Volcanic eruptions can put collections at risk of loss as a result of violent explosions, soiling from ash, and/or burning from cinders. Ash and debris from eruptions and fire can also damage buildings, filtration systems, fans, ducts, electrical systems, and other infrastructure, putting whole collections in jeopardy. Structural damage can expose collections to other agents of deterioration.
For more on how to protect and salvage your collections in the event of a volcanic eruption, see the information below.
Volcanoes can pose significant risks to repositories, collections, staff, and visitors. Besides the risk of being buried under lava if repositories are too close to lava flows, volcanoes emit potentially lethal acidic gases that can spread up to 100 miles. Volcanoes cause mudslides and flash floods that cover hundreds of square miles. Volcanoes can lead to tidal waves, earthquakes, rock falls, and explosive lateral blasts that may shoot hot rocks for up to 20 miles.
The biggest single volcanic risk to most repositories is of being impacted by acidic and corrosive ash, which can spread over 1,000 miles coating collections and facilities with a fine and corrosive layer of abrasive ash.
Frequency of Eruptions: Each decade roughly 160 volcanoes erupt, with the annual numbers of active volcanic eruptions averaging between 50-70. Between 1990-1999, 154 eruptions occurred. At any one time, about 20 volcanoes are actively erupting. Eruption periods vary, with the median duration being seven weeks, roughly 10% of eruptions lasting a day, while most eruptions last less than three months. Relatively few last longer than three years, although fifteen volcanoes have been erupting for the last three decades. To discover how many active volcanoes are in an area or to locate a volcano by region, name, or eruption date, use the Global Volcanism Program “Volcanoes of the World” website of the Smithsonian Institution at:
Locations of Volcanoes: In the United States, volcanoes exist in Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Northern Mariana Islands, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. Eighteen of the U.S., volcanoes are judged to be very high threat by the U.S. Geological Survey, with five being in Alaska, four each being in Oregon and Washington State, with three of the most dangerous volcanoes being in California and two in Hawaii. For details see: http://geology.com/most-dangerous-volcanoes.shtml
Most Vulnerable Collections Items: In most repositories the most vulnerable materials to volcanic ashes are:
- all collections on open shelves, which can be coated with corrosive and potentially acidic volcanic ash,
- archival materials, particularly architectural drawings and plans, digital media, documents on paper, magnetic recordings, microfilm, moving image and sound recordings, and photographs and film, which may suffer abrasion, embrittlement, oxidation, loss of data, and silvering out,
- artworks, particularly chalk, charcoal, collages, conte crayon, gouache, montages, paintings, both on canvas and on panels, polychrome sculptures, and watercolors,
- bone and ivory, which may be abraded, discolored or stained, or lose applied color,
- baskets and similar fibrous materials, such as sandals, which may be abraded by sharp ash particles, stained, or lose color
- ceramics, which may be abraded, scratched, or lose color,
- furniture/wood, which may loose surface finish or suffer oxidation of attached metals,
- glass, which may be abraded or scratched,
- metal objects, which may be scratched or oxidized—as silver may corrode due to fumes and toxic gases,
- natural history specimens, which may be stained or covered with ash, and
- textiles, which may suffer from staining or weakening.
Most Frequent Types of Collection Damage: Volcanic gases, mud, lava, and ash pose particular threats as they:
- corrode and oxidize metal, film, microfilm, and photographs,
- damage surface finishes on paper, photographs, wood, textiles, and other objects,
- destroy digital and magnetic media, particularly audiotapes, digital files, software, and videotapes,
- embrittle paper, photographs, textiles, and other objects, and
- fade and/or stain art work or paper.
Volcano Damage Prevention: When designing a new facility:
- Avoid placing the repository or any offsite storage, work, exhibit, or reading room areas within a 100 miles of active volcanoes.
- Avoid situating your repository near any road, or river, valley, or other geological feature that could lead volcanic lava, mud, or water to the repository.
Basic Preparations: Prepare your repository to deal with volcanic issues:
- Purchase vacuuming equipment with a water filtration system for use in cleaning away ash.
- Purchase special furnace filters for screening out particulate ash.
- Train staff members how to totally shut down the repository air intake system and tape up all ducts, valves, vents, and windows.
- Have adequate emergency supplies, personal protective equipment, evacuation transportation, fuel, and staff escape routes planned.
During a Volcanic Activity Alert: If a volcanic activity alert is announced:
- Evacuate visitors and non-essential staff first.
- Work with essential staff to evacuate high value collections to either the highest available ground within your facility or to a pre-selected safe and prepared facility remote (at least 20 miles) from the volcano.
If Evacuation Seems Likely:
- Listen to emergency band radio for instructions.
- Staff should change into long-sleeved shirts and pants, locate goggles and dust-masks, and where possible, rated breathing apparatuses that have been fitted to each staff member.
- Turn off all air intake equipment.
- Ensure that the ducts, vents, window gaps, poorly grouted areas, chimneys, and air intakes are taped shut. Place additional coverings over chimneys and air intakes if possible.
- Close all books and cabinets before leaving.
- Turn off, disconnect, extinguish all fires, and cover all office equipment, especially computers and printers, appliances, and electrical equipment except essential emergency equipment.
