Saturday, March 22, 2008

Learning to face the tidal wave

More than 2,500 people rush down the main street, running to save their lives as a five metre tidal wave looms large over their coastal community. Early warning sirens blare and dozens of women and children cry and yell in confusion. Many in the panicked crowd shoulder the valued household items they could grab before wave rushed through their homes. Forty five people died and hundreds more were injured.

The good news is that this nightmare scenario is just a part of emergency simulation scenario organized by the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) and local authorities in the last week of February. In all 2,500 people enthusiastically took part in the simulation, which was supported by German Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

For people in Muara Baru, a small suburb in Jakarta’s north, this was their first exposure to disaster preparedness. “I trembled by imagining this was a real disaster,” said Suwarsih, 40, who voluntarily participated in the event alongside 30 of her neighbours.

Rising sea levels are a very serious problem for people living in this part of Indonesia’s sprawling capital, particularly in the last six months. As a consequence, residents are increasingly vulnerable to tidal surges and waves. According t
o Suwarsih the high tide has been flooding her house more often in recent times. “My house was inundated up to this level,” she explained, pointing to her waist.

Though she hopes that her community never has to face a disaster on this scale, Suwarsih appreciated the simulation exercise. “If it happened, at least now I know from the simulation how to save my family’s life,” she said.

For PMI and other institutions the simulation was also a good way to measure their own capacity to deal with a disaster of this size. “We understand from the simulation that several aspects such as communication and coordination still need to improve, but that’s why we conduct this,” said Jeong Park, a disaster management delegate for the International Federation in Indonesia.

The simulation demonstrated the importance of different organizations working together to handle such a crisis. PMI quick response units (known locally as SATGANA) and community based action teams were immediately deployed to the mock disaster zone and emergency health clinics were quickly established to help those with serious injuries.

Local authorities, working closely with PMI, erected tents and a field kitchen for the survivors. PMI volunteers offered psychosocial support for children and set up systems to help people report and find lost family members.

“This emergency drill was useful for both the government and the community to test their readiness when the real disaster comes,” said Jakarta’s vice governor, Prijanto, who closely followed the simulation. Prijanto emphasized that coordination among institutions is key for everyone involved in disaster management. He also acknowledged the important role of the Red Cross.

“(They are) always in front to provide help in any disaster that occurs in Jakarta,” he said.

1 comment:

Bob McKerrow said...

Keep at your writing my brother. I enjoyed this story.