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Natural hazards and risk reduction in Hawaii

January 1, 2015

Significant progress has been made over the past century in understanding, characterizing, and communicating the societal risks posed by volcanic, earthquake, and tsunami hazards in Hawai‘i. The work of the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO), with a century-long commitment to serving the public with credible hazards information, contributed substantially to this global progress. Thomas A. Jaggar, Jr., HVO’s founder, advocated that a scientific approach to understanding these hazards would result in strategies to mitigate their damaging effects. The resultant hazard-reduction methods range from prediction of eruptions and tsunamis, thereby providing early warnings for timely evacuation (if needed), to diversion of lava flows away from high-value infrastructure, such as hospitals. In addition to long-term volcano monitoring and multifaceted studies to better understand eruptive and seismic phenomena, HVO has continually and effectively communicated—through its publications, Web site, and public education/outreach programs—hazards information to emergency-management authorities, news media, and the public.

Although HVO has been an important global player in advancing natural hazards studies during the past 100 years, it faces major challenges in the future, among which the following command special attention: (1) the preparation of an updated volcano hazards assessment and map for the Island of Hawai‘i, taking into account not only high-probability lava flow hazards, but also hazards posed by low-probability, high-risk events (for instance, pyroclastic flows, regional ashfalls, volcano flank collapse and associated megatsunamis), and (2) the continuation of timely and effective communications of hazards information to all stakeholders and the general public, using all available means (conventional print media, enhanced Web presence, public-education/outreach programs, and social-media approaches).