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Managing uncertainty: Lessons from volcanic lava disruption of transportation infrastructure in Puna, Hawaii

Karl Kim, PhD, Pradip Pant, PhD, Eric Yamashita, MURP


A recent lava flow in Puna, Hawaii, threatened to close one of the major highways serving the region. This article provides background information on the volcanic hazards and describes events, responses, and challenges associated with managing a complex, long-duration disaster. In addition to the need to better understand geologic hazards and threats, there is a need for timely information and effective response and recovery of transportation infrastructure. This requires coordination and sharing of information between scientists, emergency managers, transportation planners, government agencies, and community organizations. Transportation assets play a critical role in terms of problem definition, response, and recovery. The challenges with managing a long-duration event include: (1) determining when a sufficient threat level exists to close roads; (2) identifying transportation alternatives; (3) assessing impacts on communities including the direct threats to homes, businesses, structures, and infrastructure; (4) engaging communities in planning and deliberation of choices and alternatives; and (5) managing uncertainties and different reactions to hazards, threats, and risks. The transportation planning process provides a pathway for addressing initial community concerns. Focusing not just on roadways but also on travel behavior before, during, and after disasters is a vital aspect of building resilience. The experience in Puna with the volcano crisis is relevant to other communities seeking to adapt and manage long-term threats such as climate change, sea level risk, and other long-duration events.


lava, transportation, risk, uncertainty

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