Evacuating for a Volcano

Goal: To explore hazards associated with cataclysmic natural events, and human responses to them.

Objectives: Students will


  1. Work cooperatively in small groups to solve a problem
  2. Consider ways of minimizing risk and threats to human safety
  3. Identify behaviors appropriate in an emergency situation
  4. Plan an orderly, step-by-step process in a limited amount of time
  5. Evaluate their own group decision-making processes.

Concept: Cataclysmic events create threats to individual safety that must be analyzed and managed logically, methodically, and cooperatively.

Summary: Students imagine themselves staying for the weekend in a summer cabin near Mount St. Helens (or other volcanic site,) and having to quickly evacuate the area. Working in groups of three to six, they decide on the location of their cabin in relation to the mountain, and plan an evacuation procedure on a 30-minute timeline. Groups attempt to solve this problem cooperatively. Students then evaluate their groups' success, analyzing and discussing processes used to establish priorities, make plans and decisions, manage time and achieve consensus.

Content Areas: Social studies, language arts, science, group-process skills*

Materials Needed:


  1. Anywhere Recreation Area Map
  2. Evacuation Scenario
  3. film (optional) "This Place in Time: The Mount St. Helens Story"
  4. butcher paper
  5. marking pens

Instructional Strategies:

  1. Clustering/Mindmapping Techniques
  2. The Magic of Metaphor (especially p. 3, "Guided Fantasy.")


*Group's task may be simplified for younger students; for older students, it may be preceded or accompanied by specific instruction in such group-process skills as consensus-building, decision-making, conflict resolution, etc.

Instructional Sequence:

  1. Divide students into groups of three to six members each. Provide each group with one copy of Anywhere Recreation Area Map. Group is to begin by deciding upon the location of their summer cabin, listing at least three reasons for their choice. Emphasize that they must all agree on the location and the criteria for choosing it. Once they have decided, they should draw their cabin on the map.


  2. Ask students to imagine themselves in the Evacuation Scenario. Read it aloud to the class. (For dramatic effect, you may want to show the film or video version of "This Place in Time: The Mount St. Helens Story") 


  3. Explain that it is now 7:30 a.m., and the groups have only 30 minutes in which to plan their evacuation. They must decide upon a plan that uses the resources they have available, and gets them out of the area in the least possible time. Emphasize that every member of the group must agree to the plan. Their resources include:

    a. an all-terrain two-person vehicle
    b. a battery-operated am/fm radio
    c. three days' worth of food
    d. three fishing poles and a hunting knife
    e. three knapsacks
    f. a camp lantern
    g. map of Anywhere Recreation Area
    h. a deck of cards.


  4. It will be helpful to provide the groups with instruction in the following problem-solving process:

    a. Brainstorm members' thoughts and ideas about the evacuation, and list them on sheets of butcher paper.
    b. Decide on the three best ideas and discuss negative and positive aspects of each.
    c. Choose the best idea or combine ideas to arrive at the best option.
    d. Brainstorm ways to carry out the plan.
    e. Choose the best strategies, and assign roles and responsibilities.
    f. Write up a plan of action, consisting of steps on a timeline.

    (When students have agreed upon and completed the plan of action, they may consider themselves "evacuated." Have each group record the time it took them to complete the task.)


  5. After thirty minutes, find out which groups made it out in time and which did not. Record their times on the blackboard. Allow time for each group to share its plan. Encourage comments on the plans from other students.


  6. Have students discuss in their groups the following questions:

    a. What were your thoughts and feelings about this activity?
    b. What did you find difficult about it?
    c. How does this simulation compare to a real-life situation?
    d. How did your group resolve conflict?
    e. What kinds of behaviors are important in an emergency situation?
    f. What issues prevented or threatened to prevent your group's getting out in the time allowed?
    g. Choose one of these issues and brainstorm possible alternate solutions.


  7. Conduct a whole-class discussion. Provide opportunity for students to see how those in other groups made decisions, resolved conflicts, etc.


  8. Provide closure. Explain that volcanic activity can be seen as destructive when you think about its impact on the landscape, bridges, homes, highways, wildlife and people. However, as they continue this unit their study will focus on another side of volcanic eruptions: volcanic forces as part of a natural earth-building process.



  1. Provide original groups with butcher paper and colored marking pens. As a lead-in to further work with this unit, direct them to brainstorm what they already know about volcanoes and volcanic eruptions. If they are unsure of their information, or as they have questions, have them circle those items in their brainstorming list. After ten minutes or so, have groups share with the class their questions and needs for additional information about the topic.


  2. Post a composite list of questions in the classroom, so that you can refer back to them as the unit progresses. Unanswered questions can also be the starting points for students' final independent projects.