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Published: 2011-12-12 00:00:00

The ever present threat of volcanic eruption in the North Island’s central plateau region has prompted a new focus on public education and risk management by the multi-agency Central Plateau Volcanic Advisory Group.

“Ruapehu, Tongariro and Ngauruhoe are all active volcanoes and are monitored 24/7 for signs of eruption. While the current risk is low, the unpredictable nature of volcanoes means they can erupt at any time. The collapse of Ruapehu’s crater rim in 2007 and subsequent lahar is an example of the other types of problems we can experience with volcanoes,” said the group’s chairman Adam Munro, regional hazards manager at Waikato Regional Council.

“These so-called blue sky events are why we all need to take public awareness and emergency planning for potential eruptions very seriously.”

The group – made up of representatives from emergency services, the military, local councils, central Government agencies, civil defence, monitoring and science agencies, and utility providers – has developed a new strategy and work programme for developing public awareness about the volcanic threat and for planning over responding to an eruption.

Mr Munro said there were broad types of risk from eruptions.

“People on or near volcanoes when they erupt can be injured by the likes of explosions, falling material, lava and lahars. It’s important that we educate mountain users more about the warning signs of a sudden eruption and what they can do to protect themselves.

“However, the ash cloud thrown up by an eruption also has potential to affect things like aviation, transport networks, farming, water supplies and people’s respiratory health.

“Under our new work programme, there will be a particular focus on public awareness and contingency plans for these more widespread threats,” Mr Munro said.

The Central Plateau Volcanic Advisory group was established in 2008 following the March 2007 lahar event on Ruapehu. This was caused by the collapse of the crater lake rim which blocked the lake’s outlet as a result of the eruptions in 1995 and 1996. The group has regular meetings for inter-agency liaison over volcano monitoring, research and emergency management.