Volcanoes as Entertainment!

During the first few months of 1997, an unusual number of volcano "media events" are erupting across the country in movie theaters and on national television. These events include "Dante's Peak," a movie starring Pierce Brosnan as a U.S. Geological Survey volcanologist; "Volcano," with an eruption in the La Brea tar pits; made-for-TV movies; and several TV specials on hazards. All of this media attention to volcanoes is expected to trigger a large number of inquiries for volcano information from the USGS.

The USGS information staff has been scrambling to prepare for this potential burst of requests. We have had numerous meetings, tele-conferences, and video-conferences to try to get our own staff informed about the wide variety of our products that might be used to answer questions from the public. Our Office of Outreach has been working in hyperdrive to help get everyone coordinated and to provide an interface between the media and other parts of our organization. This office has also worked with the American Red Cross to distribute a brief flyer about volcano hazards and preparedness to theater-goers. The intent is to answer the most basic questions quickly and directly while they are on the minds of viewers.

The principal tools for responding to inquiries will be our main 1-800 number (1-800-USA-MAPS), our fax-on-demand system, and a large number of our publications on the Internet. The 800 number has a phone-tree that directs callers to the other two possibilities and also offers the alternative of talking in person to an information specialist in one of our Earth Science Information Centers (ESICs). If the caller has a highly technical question, the request will be referred to a volcanologist for special attention. The fax-on-demand system has a series of fact sheets on various volcano topics; the number for the main menu is 703-648-4888. On the Internet, there is a wide range of publications, such as The Dynamic Earth, and of information sites designed by our volcano observatories. The Internet material can be reached by accessing the USGS homepage, http://www.usgs.gov.

While this flurry of potential interest (maybe thousands of new inquiries!) may be an enormous burden on our information system, it is a real opportunity to help the public better understand hazards and to disseminate our USGS information. Personally, I'm also aware that all this media attention will generate extra requests to our friends in the state geological surveys and other organizations. So if you need help with your own search for volcano information, please feel free to ask me at e-mail address: jkeith@usgs.gov. I'll do my best to help you!

--John Keith
U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia