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Volcanic risk perception in the Vesuvius population
⁎, M.S. Davis
, R. Isaia
, R. Nave
, T. Ricci
Dipartimento di Scienze Geologiche, Università di Roma Tre, Largo San Leonardo Murialdo 1, I-00146 Roma, Italy
Psychology Department, Dominican University of California, 50 Acacia Avenue, San Rafael, CA-94901, USA
Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia sez. Osservatorio Vesuviano, Via Diocleziano 328, 80124 Napoli, Italy
Available online 20 March 2008
A volcanic risk perception study of the population residing near Vesuvius was carried out between May and July, 2006. A total of 3600
questionnaires with 45 items were distributed to students, their parents and the general population. The largest number of surveys (2812) were
distributed in the 18 towns of the Red Zone, the area nearest to the volcano that is exposed to pyroclastic flow hazards and whose 550,000
residents, according to the civil protection emergency plan (in operation since 1995), should be evacuated in case of an eruption crisis. The
remaining 788 questionnaires were distributed in 3 additional towns and 3 neighborhoods of Naples, all within the Yellow Zone, which is an area
exposed to pyroclastic fallout hazards. A total of 2655 surveys were returned, resulting in a response rate of 73.7%. Results indicated that people
have a realistic view of the risk: they think that an eruption is likely, that it will have serious consequences for their towns and for themselves and
their families and they are quite worried about the threat. However, several other social, economic, and security-related issues were listed as a
problem more often than Vesuvius. The study also demonstrated a widespread lack of knowledge about the emergency plan, a lack of confidence
in the plan's success and in public officials and low feelings of self-efficacy. People want to be more deeply involved in public discussions with
scientists and civil protection officials on emergency planning and individual preparedness measures. It is clear from the results that a major
education-information effort is still needed to improve the public's knowledge, confidence and self-efficacy, thereby improving their collective
and individual capability to positively face a future volcanic emergency.
© 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: volcanic risk perception; Vesuvius; confidence on emergency plan and public officials
The traditional approach to the risk management of a
quiescent volcano consists basically of two main actions. The
first is aimed at assessing the type and size of the eruption that
will likely occur in case of reactivation, including the evaluation
of all related hazardous phenomena (e.g. pyroclastic flows and
fallout, lahar, lava flows, summit or flank collapses, tsunami)
and of their impact on the territory. The final product consists of
maps describing the limits of the zones exposed to the different
risks, which represent the base for the preparation of a civil
protection emergency preparedness plan. To obtain this
objective is not easy, as it requires many complex multi-
disciplinary studies ranging from the detailed reconstruction of
the volcano's past eruptive history and dynamics, to the
evaluation of its present state, possibly assessing the volume,
depth and the rheological properties of the magma presently
available for eruption, to the evaluation of the vulnerability of
structures and lifelines to the expected events. The second main
action is devoted to the development and maintenance of an
efficient monitoring system, which should include at least
permanent seismic, ground deformation and geochemical
networks, with additional benchmarks and geochemical sam-
pling points on pre-identified critical sectors to be covered
promptly by discrete measurement campaigns in case of unrest.
The objective is obviously to recognize and interpret the
physical and chemical precursors of an eruption, so that states of
increasing probability of an eruption can be declared, up to the
“alarm”for impending eruption, with related activation of the
Comparatively much less attention has been devoted to the
preparedness of the exposed population, which includes several
complex social and cultural aspects, but which is certainly of
vailable online at www.sciencedirect.com
Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244 –258
⁎Corresponding author. Tel.: +39 06 5488 8041; fax: +39 06 5488 8201.
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org (F. Barberi).
0377-0273/$ - see front matter © 2007 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
basic importance for the successful management of a volcanic
emergency (Chester, 1993; Chester et al., 2002).
Poor estimation of how a community could react to the
dissemination of scientifically complex issues can lead to
underestimating the extent to which the public may transfer all
the responsibility to experts, with a consequent reduction of
their preparedness level (Mulilis and Duval, 1995; Lindell and
Whitney, 2000; Paton et al., 2001). Even less attention has been
devoted to the communication and information to public during
long lasting periods of volcanic inactivity. Recent studies
(Dibben and Chester, 1999; Cronin et al., 2004; Gregg et al.,
2004) have shown that information will often be ignored or
resisted, even during a volcanic crisis, if not placed into an
appropriate social and cultural framework. In the last decades
some researches have been focused on the public's under-
standing and perception of volcanic hazards and risks during
volcanic crises or quiescence periods (Kartez, 1982; Perry,
1990; Yosii, 1992;D'Ercole et al., 1995; Johnston and
Houghton, 1995; Johnston et al., 1999; Dominey-Howes and
Minos-Minopolous, 2004; Gregg et al., 2004; Davis et al.,
2005). Results show that education programs are important, but
must be based on a real knowledge of the needs of the at-risk
Vesuvius, located in a zone of the Campania Region (Southern
Italy) with a very high population density (Fig. 1), has been
quiescent since 1944 and is perhaps the volcano with the highest
risk in the world. In fact over 550,000 people here are exposed to
pyroclastic flows and, in case of crisis, should be evacuated before
the eruption's onset; in addition hundreds of thousands of more
people are exposed to severe ash fallout and lahar hazards.
These are the basic reasons that encouraged the Italian National
Department of Civil Protection and the Civil Protection Service of
Regione Campania to support the monitoring system managed by
the Vesuvius Observatory (OV-INGV), to promote a series of
studies aimed at improving the knowledge of the hazard –
vulnerability –risk from future eruptions of Vesuvius, and to
include in this program also a study of the risk perception of the
Vesuvius population living in the exposed zones to be used for
improving the public's knowledge. The main goal of this study was
to obtain a detailed frame of reference regarding citizens' attitudes
toward the volcanic threat through an investigation of a large and
diverse sample of the local population living near Vesuvius.
