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Responding to volcanic eruptions in Iceland: from the small to the catastrophic

Deanne K. Bird () and Guðrún Gísladóttir
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Deanne K. Bird: University of Iceland
Guðrún Gísladóttir: University of Iceland

Palgrave Communications, 2018, vol. 4, issue 1, 1-13

Abstract: Abstract There is no doubt that as the world’s population continues to grow and expand in hazardous environments, so too does our vulnerability to disaster. Researching disaster risk is therefore an ongoing challenge requiring a continual process of generating understanding of the changing environmental and societal characteristics that influence disaster vulnerability. Iceland, as the land of fire and ice, is of no exception. With a changing population, exponential growth in tourism and a volcanic eruption on average every 3–4 years, disaster risk research is of critical importance. Based on questionnaire survey results, interviews with key stakeholders and data derived from Statistics Iceland, this paper considers how residents might respond to a future eruption by examining their experience of the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull eruptions against the changing demographic, economic and political landscape. While authorities were pleased with public response to evacuation orders in 2010, some residents did not evacuate. The reasons for not evacuating were due to caring for others or thinking the warnings were not applicable. Yet, most residents showed respect for authority and acknowledged the necessity of the evacuations. The relatively small, homogenous population of Iceland coupled with its peoples’ desire to cooperate contributed to this success. Within these communities, people are bound together by common beliefs, values and activities. However, the changing social landscape will test this phenomenon. In particular, the region’s economic base is evolving from traditional farming practices to one that is increasingly reliant on tourism. Demographic changes most notably include greater international migration to the South, as well as from the capital region. As the communities diversify, so too will people’s beliefs, values and activities. This paper explores the challenges this diversity brings with respect to generating a proactive public response to future evacuation orders. Furthermore, it highlights the importance of capturing narratives of actions and activities to enhance our understanding of the process of decision-making and the situational factors that add to its complexity.

Date: 2018
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