Indonesia: Early warning pays off after tsunami threat

1 May 2012

11 April 2012, Banda Aceh, Indonesia: People move to higher ground after the tsunami alert. Credit: UNICEF
Eight years after the 2004 tsunami, Indian Ocean countries are better prepared to deal with disasters

The early warning systems and preparedness levels of several Indian Ocean countries were tested on 11 April when an 8.6-magnitude earthquake struck off the west coast of Indonesia.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre issued alerts in Indonesia, Thailand, India and Myanmar as soon as the earthquake struck 437 kilometres off the coast of Sumatra. Evacuation orders were also issued for coastal areas that were judged to be at risk. Two hours later, an 8.2-magnitude aftershock triggered a second wave of tsunami warnings across the region.

National search-and-rescue agencies and disaster response teams from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the UN were on standby across the region. They closely monitored the situation and exchanged information.

Although no major tsunamis occurred and there were no reports of significant damage, early warning systems were praised for their effectiveness. This was particularly relevant to the use of mobile phones.

“The fact that most people in the affected areas were promptly alerted to the situation and moved to higher ground is a testament to the effectiveness of the preparedness actions and early warning system,” said Ignacio Leon-Garcia, Head of OCHA Indonesia.

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami killed more than 226,000 people following a 9.1-magnitude earthquake. In the eight years since the disaster, many countries in the region have invested heavily in disaster response capacity and early warning systems.

“All tsunami-detecting devices in the Indian Ocean worked well and all capitals were on alert,” said Dr. Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN. “ASEAN is better prepared to deal with disasters now than in 2004.”

“It is clear that the investment by governments and partners on disaster preparedness is bearing fruit and is the best way to address the region’s disaster management challenges,” said Oliver Lacey-Hall, Head of the OCHA Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (ROAP). “This lesson learned should encourage us all to increase our investment in disaster preparedness and management activities.”

Reporting by ROAP

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