We present in this paper the results of this research which
evaluates the level of knowledge of hazard and risk related issues, the
level of education and preparedness of residents, and the relationship
of these factors to Vesuvian residents' sense of community. A
preliminary study of the same type was carried out in 2003 by some
of the authors of the present paper (Davis and Ricci, 2004; Davis et
al., 2005). Only 367 of the 1500 distributed questionnaires (24.5%)
were returned by the Vesuvian residents, in part because of pitfalls in
the distribution system.
The present study was conducted on a significantly larger
sample of the population, through the distribution of 3600 question-
naires to residents of the Vesuvian area, with closer control over the
whole distribution–collection process that resulted in a total of
2655 completed questionnaires, or a response rate of 73.7%.
2. Volcanic history, expected hazards and emergency
2.1. Volcanic history
Vesuvius is a young volcanic cone which has grown within
the caldera of an older edifice, the Mt. Somma developed
Fig. 1. The inhabited area around Vesuvius volcano in a 3D perspective view from West; DTM overlaid with digital color orthophoto (Laboratory of Geomatics and
245F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
mostly in the last 20 ka. The Somma-Vesuvius volcanic history
is characterized by long periods of rest with obstructed closed
conduit, interrupted by violent explosive eruptions of either
Plinian (Volcanic Explosivity Index, VEI = 5) or Sub-Plinian
(VEI = 4) type. Four Plinian erupt ions occurr ed between 18.3 ka
and the year 79 AD (the famous Pompei eruption described by
Pliny the Younger) (Fig. 2) and each produced a collapse that
modified the dimensions and shape of the Mt. Somma summit
caldera. Plinian eruptions were preceded by repose periods
lasting from several centuries up to nearly 1000 years (Cioni
et al., 2003 and reference therein); shorter but still very long
were the repose periods preceding the Sub-Plinian events (f.i.
about 500 years before the last of these eruptions occurred in
1631). Two Sub-Plinian eruptions occurred in historical times,
after the Plinian Pompei event of 79 AD: the so-called Pollena
eruption in 472 AD and that of 1631. Plinian and Sub-Plinian
events differ in the volume of the emitted magma, that is lower
in the latter, and for the energy of the eruption, that is otherwise
characterized by the same eruptive and syn-eruptive phenomena
(Cioni et al., 2003). Both kinds of eruptions emitted evolved
potassic tephro-phonolitic or phonolitic magmas from compo-
sitionally zoned shallow magma chambers (Cioni et al., 1998
and references therein). In all Plinian and Sub-Plinian events the
eruption begins with a phreatic or phreatomagmatic vent
opening, followed by a substained eruptive column (up to
30 km and 20 km height, in Plinian and Sub-Plinian eruptions
Fig. 2. Chronogram of the volcanic activity of Somma-Vesuvius (modified after Cioni et al., 2003).
246 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
respectively) with widespread downwind ash fallout (mostly
toward the eastern sector) and then by a column collapse phase
generating pyroclastic flows. The eruption ends usually with a
surge generating phreatomagmatic phase originated by explo-
sive interaction of the magma with groundwater. Dangerous
lahars, with flooding in some morphological lows, are generated
by rain mobilization of loose ashes on the steep slopes of the
cone and of the downwind Apenninic relieves.
After the occurrence of a major Plinian or Sub-Plinian
eruption, the volcano usually enters a new phase of activity,
characterized by an open conduit, high frequency of eruptions of
basic magmas producing mostly lava flows with associated
subordinate explosive events (VEI up to 3), some of which are
generated by explosive magma–water interaction (Cioni et al.,
2003 and references therein). Since the last Sub-Plinian eruption
of 1631, Vesuvius entered such an open conduit phase that lasted
until 1944. Since then the volcano is in a new phase of quiescence.
From this short description, a number of difficult questions
arise. The first is purely scientific: how to assess the type of the
eruption that will interrupt the present phase of quiescent,
whose duration we are, however, unable to predict? And if we
say to Vesuvian people, as is objectively true, that this repose
period could last for centuries, how to keep their attention on the
potential volcanic risk of the territory where they live?
2.2. Expected hazards and emergency plan
The evaluation of the volcanic hazard of Vesuvius has been the
objective of much research in the last 20 years (see f.i., Barberi
et al., 1990; Scandone et al., 1993; Dobran et al., 1993, 1994;
Santacroce, 1996; Baxter et al., 1998; Lirer and Vitelli, 1998;
Cioni et al., 1999; Lirer et al., 2001; Todesco et al., 2002; Esposti
Ongaro et al., 2002; Capuano et al., 2003; Marzocchi et al., 2004;
Spence et al., 2004; Santacroce et al., 2005; Mastrolorenzo et al.,
Fig. 3. Hazard zonation at the base of the present Vesuvius Emergency Plan (modified after Orsi et al., 2003). The names of the surveyed municipalities and Naples
neighborhood are indicated.
247F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
2006; and references therein) but one that has not always reached
the same conclusions.
In 1990, the National Group for Volcanology (GNV) delivered
to the Department of Civil Protection a document describing a
scenario for the maximum expected event (MEE) at Vesuvius in
case of renewed activity in the short–mid term (Barberi et al.,
1995). This was used as the reference eruptive scenario for the
emergency preparedness plan that was approved in 1995 by the
Department of Civil Protection (DPC, 1995) and that is basically
still operative, apart from some updating in 2001 (DPC, 2001).
The reference event is a Sub-Plinian eruption similar, but not
identical, to the 1631 eruption described by Rosi et al. (1993).Its
hazard zonation includes a Red Zone, i.e. the area exposed to
pyroclastic flows and lahars (from the cone) (Fig. 3). This zone
has not been modified since the initial 1990 document and was
limited considering both the field distribution of pyroclastic flows
from Sub-Plinian eruptions and the results of numerical
simulations of Vesuvius pyroclastic flows (Dobran et al., 1993,
1994). The Red Zone has an extension of 236 km
and includes all
the Municipalities around the volcano, where presently ca.
