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Results from the Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Group Technical Support for the 2018 Kīlauea Eruption

March 31, 2019

On May 3, 2018 Hawai'i’s Kīlauea volcano erupted, ultimately covering 35 square kilometers (13.5 square miles) of land in lava, destroying over 700 homes in multiple subdivisions, and displacing over 2500 residents in the Puna District on the southeast flank of the volcano. Simultaneously, Kīlauea’s summit experienced its largest collapse in 200 years, with a total of 500 meters (1,640 feet) subsidence and tens of earthquakes each day rattling surrounding communities. These simultaneous events impacted residential, agricultural, business, tourist, and scientific areas. Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park closed, slowing tourism and the local economy. The building housing the United States Geological Survey (USGS) Hawai'ian Volcano Observatory also closed, displacing scientists responsible for monitoring the erupting volcano. The eruption lasted 107 days, one of the longest eruptions in recent history in lower Puna. Throughout the eruption, uncertainty regarding the duration of the event, its extent, and total damage remained high. This uncertainty led to social tensions and fatigue across the affected community, responders, and local officials.

At the direction of the USGS Director, serving as the Science Advisor to the Secretary of the of the Interior, the Department of the Interior (DOI, hereafter also referred to as “the Department”) Strategic Sciences Group (SSG) convened a multidisciplinary group of 13 experts in Hilo, Hawai'i, on July 17-19, 2018. The SSG was charged with considering the cascading short- and long-term social, economic, and environmental consequences of the 2018 Kīlauea eruption to DOI resources, employees, and facilities as well as to the surrounding communities. Established in 2012, the SSG is designed to complement ongoing response efforts by providing strategic science to identify potential social, environmental, and economic consequences and potential interventions during a crisis event affecting Departmental resources. This activation of the SSG was funded by the USGS. It was the first official activation of the SSG since it supported Hurricane Sandy recovery in 2013 and provided the unique opportunity to test new methods, including bolstering the social science expertise on the team and interacting directly with stakeholders before, during, and after deployment.

The SSG Kīlauea Team developed three scenarios focused on 1) the impacts of continued seismicity and deformation at the summit; 2) vog (volcanic smog); and 3) the eruption in the lower East Rift Zone. Across all scenarios, areas of concern included human health (physical and mental); biosecurity (for example, protecting threatened and endangered species); infrastructure (impacts caused by seismic activity, vog, and lava); communications (internal and public-facing); long-term planning (related to tourism, access, housing); and ongoing needs for community engagement and empowerment. The SSG Kīlauea Team identified 59 potential actions for mitigation. Highlights of these actions were delivered to stakeholders during briefings in August and September 2018. Examples of potential actions included: ● Seize opportunities to develop new partnerships within and outside of DOI to address facilities issues caused by seismic damage and park closure. ● Educate community members and new workers to increase early detection of invasive species and establish new wash stations to address biosecurity threats to the park posed by more frequent commuting from new temporary Hilo locations. ● Create a "vog officer" position to ensure coordination and consistency in communication about vog hazards across federal, state, and county agencies.

It is important to note that the potential actions are suggestions and are not intended to be prescriptive. The SSG uses “blue sky thinking” when developing these potential actions to encourage creative approaches to problem solving. In some cases, some of the suggested potential actions derived by the SSG are actions that were already underway, or already under consideration and helped to affirm 3 activities by different stakeholders. In other cases, the actions may be new ideas. Some were applicable to immediate response, while others are more relevant to long-term recovery.

This report details the results from the July 2018 activation of the SSG. It includes background on Kīlauea and the 2018 eruption, an overview of SSG methodology, and a complete list of the potential actions to mitigate cascading consequences identified by the SSG. Importantly, Appendix 4 includes several rapidly assembled “issue papers” on a variety of topics for consideration for recovery and future preparedness and response activities. This report is designed to be used by both the Department and more broadly by partners, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hawai'i County, Hawai'i Department of Health, and the Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency.

Publication Year 2019
Title Results from the Department of the Interior Strategic Sciences Group Technical Support for the 2018 Kīlauea Eruption
Authors K. A. Ludwig, Alice Pennaz, Aleeza Wilkins
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype Federal Government Series
Series Title Cooperator Report
Index ID 70205097
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of the AD Hazards