Saturday, January 31, 2009

Volcano Preparedness (Mount Redoubt)

It's not often that a natural disaster can be predicted with certainty, but all signs point to a big eruption in the near future from the Alaskan volcano, Mount Redoubt. Unlike the colorful flaming lava flows from eruptions of some tropical volcanoes, Mout Redoubt's upcoming event is expected to blast volcanic ash miles into the sky. Depending on the direction of the wind, citizens of Anchorage could certainly be at risk for respiratory and eye symptoms from exposure to fine ash particles. Preparation can help mitigate (decrease) volcano-related health complications.

Emergency supplies: Everyone can benefit by having a disaster supplies kit. At the very least, it's important to have a supply of essential medications, several days supply of clean water and food, flashlights and first aid equipment. Power outages may occur for a variety of reasons during volcanic eruptions and the aftermath, and public water supplies are prone to contamination from ash particles.

Evacuate if necessary: Have a battery-operated radio available to inform you of evacuation instructions. It's important to remember that driving in ash can be very dangerous. Ash accumulation on roads results in slippery driving conditions, obsured road markings and reduced visibility. Using the wipers in an attempt to move dry ash on your windshield can result in abrasive scratches instead of a clear view. It's best to stay put unless driving is absolutely essential.

Protect your lungs: Infants, individuals weakened by chronic health conditions, and people with pre-existing lung disease such as asthma or COPD are particularly vulnerable to breathing difficulties as the fine but abrasive ash particles can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. NIOSH-approved respirator masks used to filter dust particles are recommended in sizes appropriate for each family members. Note: preparation is key here, as it may be difficult, if not impossible, to find appropriate sizes for everyone on short notice. Remaining indoors during ash-fall is recommended. A wet cloth or a scarf covering the mouth will help prevent ash inhalation if masks are not available. Stay inside as much as possible.

Protect your eyes: Volcanic ash particles are fine, but they are also hard, jagged and abrasive. They can easily scratch the glass of a car windshield and other surfaces. When these jagged particles get into the eye, they can cause painful corneal abrasions. Contact lens wearers are particularly vulnerable. Glasses are recommended in lieu of contacts. Goggles are recommended for anyone who must be out and about in falling or blowing ash.

Prevent property damage: Fine ash particles will find their way into delicate equipment and machinery, perhaps causing irreparable damage. Use plasitic wrap or large plastic garbage bags to wrap up computers, stereo equipment, (you name it!). Sealing the edges of drafty windows and the sills of doors will decrease the amount of ash entering your home. Ash accumulation on rooftops can be heavy enough to cause the roof to collapse, especially if the ash becomes damp. Ash removal from rooftops may be necessary, but is to be cautiously attempted to avoid falling from the slippery roof.

Protect your pets and livestock: Animals should be kept indoors as much as possible. Grazing animals are at risk of toxicity from consuming ash-contaminated vegetation. Emphasize providing clean water to all pets and livestock in the aftermath of ash fall.

Recommendations for further reading:

1. USGS (U.S. Geological Survey) has two good publications available for download which provide more information: Volcanic Ashfall Preparedness Brochure and Actions to take for ash fall.

2. Two additional brochures are available online from the International Volcanic Health Hazard Network site: "Health Hazards of Volcanic Ash" and "Guidelines on Preparedness Before, During and After an Ash Fall."

3. FEMA's volcano publication is also helpful: "Are you ready? Volcanoes."

4. Centers for Disease Control: Volcanoes

5. USGS: Natural Hazards, Volcanoes. .

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