Kilauea Mitigation & Preparedness

March 23, 2008

If a volcano erupts, there are many potential problems that could effect the surrounding inhabitants associated with all the different types of eruptions. Obviously the lava itself, whether it be lava flows or shot into the air, can inflict great damage. The gases associated with eruptions can also be harmful to eruption. In modern times volcanoes are being avoided as much as planned for, but those in harm’s way should have a well-though plan of emergency.

Mitigation and preparedness are essential to control loss of life and property during natural disasters. The difference between the two is that mitigation is an attempt to minimize the effect of the disaster before it occurs, whereas preparedness is getting ready knowing there is a chance the disaster will occur.

One important way to control economic risks are to invest in mitigation efforts. For a volcano, the best mitigation is living far away from a volcano. These efforts are as much about what isn’t done rather than what is. Some of these events would be to avoid developing downhill from rift zones or to devise a way to direct lava around the city should the site be in harm’s way. Preparedness for a volcano is essential because there are many potential hazards in the area. In volcanic areas, warning systems are in effect and are widely publicized. These systems are essential to give nearby people as much time as possible to evacuate. The best preparedness for a volcano is a good escape route. It is recommended to have a checklist of what is imperative to bring (pack light!), a plan to get in touch with other family members or friends, and a planned escape route away from the volcano.

Volcanic Ash


Volcanic ash is another extremely damaging effect of a volcano eruption. It is especially dangerous because it fills the entire sky, and there is no way to stop it in its path. It covers everything and everyone with a acidic, gritty feel and a smell of sulphur. The only available mitigation is to design structures for the effects of ash. One inch of dry volcanic ash weighs 1 psf, of which the effects are only amplified when wet ash is considered (These loads are often accounted for as snow loads in cold areas, but warm places like Hawaii should be aware of ash weight effects). The building’s air handling unit is also a critical part of mitigation. It is important to be able to quickly shut off the units and cover all vents so ash does not get in. After the ash event it is critical to clean rooftops first, then the surrounding ground, then unmask the building. The Volcanic ash is harmful to the human respiratory system, especially in infants, the elderly, and asthmatic people. The level of preparedness in effected areas is critical to the safety of the inhabitants. A pamphlet instructing how to prepare for an ash event can be found here: Ash Alert! How to Protect your Family, Home, and Business. Included is a checklist that highlights such integral preparedness supplies such as a dust mask/respirator, food, water, and a fire extinguisher.

The mitigation attempts have not progressed exactly as planned, having to sacrifice several large developments to avoid the lava flows. Because of this it is imperative to be prepared for such an event regardless of cost. The required level of preparedness has an economic impact on the neighboring residents, taking money out of their pockets while their properties are at risk.

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The Story of the Royal Garden Subdivision

March 20, 2008


The Royal Garden Subdivision was a largely undeveloped 1,800-acre community situated to the East of Kilauea Volcano. The property was highly valuable and seen as a blossoming community with a beautiful view of the volcano. No one seemed to mind that the site was a short 6 kilometers down a steep slope southeast of the vent. By 1983 about 200 structures had been built on the property and their values were still rapidly rising. Then the volcano erupted. On March 20, 1983 the first house was destroyed by a lava flow. When authorities ordered the subdivision evacuated, lava was flowing down the subdivision streets. Many residents were forced to drive downhill quickly to avoid the flow. Several volcanoes over the next 20 years reached the site in about 13 hours, leaving residents very little time to pack up and get away. This put many residents into panic mode and many of the properties went on sale, although for some odd reason none seemed to sell. Residency dwindled while most occupants left town, but there were a few who were vigilant and stayed. The economic impact is obvious as the owners of the Royal Gardens homes had their most valuable possession in the path of a volcano. A few years of minor activity later and the residents were hoping for the best.

Unfortunately, in 1987, the residents found themselves in the path of the volcano again. The direct road from the Royal Gardens Subdivision to the nearest town, Hilo, was cut off. A short drive to the market now became a drive to the end of the subdivision, a 1-mile hike to the National Park road system, and an additional 60 miles – one way. Residents had “inside cars” and “outside cars” which they would leave on either side of their hikes. The picture below is from 1990, after the subdivision had been ravaged by the thick, black ‘a’a flows. It can be seen how the Royal Gardens Subdivision is directly between the volcano’s vent (top left) and the local low point, the ocean (bottom right).


While occupancy dwindled further, several die-hards stayed put. One resident even opened a successful Bed and Breakfast. Only the most stubborn of souls lived in the subdivision until the most recent lava flow, on March 8, 2008. The flow destroyed the Nation Park access road that was a mile’s walk from the subdivision. The residents now officially had no access to the public and were forced to move away.

In 2001 some relief came for some of the old residents of the subdivision. The Office of Hawaiian Affairs and the Department of Land & Natural Resources combined to donate $3.1 million to build the infrastructure for the city of Kikala-Keokea three miles North of the old site of Royal Gardens. Only residents of the old subdivision could lease or buy the new development.

