Should we stay or should we go now? Factors affecting evacuation decisions at Pacaya volcano, Guatemala

Hans Lechner, Michigan Technological University
Mark Rouleau, Michigan Technological University

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The current paper reports the results of a survey on past and future evacuation decision-making in response to a volcanic eruption (or the threat thereof) at Pacaya volcano, Guatemala. In 2010, Pacaya experienced its largest eruption in over half a century, causing more than 2500 evacuations and resulting in the damage or destruction of hundreds of homes, injuries to dozens of people, and the death of one journalist. Despite a pronounced increase in eruptive activity and the high threat of injury or death, many residents surrounding Pacaya volcano chose to stay in their homes throughout the eruption event. Our study seeks to understand why some households ignored social cues, physical hazards, and evacuation messages, and instead chose to stay in harm's way during a volcanic crisis. Using data obtained from a door-to-door survey conducted in the Pacaya region in October 2016, we found that evacuation behavior during the 2010 eruption was influenced most strongly by one's exposure to hazards, perception of hazards, and perception of readiness. We also found that prior evacuation experience from the 2010 eruption, perceptions of home vulnerability, and warning messages all have a strong influence on one's intention to evacuate in a future volcanic crisis. Finally, we found that perceived risk to one's home or property may have less of an impact on evacuation intention than emergency personnel tend to assume. Building on these findings, we discuss ways to improve evacuation communication in the face of a future eruption.