550,000 people live. The area outside the Red Zone, exposed to
pyroclastic fallout, was called the Yellow Zone and was limited
again on the basis of field distribution of fallout deposits of past
Sub-Plinian eruptions, the results of numerical simulation for ash
load thresholds of 300 and 400 kg/m
and the dominant wind
direction. The Yellow Zone has a large extension (1125 km
only a limited part of it (about 10–20%) will be actually affected
by ash fallout, depending on the sustained column height and the
wind conditions at the moment of the eruption. It also includes an
area of 98 km
that could be affected by large floods, named the
Blue Zone. The exposed population living in the Yellow Zone
varies from approximately 150,000 to 200,000 depending on the
direction of the wind.
The Vesuvius emergency plan provides that the 550,000
residents of the Red Zone will have to be evacuated before the
onset of an eruption, as there will be insufficient time after the
beginning of a rapidly evoluting eruption of this kind. To this
end a “twinning agreement”has been established between each
of the 18 circum-Vesuvius municipalities and one Italian region.
In case of a crisis, these regions will have to provide full
hospitality, including schools and health services for the citizens
of the twinned city (Fig. 4). This allows, as far as possible, the
Fig. 4. Twinning map between the Vesuvius municipalities and the Italian regions (after DPC, 2001).
248 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
unity of each evacuated community to be maintained with its
own elected administrators, its teachers and doctors, etc. all
evacuating to one location. The 1995 plan has estimated that
7 days is needed to safely evacuate the Red Zone. This means
that the alarm level, based on the analysis of the eruption
precursors, should be raised sometime before the eruption's
onset; therefore, there is a real possibility of a false alarm.
The population of the Yellow Zone is not immediately
exposed to a risk to life; it will be evacuated after the eruption
onset when the parameters governing the pyroclastic fallout
(column height, rate of pyroclastic emission, wind direction and
velocity) will be known and the exposed area identified. The
people will be transferred to refugee centers inside the Campania
region but far enough away from the Vesuvius hazard zones.
The Emergency Plan also includes the description of the
volcano alert levels, which range from “baseline”, correspond-
ing to the present state of quiescent, to “attention”,“pre-alarm”,
and “alarm”, the latter corresponding to “eruption likely to occur
within a few days”and activating the Red Zone evacuation.
The Vesuvius Emergency Plan is presently in an advanced
phase of revision and updating. The eruption scenario has been
thoroughly revised in the light of all the results of the research
carried out in the past few years. The reference eruption is still a
Sub-Plinian eruption and we can anticipate, as one of the
present authors (F.B.) is a member of the appointed Commis-
sion, that the limits of the Red Zone will remain unchanged,
whereas significant modifications will be introduced to both the
Yellow and the Blue Zones, exposed to pyroclastic fallout and
to lahar and flood hazards respectively. The hazard from the
earthquakes associated to pre- and syn-eruption activity will be
also considered. The Civil Protection Department is revising the
evacuation transport system, in order to try to reduce from 7 to
3 days the time needed to evacuate the Red Zone.
3. Education and information activities
Since the first publication of the plan, in 1995, several
activities have been carried out by Civil Protection Department,
Campania Region, and Vesuvius Observatory, aimed at
disseminating information and educating the local population
and administrators on the volcanic hazards. Each municipality
of the Red Zone has had to prepare a detailed local evacuation
plan, but work has progressed very slowly.
Three civil protection exercises simulating an emergency
have been carried out in 1999, 2000 and 2001, involving the
administrators and citizens of Somma Vesuviana, Terzigno, and
Portici, three municipalities of the Red Zone. A few hundred
volunteer citizens selected by the local schools, were moved to
the twinned region to develop relations between the people to be
evacuated and those in the host regions.
In 2006, after the present risk perception survey, all the 18
Red Zone municipalities were involved in a European civil
protection exercise (Mesimex) that culminated in a short
evacuation of about 1800 people. Each exercise was preceded
by information campaigns and public meetings where scientists,
mostly from Vesuvius Observatory, and Civil Protection
officials explained the rationale of the plan and the related
risk mitigation strategies. An intense education program has
been carried out in the Vesuvian schools with seminars, lectures,
pamphlets' distribution and guided visits to the new exhibition
inaugurated in 2000 in the historical building of the Vesuvius
Observatory located on the volcano flank. Though this
educational campaign was intense, the results of this informa-
tion-education activity may have produced only limited success,
at least judging from the results of the 2003 risk perception
study which showed relatively low levels of awareness of
hazard mitigation strategies (Davis et al., 2005).
In 2003 the Campania Region approved an important Vesuvius
risk reduction program, named “Ve s u vi a ”, which included a
prohibition in the building of new houses in the 18 municipalities
of the Red Zone, allocation of funds to restrict illegal building and
financial incentives for families willing to permanently move
outside the Red Zone. This program raised much public
discussion among administrators, politicians, citizens and
possibly contributed by itself to a strong increase in the local
awareness that Vesuvius is an active and high-risk volcano.
4.1. Sample characteristics
Of the 2488 questionnaires returned from the residents of the
Red and Yellow zones (see Section 5), 917 (36.9%) were from
adults in the general population, 934 (37.5%) were from
students, and 637 (25.6%) were from parents. The age of the
respondents ranged from 11 to 88 yr, with a mean of 32.38 yr
and a standard deviation of 16.48 yr. Roughly equal numbers of
men (48.4%) and women (51.1%) responded; 48% were single,
42% were married, 5.5% were divorced or widowed and 4.1%
failed to report their marital status. With regard to the highest
level of education completed, 15.3% had an elementary school
education, while 42% were junior high school graduates, 31%
were high school graduates, and 11% had a university degree.
