In seeking to provide for the safety of local communities in the global south, there has been an apparent policy focus on making early warning systems more robust, and improving the operation of disaster management programmes. However, the critical security studies literature has highlighted the ways in which security practices, including those nominally implemented on behalf of local communities can have negative impacts on peoples. Human security literature, in particular, highlights the ways in which the state security apparatus, which is often relied upon to notify and enforce evacuations, may often be perceived as a serious risk to communities. At the same time individuals live within complex security situations where daily threats to peoples’ lives may outweigh geological hazards. Grounded within critical literature on the social construction of risk (Lupton; Beck, Douglas), the ways in which volcanic risk is calculated, communicated, and enacted upon, will be assessed in relation to the local communities’ security dilemmas.
Drawing on field work in communities at risk from lahars generated from Cotopaxi in Sangolqui, Ecuador, the paper explores the ways in which competing claims of what constitutes security challenge the operating assumptions in emergency preparedness. In June 2012, 158 primary interviews were undertaken as a part of the EU funded VUELCO project in Ecuador. The findings were analyzed using quantitative and qualitative methodologies, drawing most heavily on interpretive methodologies to argue that the scientific representation of volcanic hazards, and the resultant disaster management strategies, do not account for local context. Indeed, the majority of interviewees indicated a lack of trust in either scientific expertise or government representatives, on questions of security. By incorporating a broader narrative of security beyond a narrow focus on natural hazards, disaster preparedness and communication plans can be more effective.