- Shut down utilities.
- Wrap fragile materials and shelves in plastic to prevent volcanic ash buildup.
- Remove all sources of humidity, such as dehumidifier pans and standing water, as volcanic ash combined with water can in some cases produce either a sulfuric acid or a cement-like composite that encases items.
- Try to keep the humidity low through passive means such as conditioned silica gel in gasketed cabinets for high value materials.
- Close and lock doors and windows, taping them shut if possible to limit the ability of drifting ash and fumes to get into the building.
- Check all emergency supplies and emergency equipment before evacuating.
- Fill evacuation vehicle gas tanks, bring along emergency gallons of gas, and ensure that the vehicles are operating properly.
During Evacuation: Do the following:
- Provide assistance to disabled and injured people.
- Ensure that no one is left trapped in the building, such as in an elevator.
- Notify authorities of any trapped individuals and their likely location.
- Take the emergency plan and visitor log with you.
- Keep evacuation vehicle gas tanks topped off to the extent possible.
- Avoid leaving vehicle engines running longer than necessary as volcanic ash and fumes can destroy car and truck engines.
- Listen to emergency band radios.
- Evacuate as ordered when the alert occurs.
- Use a cell phone or mobile phone, if possible, to determine if your evacuation route is safe and that all bridges are still available. Avoid routes with numerous bridges, valleys, tunnels, or bottlenecks.
- Wear a hat, a fitted breathing apparatus and goggles, if possible; otherwise keep a damp cloth over your mouth and nose. People can die from breathing toxic volcanic fumes.
- Go to high ground and keep moving away from the volcano. Stay away from low lying areas and all lava flows, volcanic ash fall areas, and mudflows, where fumes may accumulate. Being aware of topography may save your life.
- Get as far from the volcano as possible. Do not stop in less than 20 miles from the volcano. Be aware that some danger from fumes and gases still exists up to 100 miles away.
- Don’t return to your home or repository until an “all clear” is announced and authorities indicate it is safe.
Post-Eruption Clean-up Actions to Salvage Your Repository: After you are cleared to enter the area again:
- Wear goggles, a scarf or hat, and an appropriately rated breathing apparatus fitted to the wearer, as well as a long-sleeved smock, gloves, and slacks during recovery work. Wear goggles over glasses to prevent scratching of lens surfaces.
- Staff members with breathing problems or asthma should avoid post-volcanic salvage work. Consult with your doctor if you are unsure whether you should be involved.
- Avoid touching your hair, face, mouth or eyes once you begin working.
- Don’t go into your repository until it has been judged safe by a structural engineer.
- Clear roofs, gutters, and drains of ash fall speedily as it can become heavy enough to collapse buildings.
- Be aware that animals, snakes, and insects may have used your repository as a safe haven during the eruption. Be cautious about where you place your hands and feet.
- Don’t turn on the repository’s air handling system until the outdoor air has cleared of ash and fumes and ash has been removed from the building gutters.
- Keep doors and windows closed.
- When you first enter the building, place mats outside the building to avoid tracking ash inside.
- When you first enter the building, place plastic sheeting on the floors near any entry points and windows to capture ash.
- As volcanic ash is extremely sharp, gritty and abrasive, avoid touching it or rubbing it as it will act like an acidic sandpaper on collections and furnishings.
- Vacuum all spaces from the top down ,emptying vacuum bags of ashes outside the building far from air intake areas.
- Wash nothing, as volcanic ash and water can produce acids or may harden into a cement-like covering when mixed with water.
- Avoid rubbing, wiping, brushing, or washing storage furniture, walls, or collection item surfaces, instead vacuum working from the top of the room on down.
- Take care to stir up the ash as little as possible when moving through a space to clean or work.
- Change building and vacuum air filters very frequently, placing the trash outside far from air intake valves.
- Keep the indoor environment very dry, preferably via passive methods.
Post Volcanic Eruption Activities to Salvage Your Collections:
- Start recovery actions with your most valuable and sensitive collections items.
- Obtain assistance from a trained conservator.
- Contaminated collections items should be moved in a carefully supported fashion and cleaned in a non-ash contaminated work area.
- Clean items via a handheld HEPE vacuum which has variable suction, microbrush attachments, a plastic mesh screen taped over the suction head, and a rheostat attachment to restrict the flow of electricity to the vacuum.
- Test an item before vacuuming, by placing the vacuum directly over a small spot to see if any surface flaking, loose parts, or other problems occur. If problems occur, stop immediately and have the item cleaned by a conservator.
- Avoid attempting to clean ripped, cracked, broken, or damaged items or any items with friable or loose surfaces. In general, have paintings, charcoals, conte crayon drawings, crayon drawings, flaking photographs, and similar friable and fragile items cleaned by a conservator.
- When vacuuming, avoid touching, rubbing, or moving the vacuum over the surface of the item being cleaned. Instead hold the vacuum steadily slightly above the item’s surface to facilitate the ash being sucked up.
- Clean the vacuum often outside of the building away from the air intake valves.
- Return the cleaned items to their original storage only after the storage area has been thoroughly cleaned.
- Questions should be addressed to your conservator. Contract conservators can be located via the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).