How To Survive A Volcano
The first rule is “Don’t jump in.” Go ahead and laugh it off. Ha ha very original. Now that you’ve got that out of your system consider the following.
While cinematic moments abound with people leaping into live volcanoes the gruesome truth is you’d probably need the assistance of a helicopter to do it, because before you even got close to the caldera either your boots would melt making walking impossible or you’d get suffocated by boring old poison gas. You might even slip and fall on the treacherous terrain, bleeding out from jagged cuts caused by freshly hardended lava rock that tears your skin like broken glass bottles embedded in cement. Nothing particularly exciting or noteworthy about that. And while the ultimate goal of Vulcan suicide seems glamorous consider the viscosity of lava is very thick, which means instead of an instant immolation it’s more like getting dropped on a hot skillet. Sure there will be lots flare ups and popping eyeballs, but the whole ordeal will feel agonizingly slow.
Seriously though you don’t have to be standing next to a volcano to be affected by one. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll ever encounter hot pools of bubbling land batter if you aren’t actively seeking them out, but volcanoes are perfectly capable of doing very nasty things to people who live quite far away.
The Big Dirty
You can look at volcanoes like giant sphincters, pooping out all kinds of toxic nasty harshness that rapidly cools off and eventually provides nourishment and structure for all sorts of life forms. Pretty much the same things happens when you poop in the woods, except for the whole business of setting everything on fire in the process. That is unless you’re some kind of sicko with a fecalpyrophelia complex, in which case you should seek professional help immediately.
Other things volcanoes have in common with your butt are poison gasses. But whereas yours can ruin a road trip Mr. Volcano can wipe out miles of life, basically everything with lungs and gills, in a few silent terrifying moments. Sulfur dioxide, c02, carbonic acid and hydrogen sulfide do not play well with your internal organs, and if you’ve ever tried breathing in an ash cloud then guaranteed you never want to do it again. http://volcano.oregonstate.edu/book/export/html/151
Also when you see the spectacular footage of volcano juice pouring to the ocean and the huge clouds of steam rising to the distance beware that those clouds are filled with hydrochloric acid. Obviously not something you want to be too close to if the wind changes direction. Plus water splashing on hot lava makes a blast of super heated steam that can cook you quicker than microwave dim sum.
And while you are admiring the fireworks show another important thing to know is the freshly hardened lava you are standing on is as brittle as your grandmother’s fractured hip. Entire football field sized chunks are known to suddenly break loose with zero warning. Volcanic activity is also well-known for triggering lahars, massive mudslides where solid ground instantly transforms to fast moving liquid concrete that pulverizes everything in it’s path.
Then there are the explosions that can drop lava bombs on your head. The general suggestions on how to deal with a situation where you are too close to an exploding volcano (nice job genius) is to look up and keep your eye on the sky. As the lava bombs come down you can try stepping to the side of the larger ones and hope the smaller ones aren’t enough to kill you. Then drag your crippled carcass to safety and contemplate all the terrible choices in your life that seemed like good ideas compared to this one.
If you see a pyroclastic flow heading toward you at 200 mph then none of this advice will help you at all. Hopefully you have a 2 way radio and practiced saying something cool and memorable. If you are really quick you might be able to get a few seconds of livestreaming out there, but the news stations will probably edit out all the good parts. Plus everyone will think you as being far more heroic if they never see the terror in your eyes repeated over and over again on LiveLeak.
Medium Distance Threats
Even if the volcano is over the horizon and you are laughing at the people on tv who just lost their homes (laughing at their faces probably wouldn’t go over so well) then there are still lots of ways that hot bubbling butthole can ruin your life.
Acid rain isn’t just a phrase invented to create inspiration for a thousand thrash metal songs. While it won’t usually burn your skin, it can strip off metal particles off the roof and put them in places where they shouldn’t be like catchment water. Also if you have an aquaponics system it’s a good idea to put a cover on it because like a friend of mine learned the ph imbalance of a distant volcano can very quickly kill your fish. Plants are a little more resilient, but crop yields can definitely be affected which is one reason out of many why it’s always a good idea to have long term food storage.
And then there’s the earthquakes and tsunamis. While earthquakes are usually more of a localized nightmare, tsunamis can travel thousands of miles and therefore it’s a good idea to pay attention to volcanic activity even if it’s on the other side of the ocean. There’s a well-known phenomenon known as post-glacial rebound where the gravitational force of the ice caps squeeze the earth like a beach ball. When the ice melts the beach ball returns to it’s normal shape, resulting in thousands of years of increased seismic and volcanic activity. This is wonderful news for everyone who wanted to see what climate change would do to sea levels but were afraid they might die before it happened.
