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Development of a volcanic risk management system at Mount St. Helens—1980 to present

September 8, 2023

Here, we review volcanic risk management at Mount St. Helens from the perspective of the US Geological Survey’s (USGS) experience over the four decades since its 18 May 1980 climactic eruption. Prior to 1980, volcano monitoring, multidisciplinary eruption forecasting, and interagency coordination for eruption response were new to the Cascade Range. A Mount St. Helens volcano hazards assessment had recently been published and volcanic crisis response capabilities tested during 1975 thermal unrest at nearby Mount Baker. Volcanic unrest began in March 1980, accelerating the rate of advance of volcano monitoring, prompting coordinated eruption forecasting and hazards communication, and motivating emergency response planning. The destruction caused by the 18 May 1980 eruption led to an enormous emergency response effort and prompted extensive coordination and planning for continuing eruptive activity. Eruptions continued with pulsatory dome growth and explosive eruptions over the following 6 years and with transport of sediment downstream over many more. In response, USGS scientists and their partners expanded their staffing, deployed new instruments, developed new tools (including the first use of a volcanic event tree) for eruption forecasting, and created new pathways for agency internal and external communication. Involvement in the Mount St. Helens response motivated the establishment of response measures at other Cascade Range volcanoes. Since assembly during the early and mid-1990s, volcano hazard working groups continue to unite scientists, emergency and land managers, tribal nations, and community leaders in common cause for the promotion of risk reduction. By the onset of renewed volcanic activity in 2004, these new systems enabled a more efficient response that was greatly facilitated by the participation of organizations within volcano hazard working groups. Although the magnitude of the 2004 eruptive sequence was much smaller than that of 1980, a new challenge emerged focused on hazard communication demands. Since 2008, our understanding of Mount St. Helens volcanic system has improved, helping us refine hazard assessments and eruption forecasts. Some professions have worked independently to apply the Mount St. Helens story to their products and services. Planning meetings and working group activities fortify partnerships among information disseminators, policy and decision-makers, scientists, and communities. We call the sum of these pieces the Volcanic Risk Management System (VRMS). In its most robust form, the VRMS encompasses effective production and coordinated exchange of volcano hazards and risk information among all interested parties.

Publication Year 2023
Title Development of a volcanic risk management system at Mount St. Helens—1980 to present
DOI 10.1007/s00445-023-01663-y
Authors Heather M. Wright, Carolyn L. Driedger, John S. Pallister, Christopher G. Newhall, Michael A. Clynne, John W. Ewert
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Bulletin of Volcanology
Index ID 70249284
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center