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Guest Post: What You Need to Survive a Supervolcano

My debut novel, ASHFALL, is about a fifteen-year-old struggling to survive and find his family in the wake of a cataclysmic natural disaster: the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. To make ASHFALL realistic, I had to do a ton of research—if you’re interested, you can find out more about that from my guest post on the Our Time in Juvie blog.

One thing almost all geologists agree on—someday, the Yellowstone supervolcano will erupt again (though hopefully not in our lifetime). So, for my guest post, here’s list of the top 15 things you need to survive a supervolcano:

1. A survival mindset – the most important thing you need. Stop, take a deep breath, calm down and think! This, more than anything else, separates people who survive dangerous situations from people who don’t.

2. Friends and family – people you can trust around you. Have a plan for a specific place to meet in the event of a disaster. Don’t rely on cell phones to coordinate—the cell network overloads quickly even in relatively minor disasters.

3. A book – not ASHFALL. You need a book loaded with practical information and survival strategies. When Technology Fails: A Manual for Self-Reliance and Planetary Survival is a good choice.

4. Breathing protection – ideally a respirator or dust masks rated N95 or higher. Masks that aren’t rated N95-N100 or that don’t fit well won’t adequately protect you from the microscopically fine ash particles. You’ll need a lot of masks or replacement cartridges for your respirator as the fine ash will quickly clog them, making it difficult to breathe. If no other breathing protection is available, a wet cloth tied around your mouth and nose is better than nothing.

5.Eye protection – swim or ski goggles will work if they fit well.

6.Foam earplugs or a noise-blocking headset – the loudest sound ever heard was probably the eruption of the volcano on Krakatoa. A good set of earplugs could save you from temporary or permanent deafness.

7. A roof rake – dry volcanic ash weighs about four times as much as snow. Wet volcanic ash can weigh more than eight times as much as snow. As little as 4 inches of ash can collapse a roof, so it’s important to clear off your roof before too much accumulates. Ash is very slippery—several people have died by falling their roof after volcanic eruptions. A long-handled roof rake, designed for removing snow, allows you to remove ash from the roof while standing safely on the ground.

That's ashfall, not snow.

8. Hand-charged flashlight – during the initial stages of a heavy ashfall, all light is blacked out. One of the new shake-lights that provide 2 hours of light for 1.5 minutes of shaking will provide light long after the electric grid goes down and batteries go dead.

9. Lots of non-perishable food – you’re probably not going to be able to stockpile enough food to outlast a long volcanic winter. The more you have, though, the better your chances are to find an alternate source before you starve to death.

10. A way to purify water – during and immediately after an ashfall, water sources will probably be contaminated both by ash and by acid washed off the ash. Baking soda can be used to correct low water pH. Ash in the water will settle out if the water is allowed to stand for an hour or more. Water purification tablets will kill any harmful microbes still in the water (chlorine tablets are ineffective if water pH is too low). Most filtration systems are not reliable for purifying water after an ashfall—they will clog too quickly.

11. Warm clothing and bedding – a super-eruption will be followed by a volcanic winter, as the ash and sulfur dioxide block the sun’s rays from reaching the earth. Warm clothing and bedding will be necessary everywhere, even in the tropics.

12. A first aid kit – and the knowledge to use it. When Technology Fails, mentioned above, has an excellent section on primitive first aid.

13. A hatchet – if you have a hatchet and the right kind of wood or rock, you can make fire. Also helpful for self-defense and chopping wood. A hatchet is better than an axe since it’s small enough to be portable and to use as a knife in a pinch.

14. Several means of lighting a fire – a lighter or waterproof matches are helpful in the short term. A plumber’s spark lighter with extra flints would be a better choice for the long term.

15. A means of self-defense – Any kind of self-defense requires training. A gun is worse than useless if you haven’t trained with it. In a high-stress situation, your heart rate skyrockets and you lose fine motor control. In that situation, unless you’ve practiced enough that you can use a firearm with muscle memory alone, it’s as likely to be taken from you and used against you as it is to do you any good. Martial arts training has the advantage that it doesn’t require any special tools to use and can’t be used against you. Plus, while you train, you’re getting stronger both physically and mentally—better able to face all the challenges of a supervolcano.

Of course, Alex doesn’t have most of this stuff. So how does he survive? You’ll have to read ASHFALL to find out.


Today's guest post was from author Mike Mullin! His new novel Ashfall comes out October 11 from Tanglewood Press - and I have to say, it looks fantastic. The first two chapters are on his website now.

Under the bubbling hot springs and geysers of Yellowstone National Park is a supervolcano. Most people don't know it's there. The caldera is so large that it can only be seen from a plane or satellite. It just could be overdue for an eruption, which would change the landscape and climate of our planet.

Ashfall is the story of Alex, a teenage boy left alone for the weekend while his parents visit relatives. When the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts unexpectedly, Alex is determined to reach his parents. He must travel over a hundred miles in a landscape transformed by a foot of ash and the destruction of every modern convenience that he has ever known, and through a new world in which disaster has brought out both the best and worst in people desperate for food, water, and warmth. With a combination of nonstop action, a little romance, and very real science, this is a story that is difficult to stop reading and even more difficult to forget.

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