Long Distance Threats
Now you might think that living far away from volcanoes and oceans means you are safe. Take a peek at any geological sediment cross section covering a significant amount of time and you will notice thicker darker lines here and there. That’s pretty much the regularity of world-changing volcano events, and they don’t have to be catastrophic to put a big dent in our population within a few short years.
Remember the black plague? Some scientists claim that was the result of a phenomenon called the Little Ice Age which dropped global temperatures in correlation with a period of heightened activity. So great news, right? Let’s just nuke a volcano and turn around climate change. Not so fast there, Slick. Sudden changes in the atmosphere have created “years without a summer” which leads to famine and the related disease outbreaks mentioned above, so while we get a rest from Ebola we still have to cope with all the normal stuff like the common flu virus that can mutate deadly strains rather quickly given the right conditions.
And then there are the big cannons, the super volcanoes. Should Yellowstone decide to rawk out and blanket the Northern Hemisphere with ash we would be looking at the end of industrial civilization. No planes fly, non crops grow, cities are abandoned, forests and fisheries wiped out, and suddenly our system of global trade becomes a whole lot more local and focused on bare knuckle survival rather than wealth accumulation. There probably wouldn’t be much warning either, as the government is well aware that there isn’t much that most people can do about it besides panic and jam up the roads, blocking VIPs from accessing their Dr. Strangelove bunkers where they can stay comfortably buried for years.
You're On Your Own
That’s the final part you have to keep in mind about volcano dangers. You can’t trust The Man when it comes to volcano risk management. Governments think it’s a great idea to encourage people to build on the side of a volcano just to increase their tax base. The insurance companies will write you a policy that they never intend to pay. The real estate agent will give you some “only live once” kind of line and talk about how quickly you can turn around your investment for a profit. Don’t listen to them. Living on the side of a volcano doesn’t make sense unless your house has wheels, and if you choose to live in the wrong neighborhood like some of the quiet communities surrounding Mt. Raneir, it doesn’t even matter because you’ll never be able to escape quickly enough. Most of us don’t have helipad money after all.
While the areas around a volcano can be stunningly beautiful and thriving with life, never forget the bomb in your back yard and always stay prepared for a surprise case of the Ultimate Magma Sharts.
Survival Tips and Links
Here are some items to keep as well as links from The Man himself. This is just his way of trying to avoid responsibility for his greedy short-sighted zoning policies, but it’s good information nonetheless.
Volcano kit: Important paperwork like titles, deeds, insurance policies, birth certificates, id’s, prescriptions. Can keep spares on a flash drive, but having originals in a single folder that can be gathered in a couple seconds frees up time for saving other valuable stuff.
Go bag with tent/supplies in case you have to camp in someone’s back yard. This includes items like flashlight and extra batteries, first aid kit and manual, emergency food and water, manual (nonelectric) can opener, essential medicines, sturdy shoes, respiratory (breathing) protection, eye protection (goggles), battery-powered radio
As far as respiratory protection goes I highly recommend this one-piece respirator/face mask from 3m. It’s a bit expensive to keep around for volcanic emergencies, but I regularly use mine for all sorts of tasks like sanding, grinding, fiberglass work, cutting wood, and painting. Having the face shield built in is extremely handy as sometimes different goggles can interfere with a respirator creating leaks or fogging. The regular organic vapor cartridges are great for VOCs but for acid vapor you need the pink ones. They filter out a much wider variety of toxins and you’ll really be surprised by the things that you CAN’T smell. For regular dust it’s much less expensive to use the regular N95 particulate filters. The cartridges do become more difficult to breathe through as they are exposed to atmospheric moisture, so if you open up a new cartridge packet it’s essential to put the mask in a specially sealed bag to keep them fresh for the next use. That will slow down the degradation some but try keeping the pink cartiges in the foil until you really need them.
Always read the product safety sheets and check for proper fit before use. I’m merely recommending these types of masks because they are more convenient and comfortable than the less expensive n95s that the .gov recommends. The idea is to get away from volcanoes, not get closer. Use common sense and follow all State and Federal laws, emergency management instructions, evacuation orders, etc. Forces of nature are not to be trifled with. If you feel differently then maybe you should be seeking inspiration from darwinawards.com instead.