4.2. The survey instrument
A 45 item risk perception questionnaire was developed from
the 50 item questionnaire used in the preliminary study of 2003
(Davis and Ricci, 2004; Davis et al., 2005). Based on findings
from the earlier study, some items were eliminated and others
added to improve the overall content and to tailor it to the
specific issues to be addressed in the present study.
Among the items included in the survey were:
1. salience of the hazard —the tendency to spontaneously
mention volcanic hazards as a problem relative to other
concerns, and the amount of time spent thinking about the threat;
2. risk perception —ratings of both the likelihood and severity
of future eruptions as well as one's level of anxiety about a
potential eruption and feelings of personal vulnerability to
the effects of a potential eruption;
3. feelings of self-efficacy —feelings of control regarding one's
ability to protect him/herself and his/her family from the
effects of an eruption;
249F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
4. knowledge of the hazard and of hazard mitigation strategies —
factual information concerning past eruption events and
measures taken to protect the public from future eruptions;
5. knowledge of “Vesuvia”risk reduction program —factual
information on the possibility of getting financial aid for
moving the residence outside the risk area;
6. perceived preparedness of and trust in officials —confidence
in the government's level of preparedness and in the ability of
government officials, scientists and the media to provide
accurate information about potential eruptions;
7. sources of received information about volcanic hazards and
the emergency plan and preferred methods of receiving such
8. sense of community —the degree to which residents feel
bonded to their community was measured using the 18 item
Italian Scale of Sense of Community (Prezza et al., 1999);
9. demographic questions —sex, age, highest level of
education achieved, marital status, etc.
In order to facilitate data entry, questionnaires used in this
study were produced so that data could be read using the ICR
(Intelligent Characters Recognition) and the OMR (Optical
Marks Recognition) methodologies.
4.3. Questionnaire distribution procedure
The research was conducted between May and July, 2006
and a total of 3600 questionnaires were distributed: 2812 in the
18 Red Zone municipalities and the remaining 788 in 3 towns
(Castellammare di Stabia, Nola, and Poggiomarino) and 3
neighborhoods of Naples (Barra, Ponticelli, and San Giovanni a
Teduccio) belonging to the Yellow Zone. The number of
questionnaires distributed in each city or neighborhood was
proportional to that community's population.
The survey distribution was designed to reach a wide variety
of age groups and an almost equal percentage of males and
females. Three different sampling procedures were used to
accomplish this goal:
1. Students —because schools in the area had made some
changes in their academic programs in an effort to include
items on volcanic hazards as part of the curriculum, the
researchers visited high schools and junior high schools in
each town and distributed questionnaires to students in
randomly selected classrooms with the help of teachers.
Teachers carefully followed the survey administration
protocol; students filled out the questionnaires in large
auditoriums with no possibility of discussing their answers
with one another. Completed questionnaires were returned
anonymously in sealed envelopes and were collected by the
researchers a few days later.
2. Parents —the researchers also distributed questionnaires to
high schools and junior high school students and asked them
to take the surveys home to be completed by their parents. To
obtain roughly similar numbers of male and female
respondents, girls were instructed to have their mother fill
out the questionnaire and boys were instructed to ask their
father. Questionnaires were returned to the classroom where
they were collected by the researchers.
3. General Population —the researchers carefully explained
the recruitment protocol to volunteers of local civil
protection associations and community groups, who were
advised not to inform the population about the actual aim of
the study. Questionnaires were then distributed and collected
by these volunteers and the researchers returned to collect all
completed questionnaires several days later.
A total of 2340 questionnaires were distributed to students
and parents in 30 schools in the Red Zone and in 10 schools in
the Yellow and Blue Zones. The remaining 1260 questionnaires
were distributed by the volunteers to people in the general
Of the 3600 questionnaires distributed in the Red and Yellow
Zones, 2655 were returned, for an overall response rate of
73.7%. Of those questionnaires, 2026 were returned by
residents of the 18 Red Zone communities, 462 from residents
of 4 Yellow Zone communities, and the remaining 167 were
from residents who lived in other Yellow Zone communities
which were not the focus of the present study or who failed to
report their city of residence. Since the focus of this study is on
the 18 Red Zone communities and on 4 specific Yellow Zone
communities, the results discussed in this section are based on
the 2488 questionnaires from the residents of these areas.
5.1. Hazard salience, perception of risk and feelings of self-
5.1.1. Hazard salience
In order to determine the extent to which volcanic hazards
are on the minds of the residents, one of the very first questions
on the questionnaire asked them to list the three greatest
problems with living in their community. As shown in Table 1,
problems such as lack of public services, trash and pollution,
crime, traffic and unemployment were the most frequently
mentioned by both Red Zone and Yellow Zone respondents.
Interestingly, 9% of Red Zone residents did identify Vesuvius as
a problem (the 7th most commonly mentioned problem out of a
list of 12 issues that were mentioned in response to this open-
Rankings of the most frequently mentioned community problems
Vesuvius Red Zone Vesuvius Yellow Zone
1) Public services (55%) 1) Crime (50%)
2) Trash/pollution (46%) 2) Trash/pollution (49%)
3) Crime (43%) 3) Public services (46%)
4) Traffic (26%) 4) Traffic (24%)
5) Unemployment (13%) 5) Unemployment (19%)
7) Vesuvius (9%) 12) Vesuvius (b1%)
Numbers in parenthesis indicate the percentage of residents who mentioned each
problem. The rank and percentages of those who mentioned Vesuvius as a
problem are included for comparison.
250 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
ended question) while fewer than 1% of Yellow Zone residents
mentioned Vesuvius (ranked 12th out of a list of 12).
A second indicator of hazard salience was a questionnaire
item asking residents to indicate on a 5 point scale how often
they think about the possibility of an eruption, with 1 indicating
“almost never”and 5 indicating “almost always”. For the group
as a whole, the mean rating was 2.26 (SD = .97), indicating
relatively low levels of salience regarding the volcanic threat.
While ratings were slightly higher among Red Zone respon-
dents, this difference was not statistically significant.
