The “p” word: preparedness

So this week and the following week there are volcano awareness activities occurring across the northern half of the island. But something interesting happened yesterday.

I was telling the host I am staying with about where I will be and what time I will be back and other bits of housekeeping and she asked why I am going to all these places and what are “those people” (those involved in organising the week and running the activities) doing. I explained it is about raising awareness of the volcano and making sure the communities have the most up-to-date information, as well as participating in community resilience activities. The host burst out with, “that’s stupidness, everyone you talk to knows about the volcano. It’s there, how more obvious does the ‘awareness’ need to be? It’s a waste of government money which would be better used elsewhere.”

I for one, was shocked. I tried my best (and calmly) to convince her that people’s awareness of the volcano must be continuous, with more research on the volcano, and for communities to engage in planning for a potential future volcanic crisis.

She was not having any of it. So I said “we will agree to disagree” and left it at that.

I have had a similar conversation with her and a couple of her friends when they recounted their experiences with the 2013 tropical storm, and also when they felt the earthquakes from the volcano Kick em’ Jenny in 2001 (still the coolest volcano name ever). I asked out of curiosity, “What do you do in an event of an earthquake? Where is the safest place if you were in the house?”

“The cupboards in the kitchen”, one replied.

I remembered looking into the kitchen and noted the gas cannister connected to the cooker, which was next to said cupboards. Sure I can see why he would choose the cupboards but…there was pressurised gas next to it. I asked in return, “what about the dining table?” It was quite a sturdy and big table. The person laughed and told me it is not safe as it would collapse under the weight from the roof if it caved in.

Earthquake, tsunami and volcano awareness does happen in this country. But apparently some do not participate in these events or even appreciate the necessity for them. I said that preparing for such events is important, in which I was told:

“Prepare for them? The only preparation you need is to make your peace on Earth and confess your sins because God might be coming for you.”

 photo whatjusthappened3_zpsea76de68.gif
This was me moments before accepting defeat.
For being taught from undergrad all the way through my current PhD that awareness and preparation towards natural hazards is vital (along with all other aspects of disaster management), I have now been stumped twice in people’s attitudes towards it all. Granted these people are of a completely different generation so that might have something to do with it.

But I have asked myself: why did I get the response that I did? Did I explain preparedness wrong? Did I make it relevant to them? Is it ignorance? I have always held onto the belief that in no given society that is exposed to hazards that people are ‘ignorant’ about them, people just choose to perceive them and their environment, differently. Like I was told, La Soufrière is right there for all to see. That is being very conscious of its existence.

Maybe it is complacency? This woman was actually living in the UK during 1979, so maybe she responded in the way she did because she has not experienced the volcano in eruption?

But the way she said it, so full of venom, and making me feel that the other job of being a volcanologist, to raise awareness of your chosen volcano’s dangers, is not worthwhile…I just cannot shake it. Of course, I am going to participate in the awareness week though, I am not going to let one woman’s opinions stop me trying to make a difference.

But what is it about this volcano that makes people on this island view preparedness in such different ways? Is it related to what I observed last week?

Only time will tell…


*When I came back to the house late afternoon, with a gigantic payapa cut down from a neighbour in hand, all seemed to be forgiven for the morning’s disagreement. So not to worry, I have come to accept that some people’s beliefs and opinions cannot be changed.


Dominance of nature versus a volcano/culture versus nature?

*This is a work in progress, and is a documentation of my thought processes on an argument…so bare with me with any inaccuracies.

This morning, I came up with an interesting observation from my current data, the data from my MSc thesis, a cultural observation and the literature.

A mentality that I believe has an Imperialist/colonial legacy, is apparent not just here but throughout the Caribbean that nature is there to be dominated. It can be observed all around, with the conversion of the forests into plantations, villages that are on and around the mountains (particularly on the Leeward side), and tunnels cutting through possibly, geologically important areas. Does this cultural trait, in combination of other factors (that I am still trying to piece together), create the certain geoculture I am beginning to piece together?

Social housing for those displaced by hurricanes. This little hamlet is just beyond Byera Village on the Windward side of the island, where I stayed for my MSc fieldwork in 2014. In the background would be Mt Brisbane, an extinct volcanic centre.


A volcano cannot be “controlled” like a river, which can be culverted like a stream has over here for the construction of the Argyle International Airport. From what I have observed in the data, La Soufrière’s eruptions (and likely other volcanoes as well), have led to a feeling of awe, fear/dread and helplessness. It has prompted religious responses and interpretations. Interestingly, there was an increased number of marriages following the 1902 eruption (I was surprised when I came across that information!) 45 % of 100 people questioned for my MSc study on risk perceptions, believed God was in control of its eruptions and there is a lack of self-confidence in their preparedness and self-efficacy in the case of a future volcanic crisis. There is an attitude that there is a lack of interest in personal preparedness, but a high demand in those in authority to “do something”. Are these feelings connected to a need to dominate nature, but for a volcano and its impacts, it cannot be dominated?

