Indonesia: Support for tsunami early warning systems

15 Oct 2009

New York- For the hundreds of volunteers gathered on 14 October 2009 in Aceh, the Indonesian province devastated by the 2004 tsunami, the exercise must have been unsettling for some.

But as the alarms sounded and crowds began to flee the coast, participants in IOWave09, a region-wide early-warning drill, were reassured that this simulated evacuation in the immediate aftermath of an imaginary tsunami would help them, and at-risk communities across the Indian Ocean, be better prepared for future disasters. The vulnerability of people living in low-lying coastal areas across the world had been tragically demonstrated just two weeks before, when a tsunami in the South Pacific killed more than 100 people in Samoa.

As the drill unfolded, the police and military worked alongside the volunteers, helping to transport them away to the safety of higher ground. Elsewhere, in Banda Aceh City, government representatives witnessed the exercise from command posts and situation rooms run by Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency.

A similar scene was played out simultaneously in several of the 18 Indian Ocean countries that participated in IOWave09. The event, coordinated by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) was the culmination of six months of planning. It was timed to coincide with World Disaster Risk Reduction Day to further increase awareness of the importance of tsunami preparedness for people in the region.

Indonesia’s role in IOWave09 was crucial. With UNDP support, BMKG has developed the skills of its personnel, as well increasing its technical and procedural know-how. Since April of this year, BMKG and Indonesia have acted alongside Australia and India as Regional Tsunami Watch Providers. Assessing the Tsunami Watch Providers’ ability to communicate with other regional tsunami warning authorities was one of the primary objectives of the IOWave09 exercise. Additionally, UNDP helped Indonesia establish a National Disaster Management Bill, as well as a National Disaster Management Authority, with a state-of-the-art information system to monitor disaster occurrence and impact.

With UNDP support, in the last four years Indonesia has markedly improved its early warning systems, to the point where the country was able, in September 2009, to issue a tsunami warning within five minutes of detecting a major earthquake. Identified for its international best practice for disaster preparedness, Indonesia continues to work with UNDP to plan and prepare effectively for future disasters in this vulnerable region.