5.1.2. Perception of risk
A number of questionnaire items required respondents to
make risk perception judgments regarding the likelihood that a
future eruption would affect their town, the severity of
consequences that such an eruption would cause for their
town, how serious the effects of an eruption might be for
themselves and their families, and how much they worry about a
potential eruption. All ratings were made on a 5 point scale,
with higher numbers indicating greater likelihood, severity of
consequences, and worry. Mean ratings on each of these survey
items were calculated for the Red Zone and Yellow Zone
residents and were compared using a series of t-tests for
independent samples. On all four measures, Red Zone residents
rated the likelihood and severity of effects of future eruptions
significantly higher than Yellow Zone residents and expressed
significantly more worry about this possibility. These data are
presented in Table 2. A surprisingly high number of answers
(over 2000, see Fig. 5) was given to one rather technical item
that asked respondents to make a judgment about which of six
different volcanic phenomena would have the most severe
consequences for their towns. Results are presented in Fig. 5.
Red Zone respondents felt higher concern for all volcanic
events except earthquakes and correctly identified pyroclastic
flows as the most hazardous phenomenon for their territory.
Finally, while many respondents think that a future eruption will
occur within 10 to 50 years (45%) and another large group feels
that an eruption will occur over 50 years (35%) from present.
One item asked participants to rate the amount of control
they feel they have over their ability to protect themselves from
the effects of a potential eruption. This measure represents a
domain-specific measure of self-efficacy as defined by Bandura
(1977, 1997), and self-efficacy has been identified as an
important variable that should be considered within the context
of natural hazards research, since it has been linked to both
perceived risk and adoption of hazard adjustments in a variety
of past studies (Paton, 2003). Ratings were made on a 5 point
Likert Scale, with higher numbers indicating a higher degree of
self-efficacy concerning someone's ability to protect them-
selves from potential eruption effects. These ratings were
compared between the two groups, and it was found that Red
Zone residents had significantly lower ratings of perceived self-
efficacy than residents of the Yellow Zone. These data are also
presented in Table 2.
5.2. Knowledge of the hazard and of hazard mitigation
A number of survey items asked respondents to indicate their
knowledge about past eruptions and their awareness of
measures being taken by officials to prepare for future
eruptions. One open-ended item asked respondents to name
an active volcano in their region and to indicate the year of its
last eruption. In response to this question, 93.5% of Red Zone
Likelihood, severity and concern about future eruptions
How likely do you think it is that there will be an eruption affecting your town? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 3.64 .99 t(2384)= 8.00, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.21 1.04
If there is an eruption, how serious do you think the effects would be for your community? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 4.33 .84 t(2400)= 12.58, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.74 1.06
If there is an eruption, how serious do you think the effects would be for you and your family? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 3.96 .93 t(2394)= 8.09, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.55 1.05
How worried are you about the possibility of an eruption? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 3.80 1.15 t(2354)= 2.46, pb.05
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.65 1.19
How much control do you feel you have to protect yourself and your family in case of an eruption? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 2.95 1.20 t(2398)= −2.29, pb.05
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.10 1.19
Ratings were made on a 5 point scale, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of likelihood, severity, worry and self-efficacy.
251F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
residents correctly named Vesuvius, but only 45% correctly
identified 1944 as the year of the last eruption; 21.4% gave an
incorrect date for the last eruption, 25% gave no date at all, and
1.8% mentioned earlier eruptions of Vesuvius in 1906 or 79 AD.
In the Yellow Zone, 90.9% mentioned Vesuvius, but only
33.3% gave the correct date for the last eruption; 21.4% gave a
wrong date, 34.2% gave no date at all, and 1.9% referred to the
1906 or 79AD eruptions.
A series of questions focused on the public's awareness of
the evacuation plan for the area and knowledge of the correct
details of this plan. First respondents were asked if they were
familiar with the evacuation/emergency plan for their city in the
event of an eruption. Among the Red Zone residents, 41% said
“yes”, 55% said “no”, and 4% failed to respond. In contrast,
only 18% of Yellow Zone residents said they were familiar with
the plan, 80% said they were not, and 2% failed to reply.
Those respondents who indicated that they were familiar
with the plan were then asked two additional questions about
the nature of the evacuation and the location to which residents
will be evacuated. Among those Red Zone residents who
indicated that they were familiar with the plan, 83% correctly
stated that the evacuation would be organized rather than
spontaneous, and 53% correctly identified the part of Italy to
which they would be evacuated. Among Yellow Zone residents,
66% believe there will be an organized evacuation and 30%
erroneously believe they will be sent to another region in Italy if
there is an eruption.
Finally residents were asked to rate on a 5 point scale how
much confidence they had in the possibility that an evacuation
Fig. 5. Indication of the level of impact that several volcanic phenomena may have on the respondents' town. For each hazard the number of respondents is indicated.
RZ = Red Zone; YZ = Yellow Zone.
Information about “Vesuvia”program
Do you know Vesuvia? 68.3 26.9
Do you think you have all necessary information? 69.4 30.6
Do you agree with Vesuvia? 83.1 16.9
Have you applied for the aid or will you apply in the future? 38.1 60.9
Based on 1928 responses from residents of the Red Zone (95.2% of the 2026
252 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
could be completed successfully. Sixty-seven percent of those
in the Red Zone and 54% of those in the Yellow Zone stated that
they had “little”or “no”confidence in the plan, while only 11%
in the Red Zone and 17% in the Yellow Zone had “a lot”or
“complete”confidence in its success.
5.3. Knowledge of “Vesuvia”risk reduction program
Three items asked respondents to indicate their knowledge
about the opportunity offered by the “Vesu v i a”program of the
Campania Region to obtain a financial aid to move their residence
outside the Red Zone. As shown in Tab le 3, the majority of the
respondents felt they had enough information and most of them
(83.1%) agreed with the program. However only 38.1% had
already applied to get the financial aid or declare their intention to
apply in the near future. The majority declared they will not apply.
