Pompeii's lessons yet to be learned

May 2, 1997

VOLCANO risk management is as much an issue for sociologists, economists and educationists as it is for geologists, the Geological Society conference was told.

Flavio Dobran, of the Global Volcanic and Environmental Systems Simulation in Naples, warned that the threat of volcanoes was increasing with the rapid growth of towns surrounding them.

The inability of volcano experts to accurately predict eruptions, means that risk management should shift towards educating local people about what to do in an emergency, and more careful urban planning.

"It is not feasible to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people at very short notice and without panic from densely populated towns where the population is not educated about the risk," he said.

Education was a major problem. "Many explosive volcanoes have long periods of quiescence which may last hundreds of years. Past eruptive history contributes towards the education of the population, but it is not as effective as when the population has a real experience," said Mr Dobran.

His Vesuvius 2000 project seeks to analyse population behaviour during and after eruptions and develop a forecast for the most probable socioeconomic effects. Urban planning, evacuation plans, and education programmes should be to the fore, added Mr Dobran. Classical volcanological methods of risk reduction had allowed "abusive urbanisation and ignorance".

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