Volcano risk must be stressed, says scientist

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Despite massive media coverage and a climber losing his leg, only a half of Ruapehu's visitors are aware of the mountain's eruption last year, a survey has found.

The surprisingly low result has prompted Conservation Department scientist Harry Keys to call for much greater awareness among mountain visitors of the dangers of being on an active volcano.

The GNS Science survey revealed that only 56 per cent of people interviewed on the mountain knew that last September there had been an eruption that cost Auckland climber William Pike a leg after he was hit by falling rocks as he sheltered in Dome Hut.

And only 45 per cent were aware of the correct action to take in the event of an eruption or lahar.

Dr Keys said both of these figures were a significant increase on awareness before the eruption - a meagre 5 and 22 per cent respectively - but more had to be done. "Ruapehu is a fantastic place to climb, ski, hike and photograph but it's also a very active volcano where even small eruptions can be hazardous."

The unpredictable nature of small eruptions meant anyone within the two-kilometre summit hazard zone near the crater was vulnerable, he said.

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Ruapehu Alpine Lifts sales manager Mike Smith said there was always room for improvement but he was comfortable with what was being done to encourage safety awareness.

Of the estimated 100,000 people who visited each winter, at least half were experienced skiers who knew the dangers of volcanic activity.

"About a quarter of our visitors are beginners who may be unaware of the dangers. They are there to have a good time but it's our staff's role to help them learn along the way. It's part of working in a hazardous environment and the volcanic [awareness] is a big part of our health and safety training."

Mr Smith said safety posters were on the mountain and the early warning systems were sometimes tested, like a gigantic fire drill, clearing everyone out of the valleys.

Newsletters were e-mailed regularly to the 57,000 customers on the database.

The early warning systems were being reviewed with a possibility of more signage and an automated loudspeaker system on the Turoa ski-field.

Dr Keys, and Martin Manning of Victoria University, will give a public lecture on risk management, and the effects of climate change on Mt Ruapehu, at the National Library Auditorium in Wellington on Thursday.

The Dominion Post