Helpless man
Jai (1979) The Soufriere experience. Published in ‘The Star’ on the 28th April 1979.
In the ‘Annual colonial report for St Vincent 1902-1903’ held at The National Archive and Document Service of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

I would love people’s thoughts on this. Have you come across this in your work? What am I missing? Am I talking utter nonsense?

That is all for now


Volog no. 2

Cannot believe a month has gone by already! I would say it has gone very well so far.

I have adjusted to the weather, got 7 out of 8 guard dogs to not bark at me every time I leave and return to the house, I am just about coping with mosquitoes and sand flies biting me and I have not been homesick yet.

The work is going well. With help from the archivist, I have obtained copies of documents related to the 1812, 1902 and 1979 eruptions. Things that, along with items from the Yorkshire Museum, British Library and The National Archives, will help piece my project together. There have been items here which completes a paper trail that began in London. In those moments, I definitely said to myself, “Oh, so that is what happened!”

One example was within the Windward Island governor dispatches for 1903, held by The National Archives, where there was a proposal brought forward by an estate owner, Mr Alexander Porter, to repair a canal in the ‘Carib country’ (lands in the north of the island), as a result of damage caused by the 1902 eruption. Over here in St Vincent, I found that in 1907-1908, the proposal was approved and the method of payment and employment to reconstruct the canal was discussed.

I am relatively new to using archives for research but I do have to say, besides overcoming the ‘calming’ process (ironically is not calming at all), it is quite fun. I feel like I am on a treasure hunt!

Besides the archive, I have managed to talk to people about what they remember of the 1979 eruption. So far, all in their own way have been insightful and I believe what they have to say will benefit my project. One thing that had not occurred to me, but now will need to consider, is the movement of people during the eruptions. I have come across the general evacuation routes of people for 1812 and 1902, but with the interviews, I can demonstrate that it is not that straightforward. It depends on people’s social networks (a factor in resilience) and the household’s mobility.

For instance, I spoke to a man from Chateaubelair. He told me that he was inside and heard someone yelling, “Soufriere! Soufriere! Soufriere is acting up!” he then went outside to see what the fuss was about. When he saw the rising ash plume, 6 miles from the town, he, his wife, and his son, walked approximately 4 miles to an evacuation centre in Barrouallie, with nothing but the clothes on their backs. On the other hand, another man living in Chateaubelair, drove his family to a friend in Prospect, approximately 13 miles away from the volcano. He then returned to volunteer with the ambulance service in transporting sick people to Kingstown.

All in all, the stories that people have provided is helping me understand individual and household level responses and actions. I am finding it incredibly enjoyable and honored to hear these stories, I hope I can do more work like this beyond the PhD!

April will be a month to look forward to, I have more people to talk to, (hopefully) more archive items to view and I get to volunteer with the National Emergency Management Organisation (NEMO) during the volcano awareness week, which is being organised with the Red Cross, the Seismic Research Centre of the University of the West Indies and, STREVA. Will be nice to see some familiar faces!

That is all for now


St Vincent fieldwork season: an island of past, present and future inspiration

I am known for not writing things down. So sitting down to blog (I think I am going to go with my friend’s suggestion and say ‘volog’) about my first fieldwork season is 3 weeks late.

So, I am in staying on an old plantation estate house called Queensbury, on the island of St Vincent, also known as Youloumain or Hairoun to the Garifuna, the indigenous population who live in the north, where the volcano that I am studying, La Soufrière, resides.

The name La Soufrière is an interesting one. Besides sharing the same name as the volcanoes on Guadeloupe and St Lucia (which can be very confusing looking up for journal articles), it has had a few other names with different meanings, which I have come across in my archival research studying the volcano’s historic eruptions of 1812 and 1902. For a time, it was called ‘Souffrir’, the French word for ‘suffer’, which would be very fitting for the volcano, as it has impacted the society in big ways. The name then changed slightly to ‘Souffrier’, where we can see the corruption of the word taking place. When it eventually became the name we know today, its meaning was ‘the sulphur mine’. But to a number of Vincentians today, it simply means ‘the sulphurer’. In the 1700s archive documents, the volcano was called ‘Morne a Garou’. Morne Garou is the general name given to the overall northern mountain range in which the volcano resides, so the name has persisted. However, Morne a Garou means ‘Dreary Spirit’, which could mean it is related to how the Kalinago and Garifuna perceive the volcano. Indeed, the word ‘volcano’ and its varying hazards do not appear in their language, unlike ‘hurricane’ (‘bebeidi’), where Europeans got the word from when they came to the West Indies and experienced them for the first time. Not being in their language, it could mean that the perception of volcanism was not of nature or physical, perhaps it was spiritual. But I am getting off track here, it is something I want to explore further beyond the PhD.

