Risk Management of El Chichón and Tacaná Volcanoes: Lessons Learned from Past Volcanic Crises

  • Servando De la Cruz-Reyna
  • Robert I. Tilling
Part of the Active Volcanoes of the World book series (AVOLCAN)


Before 1985, Mexico lacked civil-protection agencies with a mission to prevent and respond to natural and human-caused disasters; thus, the government was unprepared for the sudden eruption of El Chichón Volcano in March–April 1982, which produced the deadliest volcanic disaster in the country’s recorded history (~2,000 fatalities). With the sobering lessons of El Chichón still fresh, scientists and governmental officials had a higher awareness of possible disastrous outcome when Tacaná Volcano began to exhibit unrest in late 1985. Seismic and geochemical studies were quickly initiated to monitor activity. At the same time, scientists worked actively with officials of the Federal and local agencies to develop the “Plan Operativo” (Operational Plan)—expressly designed to effectively communicate hazards information and reduce confusion and panic among the affected population. Even though the volcano-monitoring data obtained during the Tacaná crisis were limited, when used in conjunction with protocols of the Operational Plan, they proved useful in mitigating risk and easing public anxiety. While comprehensive monitoring is not yet available, both El Chichón and Tacaná volcanoes are currently monitored—seismically and geochemically—within the scientific and economic resources available. Numerous post-eruption studies have generated new insights into the volcanic systems that have been factored into subsequent volcano monitoring and hazards assessments. The State of Chiapas is now much better positioned to deal with any future unrest or eruptive activity at El Chichón or Tacaná, both of which at the moment are quiescent as of 2014. Perhaps more importantly, the protocols first tested in 1986 at Tacaná have served as the basis for the development of risk-management practices for hazards from other active and potentially active volcanoes in Mexico. These practices have been most notably employed since 1994 at Volcán Popocatépetl since a major eruption under unfavorable prevailing winds may constitute a substantial threat to densely populated metropolitan Mexico City. While the 1982 El Chichón disaster was a national tragedy, it greatly accelerated volcanic emergency preparedness and multidisciplinary scientific studies of eruptive processes and products, not only at El Chichón but also at other explosive volcanoes in Mexico and elsewhere in the world.


Seismic Network Active Volcano Eruptive Activity Civil Protection Seismic Swarm 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Instituto de GeofísicaUniversidad Nacional Autónoma de MéxicoCiudad de MéxicoMéxico
  2. 2.Volcano Science CenterU.S. Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA

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