A volcano is an opening in the Earth’s crust that allows molten rock, gases, and debris to escape to the surface.

A volcanic eruption may release acid, gases, rocks, and ash into the air. Lava and debris can flow at up to 100 miles per hour, destroying everything in their path. About 11 percent of the world’s active volcanoes are located in the U.S., which has approximately 170 volcanoes. These volcanoes are both active and dormant. Earthquakes, flash floods, landslides, debris and mudflow (lahar), or acid rain may happen at the same time as a volcanic eruption.

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic will be ongoing as disasters such as volcanic eruptions continue to occur throughout the year. Remember to follow the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your state and local authorities to protect yourself and your family from COVID-19 and other disasters.


Words to Know

Alaska, Hawaii, California, and Oregon have the most active volcanoes. However, other states and territories also have active volcanoes. Volcanic ash can travel hundreds of miles and cause severe health problems.

Living through environmental disasters, like a volcanic eruption, can be more complicated when we are also experiencing a pandemic like COVID-19. It is important to be prepared and to understand how COVID-19 might affect you and your family. 

COVID-19 may affect different people in different ways. By practicing good health habits, like washing your hands and social distancing, you can lower your chances of getting sick, both from COVID-19 and in general. 


  • Build an emergency kit. Include items that you will need if you have to evacuate quickly. Your kit should include cleaning supplies, two masks per person to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and non-perishable foods that could last for several days or weeks in case you must stay at home. 
  • Make a family communications plan.
  • In addition to all hazard supplies, include: goggles, N-95 disposable mask, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and supplies to seal ash out of your home.
    • If you do not already have N-95s, include masks. These will protect you from ash for shorter periods of time and will help slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Since volcanic ash may ruin water supplies, include additional supplies of water.
  • Learn about your community’s volcanic eruption warning systems and emergency evacuation plans. Many communities have sirens to alert public of a possible volcanic eruption.
  • Tell your parents if you are not feeling well. Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes. Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, using the bathroom, and eating or making food. 
  • Learn about the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Volcano Hazards Program alert-level  system:
    • NORMAL (green): Volcano is in a noneruptive state, or has returned to a noneruptive state after a higher level of volcanic activity.
    • ADVISORY (yellow): Volcano is showing signs of heightened activity above known background level. An advisory (yellow) could also mean that volcanic activity has decreased significantly after being at a higher level, but continues to be closely monitored in case it returns to a high level.
    • WATCH (orange): Volcano is showing higher unrest with increased potential of eruption, timeframe uncertain. A watch could also mean that an eruption is underway but poses limited hazards.
    • WARNING (red): Hazardous eruption is imminent, underway, or suspected.


  • Follow the evacuation order issued by authorities. Evacuate immediately from the volcano area. You may be asked to evacuate early to provide time to leave the area while routes are available.
    • If your family must evacuate, ask your parent to bring supplies that can help you protect yourself and your family from COVID-19, like masks. Remember that children under two years old, people who have trouble breathing, and people who cannot remove the mask on their own should not wear masks.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes, especially with unwashed hands.
  • If you and your family must stay at a shelter or public facility, maintain a distance of at least six feet, or about two adult arm lengths, between you and people who are not in your household. Remember: Don’t go near crowds or groups.
  • Look out for a flowing river of mud (mudflow). Look upstream before you cross any bridges to make sure a mudflow is not coming. If it is, do not cross the bridge. The mudflow could destroy it.
  • For lahars—move to high ground off valley floors.


  • Listen to safety officials.
  • Text, don’t talk. Unless there’s a life-threatening situation, send a text so that you don’t tie up phone lines needed by emergency workers. Plus, texting may work even if cell service is down.
  • If you and your family must stay at a shelter or public facility, wear a mask. Don’t wear a mask if you have trouble breathing. Children under the age of two, people who have trouble breathing, and people who are unable to remove mask on their own should not where them. 
  • Know that it’s normal to feel anxious or stressed out. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations. Take care of your body and talk with your parents or other trusted adults if you are feeling upset.

Staying Healthy

  • Cover your coughs and sneezes! If you are not wearing a mask, use a tissue or cough or sneeze into your elbow. If you do use a tissue, throw it in the trash right away. 
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice while you wash your hands. Make sure to wash your hands after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, using the bathroom, and before eating or cooking. 
  • If you can’t find soap and water to wash your hands, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol. 
  • Stay away from people who are coughing, sneezing, or sick.
  • Remind your parents to clean surfaces that people touch frequently, like desks, doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls.
  • Tell your parents if you feel sick.

Did you know?

Volcanic ash….

  • is made up of tiny jagged rock and glass
  • can block sunlight and sometimes come with lightning
  • can pile up like heavy snowfall but doesn’t melt or dissolve in water
  • can clog and jam machinery (including aircraft), causing damage

That’s why it’s important to keep and wear a N-95 dust mask and eye goggles or glasses (not contact lenses) if you are in a volcanic ashfall area! Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants to help reduce exposure.

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Last Updated: 02/18/2021