Dreary spirit
P. Foster Huggins (1902) An Account of the Eruptions of the St Vincent Soufriere. In: Anderson and Flett (1903).
The point is, with my archive research so far, Soufrière has been seen, written, drawn and painted about in varying ways. Stemming back to Daniel Defoe’s skeptical description of the 1718 eruption, which had perhaps been exaggerated for the Mist Journal to attract readers (in fact, a lot of his work was believed to be ‘made up’), to William Turner’s painting of the 1812 eruption (also exaggerated), to the accounts of Mr McDonald, a landowner on St Vincent during the 1902 eruption, and finally, of the re-telling of people’s experiences of the 1979 eruption, the volcano, although creating experiences called ‘mismatch effect’ (different experiences for the same hazardous event), has been inspiring people.

Daniel Defoe (1718) The Destruction of the Island of St Vincent. From the Mist’s Weekly Journal, 5th July 1718.

I do not know about you, but Turner’s and Marlow’s paintings have some similarities.

Tempest Anderson (1902) Refugees in Kingstown, St Vincent. Used with kind permission from the Yorkshire Musuem.
The Nation_May 1979(4)
The Nation (1979) Beware the 13th May. Published in May 1979. A great example of the island’s superstitious geoculture (cultural reactions to geophysical hazards). Friday 13th, a full moon, ouija boards, and predictions were all apparent for the 1979 eruption.
Those who have described the volcano have romanticised the raw power of its natural beauty. During Defoe’s and Turner’s time, this was commonplace. But even for the later eruptions, Soufrière has been viewed as a primal agent of Mother Nature, blissfully in slumber between eruptions, attracting visitors from around the world to admire its luxuriant forests and animals, including the allusive Vincentian parrot (that I am determined to see before I leave), to swim in its crater lake and overall, to take it for granted. It is not until the precursory earthquakes, or even as late as the first actual explosion, that people realise that the volcano is a serious threat to their safety.

My research is reconstructing the events of 1812, 1902 and 1979 using descriptions of the lay-public (and scientists for the 1902 and 1979 eruptions), and its impacts on the society, agriculture and settlements. For 1812, as volcanology as a discipline had not fully materialised, using descriptions to interpret the volcanic phenomena takes skill. But more skill is needed to understand the handwriting (I am getting there!)

SP 46 147 362(8)
Mason (1814) From The National Archives: SP 46 147 362. All written documents relating to the 1812 eruption are like this, got my work cut out for me! Luckily, the newspaper articles are easier to read.
From this, comes the more challenging part, and that is how the Vincentian population responded, coped, mitigated and recovered, and determining the patterns of adjustment and adaptation. This, while placing their reactions and the volcanic eruptions themselves, within the social and wider historical context.

As for me being on St Vincent, this place is not unfamiliar to me. I came here 2 years ago for my masters research on volcanic risk perceptions of the volcano (which inspired me to do the PhD) and my family are from here. My grandfather was born in Barrouallie and was a shark catcher (he has scars to prove it) before heading to the UK like a number of Caribbean migrants back in the 60s and 70s. I am part of the De Freitas clan, Portuguese indentured servants from Madeira that along with Indian indentured servants, were brought to the island to replace the then emancipated slave population. I do find it interesting that having family from volcanic islands and regions (on my father’s side I am part Cameroon), I have become a volcanologist. Not a typical volcanologist mind you, I will be the first to admit that if I am given a volcanic rock or thin section I could not tell you anything! I am one that sees the volcano’s historic and social significance. The purpose of my fieldwork season is to gain archive and oral history insights of the 1979 eruption, so when I get back to the UK in May/June, I can start to compare and contrast my findings for 1812 and 1902, and build a holistic overview of how Vincentians and Soufrière have come to live together. Which has been awesome to see unravel.

One of the best parts are the stories. To boil the PhD down to its most simplest, it is to bring the stories of the three eruptions to life. To show how much of a profound impact volcanism can have on us that live with them. How they drive people towards or away from religion and spirituality. To make people think what is the most important in life. To change the course of politics. To inspire geoscientists of the past, present and future. Even to find love! (Yes, I have a story of the 1979 eruption that created a few love affairs in the evacuation centres). Volcanoes are not just a natural phenomenon that destroy and create all in their path, they are a focal point of societal change.

