The Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO) is a statutory body of the Government of Montserrat and is the organization responsible for volcano monitoring operations on the island. It was formed shortly after the first phreatic explosions from Soufrière Hills Volcano occurred on 18 July 1995, and evolved from a hastily created, interim entity to a fully established volcano monitoring operation. Participating scientific teams have been drawn mainly from the Seismic Research Unit of the University of the West Indies, the US Geological Survey, the British Geological Survey and universities from various countries including the USA, UK, France and Puerto Rico. Despite its hurried inception, the MVO has been able to provide timely, high quality hazard advice to the civil authorities and has maintained an exceptional documentary record of all scientific aspects of the eruption. Its public education and information efforts have been extensive and there have been unusually high levels of interaction between scientists and the civil authorities, and between scientists and the public, both within Montserrat and outside in the wider world. The experience of setting up and running the MVO, under difficult and stressful conditions, has exemplified the advantages of teamwork and flexibility within monitoring operations and the benefits of openness and clarity in public interactions. Novel techniques have been applied to the appraisal of hazards and advances in scientific understanding have proved invaluable for risk assessment and management.