On March 6th, 2008, a major lava flow again struck the area near Royal Garden. This time the National Park access road to the site was blocked off. The government officially made the residents of the subdivision move away from their lava-filled development.

On the site today, about 10 abandoned, ill-maintained structures are still standing. The site is basically inaccessible except by helicopter with the destruction of the access road. For the families a way of life was completely turned upside down.  This development is a good example of the economical impact one of these such disasters can inflict.  There was a great amount of money lost by everyone in the area of the volcano.

Works Cited

The Pu`u `O`o-Kupaianaha Eruption, 1982-Present

March 20, 2008

The Pu’u ‘O’o-Kupaianaha eruption began in 1983 and the volcano has been active until the present. The 1983 eruption began with lava fountains building the now-massive cinder and spatter cone on the volcano currently. Major lava flows in 1986, 1990 and 1992 added more mass to the volcano’s broad shields on the East and West sides of the volcano. The 1986 lava flow to the East can be seen below. Lava flowed to form the shield named “Kupaianaha.”




The 1986 lava flows can be seen below overrunning a street on the outskirts of Kapalana village. The village survived until a 1990 lava flow engulfed the majority of the village.


In present day, the lava flow has covered 119.4 square kilometers (46.1 square miles) and has flowed for long distances in several directions. The eruption map as of March 13, 2008 can be seen below.


Click here to see the eruption map in MUCH higher resolution.

Since 1983 the volcano has averaged a spewing of 500,000 square meters of volcanic material per day. The eruption has blocked many roads and destroyed entire developments on its way pressing finally into the ocean on March 13, 2008. The eruption’s path to the ocean crossed Highway 130 on March 6, and forced evacuations of nearby areas. The 2.6-mile road was built as an access route between villages and included the main lava viewing area associated with the park.

Works Cited


History of Kilauea Volcano & Past Eruptions

March 20, 2008

Kilauea’s origin is predicted to be in the 300,000-600,000 year range, although it did not emerge past sea level until 50,000-100,000 years ago. Geological surveys and examination of boring holes has revealed that there haven’t been any prolonged periods of inactivity in its history. Studies also show that the past 200 years of its existence are probably typical of its entire history. The volcano is composed mostly of lava flows with local pockets of explosive type eruptions. Kilauea has three particular spots that are susceptible to volcanoes – its summit and two rift zones. The caldera of the volcano has come and gone, while the eruption zones have stayed the same over the years. The most notable past eruptions are:

1924 – The Explosions of Kilauea

This volcano was highlighted by frequent earthquakes, steam-driven explosions and ten-ton rocks being blasted into the air. Before this eruption Kilauea was known as a mild, flowing lava volcano and not as a violent eruption producer. The picture below shows a 10 ton rock that was blasted 1 km from the volcano and its resulting crater.  Fortunately at this time there were no populated areas in the blast area so the economic impact was negligible.




1959/1960 – Summit Eruption & Kapoho Eruption

These eruptions together formed a summit-flank collapse, which experts say is how Kilauea should behave. It expels mass from the inside out the vent, then collapses on itself releasing lava flows. The eruptions damaged Koa-e’ Village and destroyed Kapoho Village, causing . The city was covered in a blanket of pumice and ash and lava flows destroyed buildings and flooded yards. The following pictures show some of the devastation of the city.

1960-kapoho-destroyed.gif 1960-kapoho-crack.gif

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About Kilauea Volcano

March 17, 2008


Kilauea Volcano is presently the most active volcano on Earth. Kilauea is a shield volcano that rises 4,091 feet above sea level. Shield volcanoes have a gradual slope to the top where lava spews forth and spreads outwards. Many volcano viewers are surprised when a car can take them to the site of the lava flow. This is in contrast to the typical vision of a cinder cone volcano, one that is tall and steep and erupts with huge force throw debris and filling the sky with ash. It is on Hawaii Island, Hawaii, adjacent to Mauna Loa Volcano.

The Kilauea Visitor’s Center is presently the most highly traveled visitor center attraction in Hawaii ( The center is used as a starting point by 2.6 million people per year who visit the volcano.

The Story of Pele

The most intriguing and well-known visitor of Kilauea is the Hawaiian Goddess of volcanoes, Pele. The origin of Pele is uncertain, as lore has connected her with many of the famous figures of Hawaii in one way or another. Many tales explore Pele’s wrath, usually beginning with an overly jealous or arrogant mortal and ending with violent eruptions and destructive lava flows. In modern times, Pele is keeping busy cursing tourists that take volcanic rocks home with bad luck. “This made-up myth has caused many hundreds of guilty people to mail many tons of rocks back to the islands every year,” a Park Ranger said ( Many Hawaiians to this day have a great respect for Pele, as the visibly active power of the volcanoes keeps him on their minds.

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