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ABSTRACT

In 2014–2015, a slow-moving pāhoehoe lava flow from the remote Pu‘u ‘Ō‘ō vent on Kīlauea Volcano advanced 20 km into populated areas of the Puna District on the Island of Hawai‘i. The staff of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Hawaiian Volcano Observatory (HVO) mobilized their resources to closely monitor the flow and provide up-to-date information to the Hawai‘i County Civil Defense (HCCD) agency, the public, and the news media. Scientists issued formal USGS notifications about the flow and Kīlauea’s two eruptions, prepared maps and annotated photographs, infrared images, and videos for dissemination online, and wrote weekly “Volcano Watch” articles for local newspapers. They also provided regular briefings for federal, state, and county agency representatives, answered questions during near-daily briefings with local and national media, and offered information through an established lecture series and participation in community emergency preparedness fairs. Noteworthy among the communication activities was a series of public meetings organized by the Hawai‘i County mayor’s office and led by the HCCD administrator. The meetings were a regular forum for many HVO scientists to talk directly and frequently with residents, business owners, elected officials, and other stakeholders about their concerns, the evolving status of the eruptions, and the uncertain prognosis of the flow’s advance and extent. The dialogue was essential for HVO staff to describe their observations and insights about the lava flow’s behavior and to gain credibility with the community during the crisis. This experience suggests that personal engagement with people at risk from future lava flows in Hawai‘i and elsewhere in the world will remain a crucial part of an eruption response, even with greater capability to disseminate warnings and information digitally via the Internet.

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