Inadequacy of the aid, family and sentimental ties to the region,
mistrust of authorities, and the feeling that the money should
better be spent to improve roads, were the four main reasons given
by respondents to justify their reluctance to apply.
5.4. Confidence in officials
A number of survey items focused on how residents view the
preparedness of local government authorities and Civil Protec-
tion to deal with a potential eruption, and also asked respondents
to rate their confidence in scientists', government's and the
media's ability to provide accurate information about future
eruptions. Mean ratings for each of these items were calculated
for the Red Zone and Yellow Zone residents and were compared
using a series of t-tests for independent samples. These data are
presented in Tabl e 4.
Confidence in public officials
How prepared are the authorities in your town to deal with a potential eruption? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 2.19 1.03 t(2405) = −3.301, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.37 1.05
How prepared is civil protection to deal with a potential eruption? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 2.58 1.06 t(2403) = −5.74, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 2.91 1.09
How much confidence do you have in scientists' ability to provide accurate information about future eruptions? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 3.34 .96 t(2393) = −1.09, pN.05
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.40 .95
How much confidence do you have in local and regional authorities' ability to provide accurate
information about future eruptions?
Vesuvius Red Zone 2.65 .94 t(2377) = −2.44, pb.05
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 2.78 .87
How much confidence do you have in the media's ability to provide accurate information about future eruptions? Mean SD
Vesuvius Red Zone 2.87 .97 t(2383) = −3.75, pb.001
Vesuvius Yellow Zone 3.06 .92
Ratings were made on a 5 point scale, with higher numbers indicating higher levels of confidence.
Amount of information received regarding eruptions
How would you rate
the amount of information
you have about the effects
of a possible eruption?
Count % Count %
Insufficient 469 23.9 131 31.0
Very little 722 36.7 152 36.0
Moderate 568 28.9 102 24.2
Enough 173 8.8 33 7.8
Too much 34 1.7 4 .9
Totals 1966 100 422 100
Most common sources of information regarding eruptions
Vesuvius Red Zone Vesuvius Yellow Zone
Information source % Information source %
1) Television 55.2 1) Television 66.2
2) Newspapers 31.0 2) Newspapers 26.1
3) Civil protection 16.4 3) Acquaintances 15.4
4) Acquaintances 15.9 4) Civil protection 12.1
5) Vesuvius Observatory 14.3 5) Radio 9.6
6) Local government 12.1 6) Schools 8.9
7) Schools 11.9 7) Vesuvius Observatory 7.2
8) Public meetings 6.4 8) Public meetings 5.6
9) Radio 4.7 9) Local government 4.4
10) Provincial government 2.9 10) Provincial government 2.1
Note: Respondents were able to check more than one source; therefore
percentages do not total to 100%.
253F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
As the data indicate, Yellow Zone residents perceive both their
local officials and Civil Protection to be significantly more
prepared to deal with a potential volcanic crisis than Red Zone
residents. Likewise, Yellow Zone residents have more confidence
in government officials and the media to provide them with
accurate information about future eruptions than Red Zone
residents. However, both groups expressed the most confidence in
scientists with reference to the provision of accurate information
about potential eruptions and the group ratings did not differ
significantly on this item.
5.5. Information about volcanic hazards
Several survey items were designed to assess the amount of
information that residents have on the volcanic hazards they
could face, and to determine the most common sources from
which they had received this information. As the data in Table 5
shows, 61% of Red Zone residents and 67% of Yellow Zone
residents say they have received “insufficient”or “very little”
information about the effects of a potential eruption, with very
few people in either group saying that they feel they have
received enough information.
Residents were then asked to indicate the sources from which
they received the majority of their information about volcanic
risks, and these data are presented in Table 6. While there were
some small differences between the Red and Yellow Zone
respondents in terms of how popular specific sources of
information were, for both groups it was clear that the television
and to a lesser extent newspapers were by far the most popular
sources of information. Civil Protection and acquaintances were
also commonly mentioned sources.
Additionally, respondents were asked from which sources
they would most like to receive information on volcanic risks
and in what format they would like this information. Residents
from both groups cited the Vesuvius Observatory as the source
they would most prefer to receive information from, but Red
Zone residents most wanted to receive that information at public
meetings or in pamphlets while Yellow Zone residents preferred
to receive this information from radio/television and in
pamphlets. These data are presented in Table 7.
5.6. Sense of community
Scores on the Sense of Community Scale were derived by
averaging responses made on each of 18 scale items. Scores
range from a low of 1.00 to a high of 4.00, with higher numbers
indicating a stronger bond to one's community. Both the mean
and median for the sample as a whole were 2.61, with a standard
deviation of .37. There was no significant difference in Sense of
Community Scores between the Red Zone and Yellow Zone
communities; therefore, their data were combined and Sense of
Community Scores were correlated with several of the
important risk perception variables and with responses to
items concerning how much trust and confidence residents have
in public officials. A number of significant correlations were
found and these results are presented in Table 8.
When scores on the Sense of Community Scale were
correlated with measures of risk perception such as estimating
How do residents want to receive information about volcanic risks?
Vesuvius Red Zone Vesuvius Yellow Zone
From which source would you most like to receive
information about volcanic risks?
% From which source would you most like to receive
information about volcanic risks?
