Lahar response management at Whakapapa Ski Field, Ruapehu : staff development and public safety

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Galley, I.; Paton, D.; Johnston, D.M.; Becker, J.S. 2003 Lahar response management at Whakapapa Ski Field, Ruapehu : staff development and public safety . Lower Hutt: Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences. Institute of Geological & Nuclear Sciences science report 2003/06 18 p.

Abstract: Ruapehu has had a very active recent history. In three cases, in 1969, 1975, and most recently in 1995, Ruapehu has erupted sending lahars flowing through the ski-field areas. These lahars are a body of water from the Crater Lake that, when ejected during an eruption, heads down the mountain slopes, melting snow and gathering mass as it proceeds. Anyone caught in the path of a lahar is unlikely to survive. Ruapehu’s active nature and the presence of large numbers of civilians on the slopes during the ski-season would suggest that the development and maintenance of an emergency evacuation plan should be a high priority. This report is a training needs analysis for Ruapehu Alpine Lifts staff in response to a Lahar event. It is divided into three main sections: 1. The introduction; 2. The response, which outlines the sort of scenario that is likely; and 3. The training needs (which includes individual knowledge and skills as well as organisational practises) that are required to ensure the response plan is carried out as effectively as possible. Certain aspects of the recommendations herein are explained in more detail in the Notes section at the end of the report, but these are not central to the report proper. There are a number of significant factors that make the situation facing RAL staff more challenging. An event of this nature has the potential to occur unexpectedly and presents the occupants of the ski-fields with very little time in which to respond to the danger. The appropriate response to the threat is also atypical. Rather than fleeing away from the danger, as instinct would dictate, individuals need to seek higher ground relative to the lahar (that is, ground that is not necessarily uphill, but on a higher elevation relative to the valley-confined lahar path). In addition, customers will have varying levels of proficiency and mobility (e.g. snowboarders and skiers will have different mobility characteristics). A significant proportion of the staff members on the ski-field will be part-time employees, limiting the extent to which they can receive emergency response training. The event can be divided into two general categories: a ‘blue-sky’ event, or one which is preceded by warning signs. A ‘blue-sky’ event in which a significant eruption occurs with no prior warning is the most dangerous scenario, but also the least likely. However, the plan should be aimed at accommodating such a ‘worst case scenario.’ The event proper can be divided into three phases: 1. Lahar flow begins: the priority is to move all customers and staff to high ground as quickly and as safely as possible 2. Lahar flow ceases: people must be evacuated from their safe-areas to the lower levels. 3. Wider evacuation: populations at lower levels care cared for or evacuated. The development of the response plan should be guided by the nature of the hazard effects that need to be managed (i.e. what the lahar does to the ski-field environment). The response plan should an ticipate a wide range of potential event scenarios and how to respond in these circumstances, should be written down in its entirety and open and accessible to all. In developing the plan one should: specify exactly what groups of staff are going to be involved, and specify exactly what the roles of those groups are, define decision-making procedures, ensure co-ordination amongst the organisations involved, define communication procedures and ensure that the resources required for the reponse are sufficient and available. Particular attention must be given to integrating the RAL plan with that of other organisations that may be involved with a response, especially that of the Department of Conservation (DoC). To ensure the effective implementation of the plan special attention needs to be given to disseminating it to both customers and staff. It is recommended that regular exercises are conducted to both test the latest iteration of the plan and to provide staff members with the opportunity to practise the evacuation procedures. Of all the methods for preparing staff for an emergency response, training exercises are the most effective, especially considering the typically short-term nature of staff retention at RAL. Feedback from exercises should be obtained and, along with any new data gained regarding the nature of the potential event, used to further strengthen the plan. Recommendations are given regarding issues that may impact on the effective implementation of the response plan in the medium to long term. (auth)