On May 18th 1980, Mt. St. Helen erupted, killing 57 individuals (South Dakota University, 2013). According to the New York Times (2012) the eruption of Mt. St. Helen “was recorded as the deadliest and most economically devastating volcanic event in the history of the United States” (para. 1). A review of the events leading up to Mt. St. Helen’s eruption will be provided. The four stages of disaster management will further be applied in determining how disaster management officials handled the eruption of Mt. St. Helen.

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Prior to the eruption on May 18th, scientists had been monitoring the semisonic waves produced underneath the volcano. The high semisonic waves in the weeks leading up to Mt. St. Helen’s eruption suggested that numerous earthquakes were occurring underneath the volcano (South Dakota University, 2013). The increased prevalence of earthquakes suggested, “to experts that magma might be rising and that there was a possible of a large explosion” (New York Times, 2012, para. 5). This was an important attribute in disaster management as it allowed scientists and public health professionals to work together to prepare. Although the mitigation stage of disaster management is often associated with preventative measures, this stage also reducing the damage associated with a disaster (Federal Emergency Management Association, 2013).

In response to the increased belief that Mt. St. Helen was going to erupt, residents were asked to evacuate the area (New York Times, 2012). Although many residents followed the request to evacuate, some choose not to. The need to evacuate the area was further consistent with the second stage of disaster management, preparedness. The Federal Emergency Management Association (2013) further describes evacuation orders as one example of preparedness. Furthermore, the need to evacuate the area was crucial in reducing fatalities associated with the event. Although there was nothing that scientists could do to stop this volcano from erupting, evacuating the area helped to save lives.

The response to the Mt. St. Helen eruption was extremely complex. The Federal Aviation Administration was responsible for monitoring and preventing airplanes from flying within the region (Colorado State University, n.d.). The Department of Agriculture was responsible for monitoring the effects of the eruption on agriculture and drinking water. Washington’s Department of Ecology was further responsible for determining the effects the eruption had on air quality. In addition, Washington’s Department of Emergency Services monitored planning and coordination efforts. This included assigning county sheriffs to put up roadblocks and help evacuate residents in the week before the eruption.

The recovery efforts made after the eruption of Mt. St. Helen are similar to those exhibited in the response phase. After the volcano erupted, there was little anyone could do in order to recover bodies. According to the University of Maryland (2005) “when Mt. St. Helen erupted in 1980, it destroyed every living thing around it” (para. 1). As a result, the recovery efforts were primarily focused on determining when the area surrounding the volcano was safe to be reopened. Furthermore, the continued monitoring of geographical conditions was necessary in order to ensure the region was safe to live in.

Mt. St. Helen’s eruption in 1980 was one of the worst volcanic disasters throughout the history of the United States. However, the disaster management and response steps take by responders helped to reduce the severity of the disaster. The mitigation efforts taken by scientists helped to determine that the volcano was likely to erupt. These efforts led public health officials to evacuate the region, inevitably, saving hundreds if not thousands of lives. The disaster response after Mt. St. Helen erupted focused on preventing individuals from entering the area and monitoring environmental conditions. The recovery efforts made by disaster management professionals were similar to the efforts made during the response phase. Through these efforts, disaster management professionals were able to reduce the loss of life and protect individuals living in the region.

  • May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helen Volcano Erupts (2012) New York Times. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from: http://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/may-18-1980-mount-st-helens-volcano-erupts/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0
  • Mount St. Helens Recovery Slowed By Caterpillar (2005) Science Daily. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051116085634.htm
  • Mt. St. Helen Eruption (1980) (2013) South Dakota University. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from: http://www.geology.sdsu.edu/how_volcanoes_work/Sthelens.html
  • Natural Hazard Research (n.d.) Colorado State University. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from: http://www.colorado.edu/hazards/publications/wp/wp43.pdf
  • The Four Phases of Emergency Management (2013) Federal Emergency Management Association. Retrieved September 26, 2014 from: http://training.fema .gov/emiweb/downloads/is10_unit3.doc