HILO — “Volcano Watch” — weekly articles written primarily by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory staff and occasionally by USGS partners and university affiliates — was recently honored by the National Association of Government Communicators.
In its annual Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Award program, the association, or NAGC, recognizes excellence in government communication products with awards in over 40 categories. During a reception June 26 in Arlington, Virginia, “Volcano Watch” was awarded first place in the electronic publication category.
“Volcano Watch” dates back to November 1991, when Dave Clague, HVO’s scientist-in-charge at the time, began writing weekly articles as a way to keep Island of Hawaii residents informed about Hawaiian eruptions and earthquakes.
At the time, the Puu Oo eruption was in its ninth year, and lava flows had already buried much of Kalapana and the Royal Gardens subdivision on Kilauea’s southeast flank. During the remainder of the 35-year-long eruption, “Volcano Watch” continued to be a means of disseminating information about the lava flows and related topics.
Initially, “Volcano Watch” articles were only printed in local newspapers.
But starting in the late 1990s, the articles were posted online in addition to being printed in newspapers. Today, articles from 1991 to the present are archived on HVO’s “Volcano Watch” webpage (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html). It’s also shared via USGS social media — Facebook and Twitter — as well as by internet news outlets.
During the 2018 Kilauea volcanic events, “Volcano Watch” was an important means of conveying information about volcanic and seismic activity that had tremendous impacts on Hawaii residents.
The articles, especially those written between April and September 2018, were aimed at keeping island residents and visitors, county and state emergency managers, scientific colleagues, media (local, national, and international), as well as “volcanophiles” around the globe informed about hazards associated with Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone lava flows and summit caldera collapses. The weekly articles complemented HVO’s more formal daily updates posted online and released via the USGS Volcano notification system, a free service that sends email notices about volcanic activity to recipients who sign up for them.
In May 2018, when Kilauea’s lower East Rift Zone eruption began, hits to the “Volcano Watch” webpage jumped significantly — from a monthly average of about 3,000 to almost 36,000. Monthly visitation remained more than twice the average until early September, when the eruption ended — evidence that people looked to “Volcano Watch” as an accurate source of information.
Products entered in the 2019 Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Award competition had to be produced by or for a government organization between July 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018 — a notable period for HVO with three-plus months of unprecedented volcanic activity on Kilauea starting in April 2018. Entries were judged on writing, content, purpose/goal, dissemination, target audience, overall impression, and other criteria.
Cost effectiveness was one of the other criteria by which communication products were judged in the NAGC award program. The cost of “Volcano Watch” includes HVO staff hours required to write, edit, revise, and select/create imagery for the weekly articles. The annual cost in 2018 was estimated to be around $15,000, which amounts to about 18 cents per webpage view. That cost decreases dramatically when thousands of newspaper readers and social media followers are also considered in the calculation.
Producing a weekly article can be difficult under the best of circumstances.
The summer of 2018 presented many additional challenges with HVO staff essentially working around the clock to monitor Kilauea. Still, weekly “Volcano Watch” articles continued to be issued to help people stay informed about the activity and hazards associated with Kilauea’s largest lower East Rift Zone eruption and summit collapse in at least 200 years.
The 2019 award for “Volcano Watch” is the second HVO product to be recognized by the NAGC.
In 2018, the USGS video, “Kilauea Summit Eruption — Lava Returns to Halemaumau” (https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/gip182), received second place in the documentary category of the Blue Pencil &Gold Screen Awards.
If you’d like to know more about the history of “Volcano Watch,” please visit — you guessed it! —HVO’s Sept. 30, 2010, “Volcano Watch” article (https://volcanoes.usgs.gov/observatories/hvo/hvo_volcano_watch.html?vwid=39).
Volcano Watch is a weekly article and activity update written by U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory scientists and affiliates.