That is all for now, I shall leave you with a handful of photos I have taken so far of my time here.


Mental health and disasters.

Natural and man-made disasters happen year upon year. We see them reported in the news, with varying degrees (a discussion for another time). We can see the physical damage these disasters produce: damage to property and the environment, injuries and loss of lives, displacement and the local economy is disrupted.

But what is rarely portrayed is a hidden impact: the mental health related implications that arise in the approaching disaster (for example where a hazard gives a warning beforehand and is slow approaching, like a hurricane) and its aftermath. The short-term response and recovery may not be able to capture these issues because sometimes they occur beyond the standardised recovery programs (I touched upon this in my community resilience article).

I mentioned in my community resilience article the 2003 bushfires in East Gippsland in South Australia. Mainly because it is just such a good example of the mental health issues that can and do occur. The study described how local health practices saw an increased number of post-traumatic stress cases and also stress and anxiety, which became more apparent for those who chose to remain behind and defend their properties under the ‘Prepare, Stay and Defend or Leave Early’ policy (which has since been revised following the 2009 bushfires).

Image by Fairfax (2003).
Fairfax (2003). The text reads: “Showing the strain: an exhausted firefighter takes a breather in Bunyip State Park.”

It is not restricted to natural disasters. Even man-made disasters cause mental health complications. Any war and conflict (any activity you can think of associated with conflict…it effects someone’s son, daughter, mother or father) is overwhelmingly traumatic; disease epidemics, the most prominent recently was the Ebola Crisis, putting victims through suffering before eventually dying. Imagine how it would effect you seeing someone you care about dying and you could not do anything to help them.

Image by Moore J./Getty Images (2014).
Image by Moore J./Getty Images (2014).

Chemical/industrial incidents also would induce psychological damage, the one I remember from my undergraduate days was the Bhopal disaster which the local population, 30 years on, still suffers and as far as I am aware, still fighting for justice (I will not put in an image of a victim…it would be too stomach-churning for some…you can Google images if you prefer).

Image by AFP (2009). This photo was from a protest marking the 25 year anniversary of the disaster.
Image by AFP (2009). This photo was from a protest marking the 25 year anniversary of the disaster.

How would you tackle such a problem? Mental health at present outside of the disaster context is still not fully represented. Foreign aid always brings in the physical necessities and money but I think directing some resources to Councillors and health professionals that will be dealing with the long-term impacts that go beyond the humanitarian aid window is important. Do not get me wrong, there is such a service available, but to what extent and where it is, is not as certain for me to tell you.

If the mental health issues are not fully addressed, what would the consequences be?

I would like mental health related consequences arising from disasters to be addressed more between the disaster managing practitioners and academics. Research is becoming more interdisciplinary, so why cannot we get more disciplines involved in studying populations exposed to hazards? Unless I am wrong. Maybe there is but it has not landed on my radar yet. I am no psychologist but I have chosen to make psychological concepts part of what I must learn as a social volcanologist-in training. Beyond the PhD, I would like to do a study on mental health and volcanic eruptions, but that is if I have a future in academia after it!

It will be hard. Some of these effects will be long-lived and what if the disaster strikes again within the person’s lifetime? That person may become completely ill-equipped mentally to cope and would have been failed by those that have ignored the invisible impact of disasters.

It needs to be talked about more. Mental health is important to maintain, especially if one is exposed to very stressful situations like natural and man-made hazards.

On giving my first guest lecture

Yesterday at 2pm to 3pm I delivered my very first guest lecture. I was a nervous wreck and honestly do not entirely know why. Maybe because I was teaching second year students something. Maybe because the lecturer(s) who invited me were keen to hear to what I had to say.

Or maybe because it was my own research and it is only now that my own thoughts are being heralded as ‘good’ so I was spooked that someone actually cared.

But I am being hard on myself.

So this all began when I got the results back from my masters dissertation which was ‘Volcanic Risk Perceptions of La Soufrière, St. Vincent.’ I got a distinction and I was so ecstatic with myself and realised I had an undergraduate lecturer to thank. The lecturer in question (I will not name them just so I do not spook them! Although I am sure this will get to them somehow…) inspired me as a physical geographer, to combine the world of disaster management and particularly the various aspects of community resilience (pretty sure I have given it away now).

So I emailed them with the dissertation attached as a thank you. Almost got emotional but I tried to remain professional, since I had then started my PhD.

