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Jakarta Post

Tsunami technology worth little without community action: BMKG

  • Budi Sutrisno

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, November 16, 2020   /   06:17 pm
Tsunami technology worth little without community action: BMKG A local passes by a tsunami warning sign in Jawa Village tourist area in Banda Aceh, Aceh, on Jan. 8, 2019. Aceh administration and the local disaster mitigation agency (BPBD) have installed a lot of disaster warning signs and evacuation route signs as part of efforts to build community preparedness and to reduce the number of disaster-related fatalities. (Antara/Irwansyah Putra)

The authorities should boost efforts to raise local communities’ preparedness in the face of disaster warnings and weather signals so as to improve the country's tsunami-mitigation measures, in addition to improving technology for an effective early warning system, the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) has said.

BMKG head Dwikorita Karnawati said cultural competence with regard to crisis response, especially among residents and administrators in tsunami-prone areas, was a critical component in easing the impact of natural disasters in the future.

“Supercomputers, internet of things and artificial intelligence in support of an early-warning system will be useless if the cultural aspects are not in place,” Dwikorita said in a webinar on Friday, held to mark World Tsunami Awareness Day, which falls on Nov. 5.

Local communities and administrations must have the capacity to operate and maintain the early-warning tools installed throughout the country by regional disaster mitigation agencies (BPBDs) and emergency operation centers (Pusdalops), she said.

Authorities should ensure sufficient evacuation sites, routes and maps, among other measures, while also preparing the locals with adequate knowledge of disaster mitigation, including evacuation procedures, Dwikorita said.

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The BMKG, together with local BPBDs and administrations across the archipelago, has created disaster-mitigation education programs focusing on earthquakes and tsunamis to raise local communities’ awareness and preparation in anticipating the dangers of the two major disaster threats in the country.

Disaster risk-reduction expert Ardito M. Kodijat from UNESCO Indonesia said that learning from past tsunamis in Indonesia, a sophisticated early-warning system would not save many lives if people lacked sufficient knowledge to respond to the warnings.

“If the system issues an early warning less than four minutes [before the disaster occurs], but the communities don’t know what to do, the system won’t guarantee safety,” Ardito said, specifically referring to coastal communities that are at high risk.

Home to more than 260 million people living on 17,000 islands across 34 provinces, Indonesia sits along the Pacific Ring of Fire, making the archipelago particularly prone to natural disasters, including earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions.

Indonesia recorded one of the world's deadliest natural disasters when a massive earthquake struck Aceh in 2004, followed by a devastating tsunami that left more than 220,000 dead across the Indian Ocean.

The country's early-warning system came under fire following a series of deadly tsunamis in 2018, which killed at least 437 people in Banten and South Lampung, and 2,045 others in Palu and Donggala, Central Sulawesi, in separate incidents.

Criticisms mounted following reports of nonfunctioning alert equipment at the time of the disasters. Many residents were reportedly still on the beach in the coastal city of Palu when the tsunami struck.

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The government established the Indonesia Tsunami Early Warning System (InaTEWS) in 2008, but local administrations have limited budgets for the maintenance of the alert system. About 100 out of 158 sirens installed by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) are now unserviceable.

The BMKG is currently installing sirens with simpler technology at a much cheaper price, a version of which was successfully tested in the prime tourist destination of Labuan Bajo in East Nusa Tenggara on Nov. 12.

Due to a lack of operational funding, some BPBDs and Pusdalops do not operate around the clock, with the result that early warnings about potential tsunamis issued by the BMKG are disconnected from the communities in vulnerable areas at several times, according to the BMKG.

Last year, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo issued Presidential Regulation (Perpres) No. 93/2019 on strengthening and developing earthquake information and tsunami early-warning systems, mandating the relevant institutions to move in synergy to improve disaster-risk reduction.

The BMKG called on all stakeholders to learn from past natural disasters, hoping that a better synergy would lead to fewer victims in the future.