21 January 2020

How do you know when it’s gonna blow? Two years of USGS participation in the Siskiyou Science Festival

Posted by Shane Hanlon

By Jessica Ball

The USGS booth at the Siskiyou Science Festival, featuring erupting volcanoes, make-your-own-earthquake stomping station, geologic maps of Mount Shasta, and a volcanologist photo booth! Credit: Jessica Ball

California is well-known for its earthquakes, but even people living in the hazard zones of active volcanoes may not be aware of potential volcanic hazards in their area. The USGS California Volcano Observatory (CalVO) has been working to raise awareness of the State’s volcanoes. Mount Shasta, where the last confirmed eruption occurred ~3,000 years ago, could create volcanic hazards impacting more than 103,000 people.

Communication is a two-way street, and good conversations happen in person

The so-called “deficit model” of communication (correcting a lack of knowledge) is not effective in changing people’s behavior around natural hazards. For communication to have a long-lasting impact, interested non-scientists need to be part of (and invested in) the conversation. People are often generally knowledgeable about the landscapes they live in. By meeting citizens of volcanic areas where they live and engaging in dialog rather than lecturing, observatory scientists can show that they respect the community, and help integrate hazard and risk information into community awareness.

Scientists can also build trust ahead of volcanic crises by attending community events like science festivals. Humanizing scientists builds connections and goodwill with the communities they must work in. Trust is essential for effective operations and communications, both before and during a volcanic crisis; if people trust the source of information about a volcano, they are more likely to take action to stay safe when volcanic unrest begins.

User feedback improves hazard products and makes Observatory operations run more smoothly

In the past few years, USGS volcano observatories have begun to create a new range of hazard products with end-users (including communities) in mind. Rather than simply delivering materials created from a scientist’s perspective, the USGS (and CalVO) aim to tailor products to their intended users so they will be more understandable and useful. Many community members in Mt. Shasta are aware of ongoing mapping and hazard assessment work, and use the Science Festival as a way to keep updated on progress. And, incorporating their input into hazard products makes them feel like they have ’skin in the game’, so they’re more likely to remember and use the products when the time comes.

All of these experiences have made CalVO’s participation with the Siskiyou Science Festival hugely valuable, and our Observatory scientists look forward to continuing the tradition in the years to come!

Dr. Jessica Ball is the Assistant Scientist-in-Charge for Hazards and Communication at the USGS California Volcano Observatory