One of the most critical practical actions to reduce volcanic risk is the evacuation of people from threatened areas during volcanic unrest. Despite its importance, this decision is usually arrived at subjectively by a few individuals, with little quantitative decision support. Here, we propose a possible strategy to integrate a probabilistic scheme for eruption forecasting and cost-benefit analysis, with an application to the call for an evacuation of one of the highest risk volcanoes: Vesuvius. This approach has the following merits. First, it incorporates a decision-analysis framework, expressed in terms of event probability, accounting for all modes of available hazard knowledge. Secondly, it is a scientific tool, based on quantitative and transparent rules that can be tested. Finally, since the quantitative rules are defined during a period of quiescence, it allows prior scrutiny of any scientific input into the model, so minimizing the external stress on scientists during an actual emergency phase. Whilst we specifically report the case of Vesuvius during the MESIMEX exercise, the approach can be generalized to other types of natural catastrophe.