

So, have I missed anything? Am I wide of the mark? Interested to hear your thoughts!

PS in for a penny in for a pound. I’ve mapped out my thought processes about talking to the media about volcanological topics. Doesn’t happen often but I do think quite carefully about when I do it.

My mind map of thought processes. The 'Am I better than a googlesearch' was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!
My mind map of my thought processes in dealing with a media query. The ‘Am I better than a googlesearch’ was a sage piece of advice From Iain Stewart (Plymouth University) who knows a lot more about effective science education than me!

 

Decision-Making and risk communication: Top Tips in a Crisis

There has been quite a flutter in recent weeks; hovering around the science-policy interface. First up:  just before Christmas Top Tips  and Top Twenty Things lists have been flying through the ether in a way that made me giddy with delight.  It all started with a great Nature article ‘Policy: Twenty Tips for Interpreting Scientific Advice‘; followed by a couple of  tit-for-tat Guardian pieces called ‘Top 20 things scientists need to know about policy-making‘ and ‘12 Things policy-makers and scientists should know about the public‘   (yes, I’m not joking, Nick Hornby must have been beside himself).

Then, just after Christmas, most of the south of England disappeared under water and it was like ….errrr…. no-one had read any of these rules or anything. How did that happen? Howls of ‘not listening’ ‘mis-trust’ ‘betrayal’ and ‘where’s your evidence…’. There were also wellies, a lot of wellies and it was like they’d been given these Top Tips instead:

Image from @Selkie, summarising the key lessons being considered in the wake of the UK flooding in early 2014
Image from @Selkie, summarising the key lessons being considered in the wake of the UK flooding in early 2014

The overwhelming mental image I had was of a bunch of individuals standing on chairs in the wet with loud hailers, announcing their views in the hope that the loud hailer would help them get their point across.

The Top Tips Series are quite brilliant too; and it was exhilarating to see that sort of discussion sprawling in print with no apparent great crisis to have provoked the interest.  Granted,  a full blown natural disaster is not the place to start making policy, but, it is the place where really good risk management decisions have to be made and fast and by all sorts of people from householders to councils to national government. Sitting at the heart of these decisions is undoubtedly good scientific knowledge.

My metaphor now involves cooking a really great dish; with five or six ingredients and in a hurry. The Top Tips are like some really brilliant tasting notes for individual ingredients. Really helpful, but what you lack is the knowledge about how to bring them together and which bits are going to be the key to making the dish really tasty. That, my friends, needs  a little experimentation, interaction and a conversation: a proper one with listening and stuff.

That’s tricky in a crisis…..but to stretch the metaphor further, if you’ve had some good practice at bringing the ingredients together and understand their value, then you’ll be able to whip something up in no time that everyone likes.

That’s the hypothesis the STREVA project is building on: that by considering risk from many different standpoints we might do better in a volcanic crisis.

Finally, in the midst of all this flood-inspired opinion and *concerned faces* I read a paragraph in a paper(*) that throws some brilliant clarity on where science and its communication fits into this.

Let’s all come to the table and take a seat.

Because science communication seeks to inform decision making, it must begin by listening to its audience, to identify the decisions that is members face- and, therefore, the information that they need. In contrast, science education begins by listening to scientists and learning the facts that they wish to convey. Science education provides the foundation for science communication. The more that people know about a science (e.g. volcanology), the easier it will be to explain the facts that matter in specific decisions (e.g. evacuation). The more that people know about the scientific process per se, the easier it will be for science communications to explain the uncertainties and controversies that science inevitably produces.

…..or alternatively you could just play decision-making Top Trumps and try your luck…..

With the launch of Volcanoes Top Trumps (http://volcanoestoptrumps.org) they have been much on my mind. Here is Jon Stone's graphic he made for a recent STREVA meeting; illustrative of the kind of odd and disparate categories to be weighed in a volcanic crisis
With the launch of Volcanoes Top Trumps (http://volcanoestoptrumps.org) they have been much on my mind. Here is Jon Stone’s graphic he made for a recent STREVA meeting; illustrative of the kind of odd and disparate categories to be weighed in a volcanic crisis

(*) I changed the examples used to fit my own needs but the paper is by Baruch Fischhoff ‘The Sciences of Science Communication’ in PNAS 110:14033-14039.