They emailed me back saying how great and detailed it was and did I mind coming in to talk to the second year students on the ‘Warning and Informing for Environmental Hazards’ module (yep, given it away now) about it. So after a few exchanges with the current lecturer on the module, I had the date and time. The room location was a little last minute but meh details.

So. This trip was nostalgic. I remember how much I enjoyed and engaged with the warning and informing module and setting foot back onto the campus felt really odd. It is approaching 4 years ago I was an undergraduate at Coventry University. Now I stepped onto the campus with a BSc and a MSc and now doing a PhD.

You can almost smell the nostalgia.
You can almost smell the nostalgia.

One thing that confused me though is that the entrance to the George Elliott building that I used to walk through was no longer there! Literally had a good 30 seconds of “Oh God…WHERE IS THE DOOR?!”

This came across my thoughts for a split second. Not going to lie.

Anyway, after I did find the door I went down (or up? Across?) memory lane when finding the lecturer. Ran into some old faces. Felt really weird.

But the lecturer/PhD student Craig (he is not the inspiring individual I talked about earlier…sorry Craig) was very reassuring when I said I was nervous and we certainly talked about some of the good old times as he was just starting out as a PhD student in my final year.

So the time eventually arrived where we wondered over to the enter confusing (but not as confusing as the Cohen building here at Hull Uni) William Morris building. This building had changed too…luckily the doors were still in the right place.

Found the room and my goodness there was a horrid smell of rotting/fermented/whatever-the-hell-it-was-doing fish. A nice welcome!

Craig, myself…every student entering the room pulled the same expression.

There was also an awkward pillar in the middle of the room. Ah how I missed the impractical rooms. Luckily, I had dual projectors!

So after fumigating the room and a student evaluation form, Craig introduced me and I was let loose.

Not visible to everyone in the room but I was interally panicking. I have no idea why! But I eased into it as I did know what I was talking about. Sure, I stumbled over some of my words and I am sure I forgot to breathe at some point but this was practice. I am speaking at a conference next month…so yeah. Had to suck it up.

The students had just come back from a fieldtrip (good ol’ Slapton!) and yes I was very conscience of the fact that some were fiddling with their phones but at the same time I knew they were listening. I got them to do a quick task of what is hazardous about Coventry to test their perceptions, asked questions about what they could see with the results I was showing and their thoughts on the implications of warning and informing on St. Vincent in regards to the volcanic risk perceptions and I managed to get some good responses! Granted, I was teaching them a complex issue but they seemed to get it (mostly because they had a lecture on risk perceptions before their fieldtrip).

And at the end of the talk, there were questions asked and some good suggestions on how you might go about engaging the populations who do not participate in workshops in order to reduce the generational gap in knowledge I found. Even got a career-type question (and a bit of praise from Craig) on how I ended up where I am now.

So overall, I felt so relieved getting it done and it was great practice. And I shall be reflective right now:

  • Try and calm yourself before giving a talk, it can show when talking!
  • Students may appear not to be listening but you might be surprised!
  • Do not freak out if the entrance you used to go through no longer exists anymore.
  • Embrace the fact that you are now an early-career academic and perhaps might inspire others to follow suit one day (into volcanology I hope!).
  • Having someone who inspires you to become an academic is always a good thing, man or woman.

So thank you El Parker for giving me the opportunity…see you soon!

(Brownie points to all my undergrad buddies who knew the person I was talking about!)



The 2013 Humber storm surge and community resilience

The department I am situated in: Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences (GEES for short) has a blog site and currently doing a mini-series exploring the various aspects of the impacts of the Humber Estuary storm surge in December 2013.

Part 1 is on modelling storm surge:

Part 2 is on what was learned from the event:

This week was my turn, and I talked about different forms of resilience, mental health and going from a reactive to a proactive country towards our main natural hazard.

The original post is here:

Storm Surge 2013 : One Year On – Part Three : Community Resilience

In Part 2 last week, the blog looked at some of the lessons learnt a year on after the 5 December 2013 storm surge in the Humber. This week the post come from guest blogger Jazmin Scarlett. Jazmin is a PhD student with a specialism in natural hazard response and mitigation, and offers her insights from her experience in how communities respond after natural disasters. In this post we expand our look, out of the Humber Estaury and southwards along the east coast of the UK, to Boston.

By Jazmin Scarlett

On the night of 5 December 2013 the Humber Estuary experienced its worst floods ‘since 1953.’ The main natural hazard that the country must co-exist with is flooding, and this post is going to discuss how despite its rather common occurrence across the country, we, as the British people, are not considering every factor when trying to mitigate and adapt to it.

