The destruction of Pompeii is one of the most famous disasters of all time. A modern eruption of Vesuvius could prove even more deadly. Fortunately, measures are in place to mitigate its worst impacts.

The eruption of Italy’s Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD killed at least 2300 people, and destroyed the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum burying them under meters of hot pyroclastic ash. In the centuries since, a number of eruptions have proven almost as devastating to life and property. And more eruptions are inevitable. However, through early warning systems, risk modelling and evacuation strategies, loss of life and disruption from these events may be minimized.

An eruption today could prove more costly than historical events by several orders of magnitude. At present, around 1.7 million people live in the potentially affected area – according to a 2009 Willis Research Network report, a major eruption of Vesuvius today could result in 8,000 fatalities, 13,000 serious injuries, and total economic losses of more than $17 billion (2008 values). Italy’s Department of Civil Protection identifies 25 separate towns at risk in the event of an eruption, and plans are in place for the evacuation of as many as 700,000 people.

The Vesuvius Observatory

The Vesuvius Observatory, founded in 1841 on the slopes of the volcano but now situated in Naples, is the oldest volcanological observatory in the world. Run by the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology, it monitors all of the Campanian volcanoes – Vesuvius, Ischia, and the Phlegraean Fields, as well as Stromboli – enabling long- and short-term forecasting. The observatory monitors seismic activity, ground deformation, and gravimetric and magnetic field variations, as well as changes in the composition and temperature of the gases emitted from fumaroles, soil, and groundwater.

The observatory can provide early warning of an impending eruption, and the science of volcanic eruption modeling provides a realistic sense of what would happen should Vesuvius erupt today. Without the preparedness plans, informed by detailed risk models, the risk to life would be substantially worse.

A new award – The Understanding Risk Averted Disaster Award (ADA) – marks a significant effort to highlight efforts around the world to reduce the impacts of natural disasters. The ADA identifies and receives applications from individuals, project teams and organizations of all sizes, regions and industries whose successful DRM interventions have not been recognized.

Professor Luigio Carmera By Willem van de Poll

If your organization or project meets this description, you’re invited to submit your applications here. The winning applicants will receive up to five cash grants and tickets to attend Understanding Risk 2022, the world’s largest forum for views and innovations in DRM globally. The intervention highlighted in the winning application will be featured in a documentary to be premiered at the event.