White Island eruption: Review of volcano alert system needed - volcanologist

A New Zealand volcanologist is calling for a review of the country's alert system and suggests that it is poorly understood by both the public and tourism operators.

It comes as those charged by WorkSafe in relation to the Whakaari/White Island eruption continue to come forward.

Just two weeks prior to the eruption on December 9, 2019, GNS raised the volcanic alert level to 2.

Level 2 indicates elevated levels of volcanic unrest, but Professor Shane Cronin says there's a communication breakdown over how dangerous it could be.

"Half of the problem is that you communicate that it is unsafe, and people don't understand how unsafe it is or what that actually means," he said.

That's not just tourists - even veterans in the sector like pilot John Funnell admit they didn't fully appreciate the gravity of the alert system. 

"I myself didn't understand the risks of level 2. I've been to White Island several times," he said.

Perhaps the biggest question is whose job it was to decide if it was safe to visit on December 9.

"There's all kinds of agencies involved in it and a little bit of responsibility shared between them all, but kind of an empty black box of where is the ultimate responsibility," Prof Cronin said.

WorkSafe on Monday announced it had charged 10 organisations and three individuals - the owners of White Island the latest to be named.

Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Wood said the judicial process needs to play out because "that's how we find out where accountability should lie".

The charges came less than two weeks from the anniversary of the eruption.

"As much as the timing is extraordinarily difficult, we need to let WorkSafe and the justice system do its job," Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.

To get justice for the 22 people who died, and answers for their families.