In December 2014, £2.3billion was granted to the defence against flooding to protect 300,000 homes. We have known how bad flooding can get in this country and yet, in my opinion, the response has been rather slow. Even then, throwing money at the situation needs to be managed carefully and should address all the problems, not just the ones that everyone can physically see.

The BBC Look North special report a year after the 2013 storm surge it showed how the people of Boston have been coping with some of the often unreported effects of flooding. Some people’s businesses were still suffering, some people’s homes were still being repaired, and some, unfortunately, were experiencing mental health problems. It is not unusual for mental health problems to arise after events like 5 December 2013, in fact it should be expected and mitigated for. It depends on a certain number of factors. One depends on factors, such as the actual experience the individual had: for example, farmers who lost their livelihoods and saw the deaths of their livestock in the 2003 East Gippsland bushfires in Victoria, Australia, experienced shock and post-traumatic stress (Whittaker et al., 2012). Those in Boston who lost properties and are still waiting for their lives to return back to normal told Look North that they are experiencing depression.

Another depends on the individual’s (and the community’s) coping strategies in terms of psychosocial resilience and physical mitigation strategies (Cashman and Cronin, 2008). Physical mitigation strategies usually involve engineering solutions such as the Thames Barrier, monitoring systems such as the Flood Alerts provided by the Environment Agency and land-use restrictions (potentially exacerbated by properties being built on floodplains). These physical solutions are far more obvious than psychosocial resilience, not just for flooding but for other hazards as well. Taylor (1999, in Cashman and Cronin, 2008) states that adaptations for community recovery from a disaster largely depends on simple explanations for the occurrence of an “inconceivable” event.

It appears only when push comes to shove, when we lose properties, livelihoods, lives and money do we react to the hazard. Why must it be only when the hazard has occurred and caused all the damage that we say “we should do something about this.”

Another angle to this could be why can we not co-exist with the hazard? Kelman and Mather’s (2008) paper looks at how people living with volcanoes can become more resilient but I believe it rings true for flooding and other hazards as well. It details a ‘sustainable livelihoods approach’ in which they state that to live with the risk means accepting that the hazard is a usual part of life and that rather just surviving or reacting to the extreme event when it occurs, living with the risk allows the community to create and maintain habitats as well as livelihoods which might lead to the hazard becoming less of a danger and more integrated into day-to-day life.

We are a very resourceful species and certainly in this country have the knowledge of flooding impacts but why are we not more proactive about it? Members of the Department of GEES, University of Hull research various aspects of flooding, and other hazards. An aspect of this is education: I have always been passionate that all individuals at risk of hazards ought not be ignorant to that risk, and part of that is engaging communities in mitigating against our ‘public enemy number one’.
There are psychological means to try and explain why people are ‘caught by surprise’ by a hazard, but in reality that should not be the case. I will give an example that I touched upon in my Masters’ thesis.

It is a concept called ‘saliency’ – we make sense and prioritise our daily issues/threats. I do not think about flooding every day. Why should I? It not is looming over the horizon right now and I have other things to worry about. I have to think about managing my money and my disability. I worry about my grandmother. I hope my parents are coping with being parents to four newly adopted kids. I hope my best friend is doing alright in her new job. I concern myself with personal aspects of my life. Every person will be concerned about different things, based on what they value most. I value the wellbeing of my family and friends most. I myself, have been fortunate enough to not experience a flood so therefore, I will take no further action until the hazard is impending and will threaten the safety of my friends and colleagues.

It is not all bad. The floods in Boston fostered social cohesion and a form of community resilience. In the face of adversity, neighbours who barely knew one another came together to use their own skills, knowledge and goodwill as a joint force to help ease and spread the stress of the situation and get everyone out of danger. After the event, the common ground these people shared is the experience of surviving the potentially life threatening situation. The social cohesion will now continue and hopefully live on to continue aiding one another when eventually the authorities leave and no longer offer the short-term recovery support. The aid could be physical: helping rebuild properties. People often fail to realise that counsel is just as important as physical aid. Local practices will experience an increased number of mental health related cases but sometimes, the social cohesion, the fact that the person was physically there, experiencing what they were experiencing, can be a useful and powerful recovery mechanism.

Social cohesion is also not a new concept to the government and researchers in this country. There are several governmental reports on it. An example is: “Guidance on the duty to promote community cohesion.” You just need to read the title to know how prominent it has been on the agenda. Even the House of Commons has a collection of reports on it and there are researchers looking at resilience against flooding here in the UK.

