SVG Fieldwork March – May 2015

Freshly back from my recent field campaign in St. Vincent, I’ve been eagerly sifting through my mounds of data, hours of footage and folders of photographs. I had intended to keep a good blog record of my fieldwork throughout, however, that might have been somewhat ambitious. However, I still wanted to share what I got up to during my time on St. Vincent and some of the superb activities I was involved with.

As many of you know, over the last year  as part of my PhD research, I have developed a new interactive computer game to be used in volcanic hazard education and outreach for the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. After a hectic year and final few weeks of tweaking and testing, I headed out to St. Vincent in late March to begin game trials. First thing to do was to met with key members of the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO), who run a lot of the volcano education sessions on St. Vincent, to talk to them about the game and my intentions over the coming weeks. They seemed to be pleased with the game and excited to see how successful a tool like this could be which was a great start.

Over the initial few weeks, I arranged community sessions with adults across the island, particularly targetting ‘Red Zone’ residents. The ‘Red Zone’ refers to the volcanic hazard map produced for the island which identifies areas of the island which are most likely to be affected by volcanic hazards during a future volcanic eruption. Adult community sessions were run in Chateaubelair, Fancy and Georgetown with a later session also run in the Kingstown area.

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The Volcanic Hazard Map as visualised with the ‘St. Vincent’s Volcano’ computer game.

Volcano Awareness Week (VAW) – 20-24th April 2015.

During my field campaign, the annual Volcano Awareness Week activities were conducted across the island. The activities are organised by NEMO and run by The University of the West Indies, Seismic Research Centre (SRC) in collaboration with the Soufriere Monitoring Unit (SMU). This year I was lucky enough to join in with the activities and test out the game as we went. The weeks activities consist of an intensive schools education programme for both Primary and Secondary Schools, with over 1000 students taught throughout the week. This year the school focus was around the Kingstown area, which is within the ‘Green Zone’, to raise awareness about how Green does not mean safe. Even in the Green Zone they may experience heavy ash fall and of course, the influx of evacuees from the other, more at-risk locations.

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Richie Robertson of UWI SRC talking about the Volcanic Hazard Map for St. Vincent to a school group during VAW 2015

The activities are designed to coincide with the anniversary of the 1979 eruption of La Soufriere, which saw over 20,000 people evacuated to emergency shelters after it began to erupt on 13th April. The 1979 eruption is something most people living on the island are aware of and may have even experienced and I heard many people talking about it throughout the week. However, it was clear throughout the sessions we ran, that very few people knew details of the eruption and were unaware of eruptions prior to this event including the 1902 eruption when over 1500 people died.

During Volcano Awareness Week, emergency managers, emergency responders and government officials join together to review the national emergency management plan for the island in the case of a future volcanic crisis. This is done annually to ensure there is a plan in place to manage a crisis situation, to make sure roles are established and that emergency shelters and materials are ready. The workshop ran over two days with all key parties in attendance.

The week of activities culminated with a hike of La Soufriere with community groups and school children. This year over 135 people hiked the volcano on a hot and humid day with the crater lightly capped with cloud. We were joined by over 60 students from The Bishops College from Kingstown who were lucky enough to have a more hands-on learning experience from the craters edge. The day was superb and it was a great opportunity to meet with local community members and talk about their personal experiences of the 1979 eruption. After many hours of hiking up and down the volcano, what better way to round off a superb VAW than with a large feast – a truly amazing day!

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Outcomes

After VAW I continued on my quest for data and ran many more sessions in secondary schools across the island and with community groups. The game proved to be quite a success during its testing and with the Ministry of Education, who are interested in using the game as a resource to support the national curriculum, potentially insuring the games longevity. The project was made much easier by the fact all secondary school children on St. Vincent are provided with a laptop from the government and facilities on the island are only set to improve further in the near future. However, fieldwork of this kind is not without its challenges and remaining dynamic throughout was essential. Issues relating to the lack of facilities in schools, robust power supplies, time management and organisation undoubtedly hindered research progress and were a steep learning curve. However, I have returned from fieldwork with a nice data set to start working with and trying to establish if and how much this game has been a success.

I just want to take this opportunity to say a big thank you to all of the people that helped and supported my research on St. Vincent and continue to do so and to all those that participated. I’m looking forward to sharing some of the data and research outcomes with you in the coming months!

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Me with a school group during my fieldwork on SVG

– L