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Volcanologists working to create volcano ready communties

Volcanologists working to create volcano ready communties
Monique Johnson (left), Project Manager, Volcano Communities Readiness Project and Dr Richard Robertson, Director of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies

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Twelve communities on mainland St Vincent are working towards being designated ‘volcano ready’ by November 2019.

The communities, located in the red zone near to La Soufrière, are part of a Volcano Communities Readiness Project funded by a grant of US$516,000 from the Caribbean Development Bank, as part of the Community Disaster Risk Reduction fund.

The concept of being volcano ready is a new one, and volcanologists Dr Richard Robertson, director of the Seismic Research Centre at the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Monique Johnson, project manager for the Volcano Communities Readiness Project spoke with SEARCHLIGHT about the activities associated with the project.

Volcanologists working to create volcano ready communties
Inside the crater of La Soufrière Volcano

“The volcano ready concept is the first of its kind in the Caribbean,” Johnson revealed.

Robertson, a Vincentian, excitedly adds, “It’s the first…we’re setting the trend you know? First in the world.”

He continues, “No such thing exists anywhere, we’re going to create what is called a ‘Volcano Ready Community.’ We going to define what ‘Volcano Ready Community’ is, that’s what we’re doing.”
The project began in November of last year, and is set to end in November, 2019. It has as its objective to increase readiness and resilience in 12 communities in North Leeward and North Windward which have greater exposure to the volcanic hazard.

However, the scientists note that, since a volcano is a mountain, there may be other hazards involved with living close to a volcano, such as rain removing the loose material on the mountain face during heavy rain.

Therefore, the project also seeks to prepare the persons in the 12 communities for such events.

A major component of the project will be to establish first responder teams in the community, called CERT teams, Community Emergency Response Teams.

“The communities can often be isolated or cut off, and they need to be able to respond in a way that they can preserve lives before any help from outside arrives,” Johnson explains.

Therefore, she says that for the CERT teams, “the idea would be to ensure that within each of these communities there are teams, or persons with training and equipment to respond in an emergency situation.”

These persons would be ready to spring into action should the need arise and the volcanologists say that they are looking for a wide-cross section of volunteers, from young to old, male and female to participate.

Secondly, inherent in volcano readiness would be knowledge of the beast.

Johnson and Robertson will visit St Vincent later this month, when they are to hold a week of activities starting on October 16 at Troumaca Government School.

“It’s basically a week of activities in which people come to a place … where they see a number of hopefully exciting things that in the end teaches them something about the volcano,” Robertson summarizes.

Students from schools in the surrounding areas will be shuttled to an exhibit, which the scientists are hoping will see explosive popularity with the children.

There, the students will learn about La Soufrière through a large, walk-in exhibit which depicts the volcano, with posters giving information about the eruptions that occurred in 1979, and 1902.

Robertson says the ‘cultural memory’ of the volcano will be used in their presentations.

Giving a slight preview, he said many people may not realize that to a large extent where people live in St Vincent is a reflection of the 1811 hurricane, and the 1902 eruption, as prior to that, communities like Campden Park did not really exist; they were established because people moved from the north to the south.

The child-friendly exhibit lights up like a christmas tree in the night, and will be the focal point to join other activites, such as hands on experiments.

After this, there will be a community meeting for the first-responders, and the exhibit will be opened to the public.

The project has partnered with the National Emergency Management Organization (NEMO), building on what that organization is already doing in the communities, and at the national level.

Next year marks 40 years since La Soufrière last erupted, and although the volcano is said to be only “letting off a little steam” at the moment, the scientists inform that this can change at any time.

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