FEMA and volcanoes
Can you do better than FEMA at describing volcanoes to the public? Sure you can!
I write the Eruptions blog on Big Think. I've been mesmerized with volcanoes (and geology) all my life. It helps that part of my family comes from the shadow of Nevado del Ruiz in Colombia, where I could see first hand the deadly effects of volcanic eruptions. Since then, I've taken a bit of a winding path to become a volcanologist. I started as a history major at Williams College, almost went into radio, but ended up migrating to geology, including an undergraduate thesis on Vinalhaven Island, Maine. I followed this up by changing coast to get my Ph.D. from Oregon State University. Then I ran a MC-ICP-MS lab at University of Washington for a spell (and wrote for an indie rock website). I spent three years as a postdoctoral scholar at University of California - Davis studying the inner workings of magmatic systems. I am now an assistant professor at Denison University and have projects in New Zealand, Chile and Oregon.
I am fascinated by volcanoes, their eruptions and how those eruptions interact with the people who live around the volcanoes. I started this blog after getting frustrated with the news reports of volcanic eruptions. Most of them get the information wrong and/or are just sensationalistic. I will try to summarize eruptions as they occur, translate some of the volcanic processes that are happening and comment on the reports themselves.
And no matter what people tell you, I definitely do not have a cat named Tephra. (OK, I do).
You can find out more about my research by visiting my website. If you have any comments, questions or information, feel free to contact me at eruptionsblog at gmail dot com.
So, as I am apt to do from time to time, I was wandering the interweb and stumbled across the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) for Kids website. Naturally, I thought, what do they have to say about, oh, I don't know, volcanoes. Well, was I in for a doozy!
FEMA, in its infinite wisdom, has this to say about volcanoes (for kids, mind you):
[A] volcano is a mountain that opens downward to a pool of molten rock below the surface of the earth.
Oh. My. Word ... but wait, there's more!
The ash can cause damage to the lungs of older people, babies and people with respiratory problems.
Yes, if you're young and strong, ash doesn't nothing to your lungs. Nothing at all! Suck it in, its full of vitamins ... and minerals!
Alright, so maybe FEMA is just getting carried away with the dumbing down for kids. So, I traipse over the to adult version of "Volcanoes" on the FEMA website. Here's how it begins:
A volcano is a mountain that opens downward to a reservoir of molten rock below the surface of the earth.
Oh. My. Word.
Yes, it is exactly the same as the "FEMA for Kids" entry on volcanoes. Sure, the substitute the fancy term "reservoir" with "pool" for the kiddie site, but for all intents and purposes, it is the same. They sort of fix the lung issue by slapping on an "although not immediately hazardous", but beyond that, the sentences are in a different order and both versions are terrible. It makes you wonder what might happen if a volcano in the continental U.S. near a populated area decided to erupt and FEMA was sent in, but that is a tale for another day. Remember, 9/10 of volcanic hazard mitigation is preparedness and education, so one would hope that the government could put a better foot forward.
I think, what might be fun here is to try to help FEMA out. I know we can do a better job describing volcanoes in a simple and clear fashion to the general public. So, I invite my readers to leave a comment on this post with part or all of what they might post for a FEMA-style brief synposis of a volcano and its hazards. Maybe I'll forward the best on the FEMA to see if they'll upgrade.
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