1) Vesuvius observatory 53.1 1) Vesuvius observatory 43.4
2) Civil protection 33.9 2) Civil protection 37.1
3) Local government 32.7 3) Local government 31.0
4) Provincial government 9.1 4) Provincial government 8.2
How would you like to receive information about
% How would you like to receive information about
1) Public meetings 44.0 1) Radio/television 35.4
2) Pamphlets 35.4 2) Pamphlets 34.3
3) Radio/television 29.3 3) Public meetings 31.7
4) Audio-visually 24.1 4) Audio-visually 21.2
5) Newspapers 14.9 5) Newspapers 12.6
Correlations involving sense of community
Likelihood of eruption −.082
Feelings of Self-efficacy/control .180
Amount of info re: volcanic hazards .178
Worry about eruption −.033 Perceived self-preparedness .201
Confidence in scientists' ability .098
Thinking about eruption −.061
Preparedness of civil protection .273
Confidence in government .249
Severity of effects: self/family −.075
Preparedness of local government .299
Confidence in media .152
Severity of effects: community −.093
Confidence in evacuation plan .237
Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
254 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
the likelihood and severity of potential eruptions and emotional
responses such as worry or preoccupation with the volcanic
threat, a series of negative correlations resulted. In other words,
those residents who feel a stronger bond to their community
tended to express less concern or more optimistic views of the
potential risk. However, Sense of Community scores were
positively correlated with residents' feelings of self-efficacy and
perceptions of their own preparedness and the preparedness of
government officials. Those with stronger community bonds
also expressed more confidence in the success of the evacuation
plan, were more satisfied with the amount of information they
had about volcanic hazards and had more confidence in the
ability of scientists, government officials and the media to
provide accurate information about potential eruptions.
5.7. Age, education level and gender
Finally, the demographic variables of age and educational level
were correlated with various risk perception measures and with
questions asking respondents to rate their confidence in officials.
A consistent pattern emerged from these analyses such that older
residents and those with higher levels of education tended to be
less confident in their own preparedness and that of the
government officials, were less confident in the success of the
evacuation plan, less satisfied with the amount of information they
had about the threat, and less trusting with regard to scientists',
government officials', or the media's ability to provide accurate
information about a potential eruption. See Tabl e 9 for these data.
In order to determine whether age played a significant role in
determining various aspects of risk perception, results for the
total sample (2655) were divided into three different age groups:
11 to 17 yr (minors), 18 to 65 yr (adults), and over 65 yr (elderly)
and a series of comparisons were made among these three
groups. The results of those analyses which were statistically
significant are presented in Table 10 . There were no clear patterns
in the results of these analyses. For example, elderly residents
rated the likely effects of a future eruption as significantly less
severe than did young adults and minors and the elderly express
significantly less confidence in scientists' ability to provide
accurate information about a potential eruption. However, minors
had significantly greater confidence in their own level of
preparedness and more confidence in the preparedness of local
authorities than the adult and elderly participants.
Gender differences in risk perception were compared by
analyzing the data separately for men and women. The results of
these analyses showed a pattern typically seen in other studies of
risk perception. Women seem significantly more worried about a
possible eruption, think about the threat more often, and think
that the potential effects of an eruption will be more serious than
men. However, men think that they have a greater ability to
protect themselves from an eruption's effects and rate their level
of self preparedness as significantly higher. There were no
significant differences in gender on other important variables.
5.8. Risk perception in the individual communities of the Red
The main results of the risk perception study obtained for each of
the 18 communities of the Red Zone are presented in Fig. 6.The
Correlations involving age and education level
Age Education level
Preparedness of self and family −.156
Preparedness of self and family −.172
Preparedness of civil protection −.061
Preparedness of civil protection −.135
Preparedness of local government −.139
Preparedness of local government −.182
Confidence in evacuation plan −.172
Confidence in Evacuation Plan −.147
Amount of information −.202
Amount of information −.188
Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2-tailed).
Risk perception and respondents' age
Respondents' age NMean Standard deviation
How often do you think about the possibility of an eruption?
11 to 17 675 2.12 .953
18 to 65 1803 2.30 .971
Over 65 years 81 2.43 1.106
How severe will effects be for your community?
11 to 17 669 4.15 .963
18 to 65 1807 4.20 .935
Over 65 years 81 3.83 1.127
Preparedness of local authorities
11 to 17 671 2.47 1.103
18 to 65 1810 2.13 1.012
Over 65 years 81 2.07 1.022
Preparedness of civil protection
11 to 17 668 2.84 1.102
18 to 65 1809 2.56 1.054
Over 65 years 81 2.91 1.164
Self and family preparedness
11 to 17 668 2.56 1.121
18 to 65 1805 2.09 1.000
Over 65 years 81 2.00 1.025
Confidence in scientists' ability to provide accurate information
11 to 17 670 3.45 .960
18 to 65 1802 3.34 .945
Over 65 years 80 3.05 1.157
Confidence in media's ability to provide accurate information
11 to 17 666 3.01 .943
18 to 65 1794 2.88 .974
Over 65 years 80 2.75 .974
Ratings were made on a 5 point scale, with higher numbers indicating higher
levels of worry, severity, preparedness and confidence.
255F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
majority of Red Zone residents have a clear and common perception
of the risks posed by living in close proximity to the volcano; fear of
an eruption is relatively high, though there were significant
differences from one community to another and the percentage of
those who are aware of the evacuation plan is rather low (59–23%).
Similarly, confidence in the evacuation plan and in the government's
ability to provide accurate information is also low.
6. Concluding remarks
There is no evidence, from the perspective of hazard salience
and risk perception, that the population in the area surrounding
Vesuvius is in denial about the risk, as is often suggested by the
media. It is not surprising that problems such as public services,
crime, pollution, traffic and unemployment –things that the
population must deal with every day –are more commonly
mentioned by residents as a problem than is Vesuvius. Likewise,
on the question which asked how much they think about the
possibility of an eruption, the average rating was only 2.26 on a
scale of 5. This means that the volcano and the potential risk it
poses are not something that is on residents' minds every day
and this is natural and not surprising. Perhaps related to this is
the fact that most of those sampled believe that Vesuvius will
not erupt within the next 10 years (80% of respondents).
Fig. 6. Hazard perception, eruption concern and confidence in the evacuation plan and in public officials in each of the Red Zone communities. Percentages and ratings
as in Tables 1–4. For the communities' location see Fig. 3, where Massa refers to Massa di Somma, S.Sebastiano to San Sebastiano al Vesuvio, S.Giorgio to San
Giorgio a Cremano, and S.Giovanni to San Giovanni a Teduccio.