So if the government has been trying to be proactive in fostering social cohesion as a form of community resilience, why does it appear to be reactive? In all honesty, resilience is hard to measure unlike vulnerability and risk (even then they can be hard to measure). You will not know how effective the community resilience is or where to improve it until the hazard event occurs. I am researching resilience in volcanic environments and although there are indicators to help identify its presence, I do not know how resilient the communities are unless I observe it in a volcanic crisis. And that is a little dangerous.

I believe that the floods experienced in 2013, along with every other major flooding event this country has faced, have largely provoked a reaction to them. In the short-term, money is put in to physical mitigation against it and the short-term recovery programs. If this country is to overcome these ‘surprises,’ more effort needs to be made on being proactive, actively engaging in mitigation and adaptation between flood events. A lot could get done on the community scale in that time, yet it would require the support of everyone. However, people will turn mainly to what they believe will bring them security: the physical presence of flood defences.

Let the authorities deal with that, but get the community involved as well, it will foster another form of community resilience: social networks. Giving the community a sense of empowerment and confidence to prepare will help them mentally cope with the arrival of another flood event and hopefully, lead the country into being proactive and not reactive against our main natural hazard threat.

Whittaker J., Handmer J. and Mercer D. (2012) Vulnerability to Bushfires in Rural Australia: a Case Study from East Gippsland, Victoria. Journal of Rural Studies. Vol. 28. Pg. 161-173.

Cashman K.V. and Cronin S.J. (2008) Welcoming a Monster to the World: Myths, Oral Tradition and Modern Societal Response to Volcanic Disasters. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. Vol. 176. Pg. 407-418.

Kelman I. and Mather T.A. (2008) Living with Volcanoes: the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach for Volcano-Related Opportunities. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. Vol. 172. Pg. 189-198.

From bloodthirsty Black Caribs, an inadequate loan application to a Bajan government laboratory: my first visit to the National Archives.

The London Underground can be confusing if you venture on an unfamiliar route. I got a train from Milton Keynes Central to London Euston…with about a 20 minute delay stuck at Watford Junction. When I reached Euston I used my amazing sense of logic and looked up Kew Gardens on the underground map. Then I thought “I’m going to get lost aren’t I?”

Just one big "nope" for my brain.
Just one big “nope” for my brain.

And once I managed to get on the District Line from Embankment to my amazing surprise (2 stops later) that I did indeed, get a little lost. In hindsight, I should have asked someone sooner rather than later. But my pride got the better of me and it also got a little bruised. Anyway, after 3 hours I eventually arrived, registered and stuff then after ordering some of the maps, photos and documents I wanted to see and some lunch, my hunt on historic St. Vincent and Martinique began. The first document I picked up was from 1764, 46 years after the first recorded eruption of La Soufriére and it was…well…a little bit racist. I mean yes, distinguishing from the ‘Yellow’ Caribs and ‘Black’ Caribs is needed due to the origin of these 2 indigenous people (‘Yellow’ referring to those of South American descent and ‘Black’ referring to those of escaped African slave descent) but…saying the Black Caribs are “bloodthirsty…will molester and pillage our settlements” (it referred to them as Negros in a separate sentence) is one huge call for the racist card. In all fairness, it is what you would expect from the first British Imperialist settlers to a Caribbean island. Would have been better though if the gentleman who wrote it, a Mr. Richard Tyrrell, could have had a little bit of sympathy as to why the indigenous population may come to try and swade slaves to turn on their masters? (those were his words in the document, not mine).

Categorsied was the number of slaves, number of houses in each settlement, condition of the soil and the amount of cocoa, tobacco and coffee in tonnes. Because priorities.
Categorsied was the number of slaves; number of houses in each settlement; condition of the soil; number of nearby rivers and the amount of cocoa, tobacco and coffee in tonnes. Because British Empire priorities.

The whole excuse to enslave and/or kill the Caribs aside, the document itself was insightful. Firstly was the startling realisation that I finally solved the now non-existent Quassyganna Town conundrum I had from last year: it is in fact where the capital of Kingstown is now located. So I essentially viewed the capital in its infancy. That was exciting.

I love a good map and a good puzzle. Here I got both.
I love a good map and a good puzzle. Here I got both.

Secondly, the reference of the soil being: “black near the sea and red inland” is possibly an early description of the noticeable volcanic black sand which is characteristic of the island (and others in the Lesser Antilles region) and the red soil possibly being the various pyroclastic deposits from pre-Soufriére centres (I am open to people telling me otherwise…I am no expert. But look at the geological map anyway).

