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The perception of volcanic risk in Kona communities from Mauna Loa and Hualalai volcanoes, Hawai'i

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-16, 14:53 authored by Gregg, CE, Houghton, BF, Johnston, DM, Douglas Paton, Swanson, DA
Volcanic hazards in Kona (i.e. the western side of the island of Hawai'i) stem primarily from Mauna Loa and Hualālai volcanoes. The former has erupted 39 times since 1832. Lava flows were emplaced in Kona during seven of these eruptions and last impacted Kona in 1950. Hualālai last erupted in ca. 1800. Society's proximity to potential eruptive sources and the potential for relatively fast-moving lava flows, coupled with relatively long time intervals since the last eruptions in Kona, are the underlying stimuli for this study of risk perception. Target populations were high-school students and adults ( n =462). Using these data, we discuss threat knowledge as an influence on risk perception, and perception as a driving mechanism for preparedness. Threat knowledge and perception of risk were found to be low to moderate. On average, fewer than two-thirds of the residents were aware of the most recent eruptions that impacted Kona, and a minority felt that Mauna Loa and Hualālai could ever erupt again. Furthermore, only about one-third were aware that lava flows could reach the coast in Kona in less than 3 h. Lava flows and ash fall were perceived to be among the least likely hazards to affect the respondent's community within the next 10 years, whereas vog (volcanic smog) was ranked the most likely. Less than 18% identified volcanic hazards as amongst the most likely hazards to affect them at home, school, or work. Not surprisingly, individual preparedness measures were found on average to be limited to simple tasks of value in frequently occurring domestic emergencies, whereas measures specific to infrequent hazard events such as volcanic eruptions were seldom adopted. Furthermore, our data show that respondents exhibit an 'unrealistic optimism bias' and infer that responsibility for community preparedness for future eruptions primarily rests with officials. We infer that these respondents may be less likely to attend to hazard information, react to warnings as directed, and undertake preparedness measures than other populations who perceive responsibility to lie with themselves. There are significant differences in hazard awareness and risk perception between students and adults, between subpopulations representing local areas, and between varying ethnicities. We conclude that long time intervals since damaging lava flows have occurred in Kona have contributed to lower levels of awareness and risk perceptions of the threat from lava flows, and that the on-going eruption at Kīlauea has facilitated greater awareness and perception of risk of vog but not of other volcanic hazards. Low levels of preparedness may be explained by low perceptions of threat and risk and perhaps by the lack of a clear motivation or incentive to seek new modes of adjustment. © 2003 Published by Elsevier B.V.


Publication title

Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research










School of Psychological Sciences


Elsevier B.V.

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Socio-economic Objectives

Pacific Peoples community services not elsewhere classified

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