Party Popper Volcanos

Public summary: 

How predictable are volcanic eruptions? Try your hand at assessing the hazard of an unpredictable volcano and decide for yourself when to evacuate the thriving town in the shadow of Party Popper Mountain!

Useful information
Kit List: 

Clamp and stand
Party Poppers
Bag of metal washers
Plastic cup/ vessel with hole in it
Lego/ rubber people and base
2 x Whiteboard/ pen



Whilst we can use a variety of tools to monitor volcanoes (e.g. gas readings, GPS measurements, on the ground observations), it can be very difficult to predict exactly when/if an active volcano will erupt. We can often say the threat level has increased, but it can be very difficult to make key decisions about when/if to evacuate population centres, as this is expensive and time consuming.

In this experiment, participants try their hand at hazard planning, using an unpredictable party popper to model a volcano and a lego settlement to model a city.

Set up
At the start of the day, set up your whiteboard to tally how many washers/ 10s of washers need to be added to make the volcano go off - over the day you'll build up a distribution which will allow participants later in the day to make more informed decisions.

Also set up your lego town under the clamp/stand; put all the people in the centre of the town. Put whiteboard next to it with tally of money (£1000) and population.

Basic demo
Before each run, you'll need to tie the party popper string carefully to the hole in the plastic cup. Hold the party popper away from you/ participants while doing this. Attach the party popper to the clamp with the cup dangling downwards.

Tell the participants that this is a volcano with a town underneath it. Explain that before they add washers, they can choose to start evacuating town, but it will cost £200 to move all the people the edge of the town (edge of town = safety). For every turn after the evacuation, each day before the volcano erupts costs another £100 because no one is around to work etc in the town. This will show them they can't instantaneously evacuate the town/ shows the cost of doing so. Discuss why it might cost money etc to leave the town. The aim is the evacuate the people at an optimal time; i.e. as few days as possible of an empty town. If they fail to evacuate the people in time; they loose all the money

On each 'turn' get them to add washers to the cup until the party popper explodes. They need to decide at which point to start evacuating the town as described above.

Depending on the party popper, you may need to add the washers in large increments/ let the children have a test run first (particularly at the start of the day when there are no data points for washers/ eruption).

Things to talk about
Volcanoes in recent news - e.g. White Island; cases where evacuation was done at the right/ wrong time.

Why are volcanoes unpredictable? Monitoring means we have a reasonably good idea of when they are *at risk* of erupting. Discuss how we monitor them, but emphasise this is a lot easier in richer parts of the world/ areas with better historic records. This will be particularly easy to do if you use your whiteboard record to show that it is a lot easier to make decisions if you have information about what the volcano did in the past.

(Older audiences) Talk about why it can be hard to communicate risk to local people whose lives depend on being able to work under the volcano. Use the rubber livestock as an example of this.

Be aware
Different brands of party popper will need different numbers of washer to go off.

Risk Assessment
Date risk assesment last checked: 
Thu, 06/02/2020
Risk assesment checked by: 
Date risk assesment double checked: 
Thu, 06/02/2020
Risk assesment double-checked by: 
Beatrix Huissoon
Risk Assessment: 
Hazard Risk Affected Person(s) Likelihood Severity Overall Mitigation Likelihood Severity Overall
Party Popper Party popper going off in direction of child/ demonstators All 2 3 6 Always insure party popper is pointing upwards and make sure no one is leaning over it 1 3 3
Countainer of metal washers Heavy item dropped on experiment participants Public 2 3 6 Insure washer filled container will drop onto table. Make sure participants keep sensible distance from experiment. 1 3 3
Small parts (lego, washers) Choking Public 3 3 9 Don't allow small children to handle small parts/ keep close watch on participants 1 3 3
Clamp/ stand Falling on particpants Public 2 3 6 Be carful when moving near clamp/ insure participants are careful. Weigh down clamp with extra weights if it seems unstable in any way 1 3 3