Resident perception of volcanic hazards and evacuation procedures
Abstract. Katla volcano, located beneath the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap in southern Iceland, is capable of producing catastrophic jökulhlaup. The Icelandic Civil Protection (ICP), in conjunction with scientists, local police and emergency managers, developed mitigation strategies for possible jökulhlaup produced during future Katla eruptions. These strategies were tested during a full-scale evacuation exercise in March 2006. A positive public response during a volcanic crisis not only depends upon the public's knowledge of the evacuation plan but also their knowledge and perception of the possible hazards. To improve the effectiveness of residents' compliance with warning and evacuation messages it is important that emergency management officials understand how the public interpret their situation in relation to volcanic hazards and their potential response during a crisis and apply this information to the ongoing development of risk mitigation strategies. We adopted a mixed methods approach in order to gain a broad understanding of residents' knowledge and perception of the Katla volcano in general, jökulhlaup hazards specifically and the regional emergency evacuation plan. This entailed field observations during the major evacuation exercise, interviews with key emergency management officials and questionnaire survey interviews with local residents. Our survey shows that despite living within the hazard zone, many residents do not perceive that their homes could be affected by a jökulhlaup, and many participants who perceive that their homes are safe, stated that they would not evacuate if an evacuation warning was issued. Alarmingly, most participants did not receive an evacuation message during the exercise. However, the majority of participants who took part in the exercise were positive about its implementation. This assessment of resident knowledge and perception of volcanic hazards and the evacuation plan is the first of its kind in this region. Our data can be used as a baseline by the ICP for more detailed studies in Iceland's volcanic regions.