Potter, S. H., Jolly, G. E., Neall, V. E., Johnston, D. M., Scott, B. J. (2014). Communicating the status of volcanic activity: Revising New Zealand's volcanic alert level system. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 3(13).

By Sally H. Potter1, Gill E. Jolly1, Vince E. Neall2, David M. Johnston3, Bradley J. Scott1

1. GNS Science (New Zealand) 2. Massey University (New Zealand) 3. GNS Science/Massey University (New Zealand)

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Abstract

The communication of scientific information to stakeholders is a critical component of an effective Volcano Early
Warning System. Volcanic Alert Level (VAL) systems are used in many countries as a tool within early warning systems
to communicate complex volcanic information in a simple form, from which response decisions can be made. Such
communication tools need to meet the requirements of a wide range of end-users, including emergency managers,
the aviation industry, media, and the public. They also need to be usable by scientists who determine the alert levels
based on integration and interpretation of volcano observations and monitoring data.
This paper presents an exploratory review of New Zealand’s 20-year old VAL system, and for the first time globally,
describes the development of a VAL system based on a robust qualitative ethnographic methodology. This involved
semi-structured interviews of scientists and VAL end-users, document analysis, and observations of scientists over three
years as they set the VAL during multiple unrest and eruption crises. The transdisciplinary nature of this research allows
the system to be revised with direct input by end-users of the system, highlighting the benefits of using social science
methodologies in developing or revising warning systems. The methodology utilised in this research is applicable
worldwide, and could be used to develop warning systems for other hazards.
It was identified that there are multiple possibilities for foundations of VAL systems, including phenomena, hazard, risk,
and magmatic processes. The revised VAL system is based on the findings of this research, and was implemented in
collaboration with New Zealand’s Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management in July 2014. It is used for all
of New Zealand’s active volcanoes, and is understandable, intuitive, and informative. The complete process of exploring
a current VAL system, revising it, and introducing it to New Zealand society is described.

This article is freely available via the Journal of Applied Volcanology: http://www.appliedvolc.com/content/pdf/s13617-014-0013-7.pdf

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Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  • Sally H. Potter; Gill E. Jolly; Vince E. Neall; David M. Johnston; Bradley J. Scott (2015), "Potter, S. H., Jolly, G. E., Neall, V. E., Johnston, D. M., Scott, B. J. (2014). Communicating the status of volcanic activity: Revising New Zealand's volcanic alert level system. Journal of Applied Volcanology, 3(13).," https://vhub.org/resources/3938.

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