256 F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
However, when answering specific questions about the
possibility of eruptions, residents (particularly in the Red Zone)
feel that an eruption is likely to one day affect their community,
that when it occurs it will have serious consequences for their
town, for themselves and for their families, and they do worry
about the threat. Again, this indicates a very realistic view of the
risk, not an avoidance or denial of the potential threat.
One of the most relevant and disturbing results of the study is
the relatively low level of self-efficacy expressed by residents,
especially within the Red Zone. Many people do not feel as if
they have the ability to protect themselves in the event of an
eruption. Moreover, while almost everyone in the sample knows
that Vesuvius is a threat, only 45% could correctly identify the
year of the last eruption. Of significant importance is that even
after years of planning and public debate over the evacuation
plan, 55% of our respondents said they were not familiar with
the plan. Of those who were aware of the plan, almost 50%
could not correctly identify the place to which they will be
evacuated, and 63% of them stated that they have little or no
confidence in the plan's success. They also do not think their
government officials are well-prepared to handle an eruption.
This widespread lack of knowledge about the plan, the lack of
confidence in the plan's success and in the government officials,
and low feelings of self-efficacy represent cause for concern.
It seems clear that the authorities have so far not sufficiently
involved the public in any discussion about planning for an
emergency and that individual preparedness measures have not
been encouraged. This pattern of thinking can lead to feelings of
helplessness among residents, which in turn leads them to take less
personal responsibility for preparing for a potential disaster and
becoming too dependent on the government to cope with a crisis
when it occurs. Research in the fields of Social Psychology and
Health Psychology has shown that the more people are encouraged
to take personal responsibility for their own health and safety and
the stronger their sense of self-efficacy, the more likely they are to
actually take precautions that could save their lives (Bandura,
1977, 1997; Paton, 2003). We think that this issue should be
conveniently addressed into the updated Vesuvius emergency plan.
There are some very important implications that can be
drawn from our results regarding how to better educate the
public and prepare them for a future eruption of Vesuvius. For
example, our respondents expressed a higher degree of
confidence in scientists' ability to provide them with accurate
information about potential eruptions than they have for either
government or media sources. Therefore, greater participation
by the scientific community in the process of public education
may result in the public being more receptive to the messages
we are trying to convey. Furthermore, our respondents indicated
that their two most preferred ways of getting additional
information about volcanic hazards are public meetings and
pamphlets, suggesting that greater use of such measures may
help us to reach a larger segment of the population.
It is also worth noting the very successful response rate
(73.7%) we had in this survey. At least in part, this may reflect the
fact that people in the Vesuvius area are really interested in this
topic and are concerned about their risk. Again, this may be
evidence of the fact that the public wants to be more directly
involved in discussions about and planning for an evacuation.
Additionally, the high response rate is also likely tobe the result of
working closely with school officials and gaining their interest
and cooperation to insure the success of the survey. This illustrates
the importance of the scientific community conducting research in
close collaboration with local authorities and community leaders.
Finally, data in Table 8 indicate that a stronger sense of
community was correlated with a variety of very positive attitudes
and behaviors. People with stronger community bonds tended to
have greater confidence in government, to see the government as
better prepared, to feel better prepared themselves, to feel they
have more information about the risk, and to have greater self-
efficacy with regard to being able to protect themselves.
Therefore, it would seem that any measures that could be taken
by local communities to forge stronger community bonds among
residents would ultimately help to promote more positive attitudes
and behavior with regard to preparedness.
In conclusion, we think that these are very important findings
that should be considered carefully in planning future educa-
tional campaigns. The low levels of confidence in the evacuation
plan seem to stem from the fact that citizens know few details of
the plan and have no idea of what will be expected of them when
an evacuation order is issued. Authorities should consider very
seriously this situation, because of the foreseeable difficulty of
conducting an evacuation of unprecedented proportion without
the local citizens being made aware of what their role is.
According to Paton et al. (2006) numerous studies over the past
decades have shown that merely providing an at-risk population
with information about a hazard does not influence preparedness
behavior. Among the important factors that are thought to
encourage community preparedness and resilience during and
after the crisis are self-efficacy and sense of community.
Individuals who feel they have some control over their fate and
believe they have the sk ills necessary to ta ke action, are more likely
to actually adopt self-protective measures (Bandura, 1997; Lindell
and Whitney, 2000). Likewise, stronger community bonds and
attachments make it more likely that residents will participate in a
community response to a disaster situation (Paton et al., 2001).
Therefore, future educational campaigns need to reflect the
importance of these two factors. To give the residents of the
Vesuvian region a stronger sense of control or self-efficacy, they
must be encouraged not only to take greater responsibility for
educating themselves about the evacuation plan, but also to become
more involved in the process of planning for the evacuation.
One way that this might be accomplished is by holding
neighborhood, school or community meetings at which local
officials, representatives from civil protection, and scientists are
present. The emergency plan might be significantly enhanced
by soliciting input from local citizens about strategies that could
result in a more successful evacuation for each of the Red Zone
communities. Furthermore, allowing citizens to become more
involved in refining the evacuation plan for their own
communities and discussing the plan with the experts should
only strengthen their sense of self-efficacy, their sense of
community, and their trust in government officials and in turn,
this would promote greater cooperation by the citizens in the
event of an evacuation is required.
257F. Barberi et al. / Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 172 (2008) 244–258
This research has been carried out with the financial support of
the Italian Department of Civil Protection, in a cooperative
agreement with the Civil Protection Service of Campania Region.
Many volunteers belonging to civil protection groups of the
surveyed towns helped in the questionnaires' distribution and
collection. We gratefully acknowledge the Campanian Office for
Public Education for authorization to Vesuvian school's access.
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