From Geotermica Italiana (1992) in: Robertson (2005).  I have placed a red box around the area that has been drawn by Mr. Tyrrell.
From Geotermica Italiana (1992) in: Robertson (2005).
I have placed a red box around the area that was drawn by Mr. Tyrrell.

Thirdly, at this point in historic St. Vincent, the island was occupied by: the indigenous Caribs in the North to the East; the French were situated in the West and the British in the south. This tells me quite a bit about the evolution of the settlements in these places and agricultural practices (once I look into them further). All in all, if you overlook the racism it was a lovely starting point. The next part in my hunt took me to 1831, 19 years after the 1812 eruption. In terms of detail and scale, it was not what I was looking for but knowing the names and locations of the settlements and outlines of the rivers and the volcano was useful. And a big bonus: “Kingstown, formerly Quassyganna.” Woo! I was way ahead of the non-existent location game but nice to see it in print!

Old and tattered. Just how an old map should be.
Old and tattered. Just how an old map should be.

The next document I jumped forward 99 years to 1930, which was 28 years after the 1902 eruption. Before getting to the map, I had to wade through 2 years worth of correspondence regarding a loan application from the Colonial Development Department. It all started with the letter from whoever was looking at the application and wrote “this will simply not do.” I like to imagine this is what funding bodies first say in rejecting applications. Once that was sorted, I got a little slap on the wrist from a security guard for leaning on the map…my bad. All part of the learning experience!

I'm a small person and this was a big map...and my logic was off so yeah, I leaned on it. But the map is fine, so calm down security guard.
I’m a small person and this was a big map…and my logic was off so yeah, I leaned on it. But the map is fine, so calm down security guard.

Like the 1831 map it lacked the detail and scale I required but the outline of the rivers and settlements was useful. The addition of outlining the whole mountain range, roads and crown lands was a nice plus. And all the other things that went into this map:

The application may have been inadequate, but the map detail was pretty good.
The application may have been inadequate, but the map detail was pretty good.

Next…the next one was special (albeit a little bit morbid). It was a photo album with black and white photographs produced by J.C. Wilson, who photographed scenes from the aftermath of the 1902 eruptions of La Soufriére and La Montagne Pelée on Martinique.

A photography by J.C. Wilson (1902). This in on the Leeward (west) side of St. Vincent. The description reads: "Leeward, Wallibu (Mr. Robertson's Estate) showing works buried in mud." Seems to have La Soufriére is still producing a plume in the background.
A photograph by J.C. Wilson (1902). This in on the Leeward (west) side of St. Vincent. The description reads: “Leeward, Wallibu (Mr. Robertson’s Estate) showing works buried in mud.” Seems to have La Soufriére still producing a plume in the background.
A photograph by J.C. Wilson (1902). This was on Martinique in St. Pierre. The description reads: "The Cathedral. Taken from near the altar looking westwards."
A photograph by J.C. Wilson (1902). This was on Martinique in St. Pierre. The description reads: “The Cathedral. Taken from near the altar looking westwards.”

There are more but it would take up a lot of this post. The photos provided some valuable insight into where and how the pyroclastic density currents and lahars damaged locations Mr. Wilson photographed. I will have to look at Tempest Anderson’s (best name ever) collection of photographs to gain more of a picture. Last document I looked at was this beast:

Oh dear.
Oh dear.

This book was Barbados’ government correspondence for the months of April-July in the year 1902. 3 months. I opened it up and it had a nice contents page, with all correspondence ordered by date. The reality was far more annoying. The majority of it was not categorised by date. My task was to find all the pages that were related to the eruptions on St. Vincent and Martinique. Slowly, making my way through the book, I started to find them: IMG_0976IMG_0981They were numerous with varying detail. But I managed to get some first hand accounts and names of navy vessels that I may be able to track down in the naval records. I got excited though when I came across this little treasure:

More science!
More science!

I don’t know, just looking at what chemistry was like in 1902 in a government lab got me excited. But from all that I got from this book, I have to take my metaphorical hat off to the Bajans for doing what they could to help St. Vincent and Martinique. It got me thinking though whether it would be worth tracking down documents on other islands in the Lesser/Greater Antilles. But I will worry about that when I have to! Overall, I enjoyed the whole experience. I was good for me to go there and figure out how everything worked and testing what the National Archives had. Not sure if/when I would be next there or in another archive altogether. I look forward to it either way.



Delayed journey to the national archives

Hello! This is a quick post to let y’all know I am currently stuck at Watford Junction to get to the National Archives!

Once I finally reach there I shall be getting to know so very old maps and documents related to St. Vincent and Martinique and their historical eruptions…should be fun!

That is if the train in front of the train I am on will just move out of the way.