Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Geology (PhD)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences

Advisor 1

Rüdiger Escobar Wolf

Advisor 2

Gregory P. Waite

Committee Member 1

Luke J. Bowman

Committee Member 2

Angie Carter

Committee Member 3

Kari Henquinet

Committee Member 4

Matthew Watson


For populations living with risk to rapid-onset environmental hazards, an effective early warning system (EWS) may be the most viable short- to mid-term solution for risk reduction. At Fuego volcano, Guatemala, more than 60,000 people distributed between more than 30 small communities live within the identified hazard zones for pyroclastic density currents (PDCS), highly lethal hot avalanches and surges of volcanic gases, rock, and ash. Despite ongoing risk reduction efforts by scientific and civil protection authorities, more than 400 people died during a paroxysmal eruption on 3 June 2018 when PDCs reached populated areas. A high-end resort, La Reunión, evacuated before the climactic PDCs, suffering no casualties, while the town of San Miguel Los Lotes did not, resulting in the loss of possibly 40% or more of its population. Since that event, paroxysmal eruptions continue to threaten the communities on Fuego’s slopes. This dissertation uses a mix of ethnographic and other source analysis methods to address the following broad questions pertaining to a single case study:

· What information was available for evacuation decision-making leading up to the deadly 3 June 2018 pyroclastic density currents, how was it used by key stakeholders, and how did the ability to use this information impact the outcomes for La Reunión and San Miguel Los Lotes?

· Are evacuation decision-making practices since the 3 June 2018 disaster sufficient to avert disaster in a paroxysm of similar characteristics?

· How do cultural gender expectations impact evacuation strategies and how can women’s experiences in evacuation inform future risk reduction strategies?

Results of these three studies indicate that the two government agencies were unable to fulfill their responsibilities of knowledge generation and decision-making during the crisis and the town of San Miguel Los Lotes was unequipped to make crucial evacuation decisions without this external support, while the La Reunión resort was able to evacuate independently. Current crisis management practices would be too slow and geographically too limited to avert a disaster with characteristics, including an escalation timeline, similar to that of the June 2018 eruption, in part because the system does not have well-defined acceptable risk thresholds on which to base evacuation decisions and no clear criteria for decision-making. Because communities prioritize women, children, and the elderly for evacuation while men stay behind to protect property, evacuations disproportionately leave men exposed to the threat and place the burden of evacuation with large families on the women. This research demonstrates the importance of explicitly including decision-making processes, resources and infrastructure for taking protective actions, and consideration of competing risks into EWS models. To be effective, an EWS must be designed within the limitations of the scientific, technological, economic, and socio-political context in which it operates.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.