Technology and Disaster Mitigation in Indonesia
Wed, 07 Nov 2018 || By James Guild

Indonesia is highly prone to natural disasters. In 2017 alone there were 787 floods, 716 tornadoes, 614 landslides, 96 forest and ground fires, 19 regional droughts, two volcanic eruptions, and 11 tsunamis. Approximately 3.4 million people were displaced by these events[1], resulting in an estimated $300-500 million incurred annually in reconstruction costs.[2] So far in 2018, there have been major earthquakes in Lombok and Sulawesi, and a devastating tsunami that struck Palu in September. Due to its geography and its geology, as well as increased risks posed by climate change, environmental degradation, and over-development, natural disasters are a reality that Indonesia's public safety officials cannot ignore.  

                There are a number of ways that the national government has been leveraging technology to meet the challenge of natural disasters, including better monitoring systems to aid in decision-making and early warning, and improved outreach and communication programs to debunk hoaxes and disseminate critical information. However, technology is not a cure-all. Without effective human links in these chains, even the best technology will be of limited use in mitigating the effects of natural disasters.

 

Monitoring and Early Warning Systems

The 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami which decimated Aceh revealed some of the weaknesses in emergency management policy in Indonesia, particularly in emergency preparedness. As part of its reform efforts, the government created a new Disaster Management Law in 2007, mandating the creation of a new national agency, the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Bencana (National Disaster Management Agency, abbreviated BNPB), which was to focus its efforts on risk reduction rather than just response and management.[3]

 The centerpiece of these efforts over the last decade is the InAWARE disaster monitoring and detection system, developed with funding and technical assistance from USAID and located at BNPB's headquarters in Jakarta. InAWARE monitors in real-time the size, location, and severity of natural hazards including earthquakes, volcanoes, fires, mudslides, tornadoes, storms and tsunamis. From a series of touch-screens in the control room, a team of analysts can review data from a multitude of sources, including seismic data from U.S. Geological Survey, weather data from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and tsunami data from the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System and from Indonesia’s own Badan Meteorologi, Klimatologi, dan Geofisika (Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, abbreviated BMKG).

                InAWARE is an innovative piece of technology that aggregates a wide range of data to aid in decision-making. It was used effectively by BNPB to manage the eruption of Mount Agung in Bali in 2017, giving analysts ample data to make informed decisions about evacuation zones and airport closures.[4] The tsunami in Palu, however, tragically demonstrates the limits of technology alone in mitigating certain natural disasters. 

                In the wake of the tsunami, much criticism was levelled at Indonesia’s public safety officials for the failure of the early warning system.[5] BMKG, which is responsible for earthquake and tsunami monitoring, issued a tsunami warning after the initial earthquake, but then canceled it around 34 minutes later, shortly after the waves had already hit Palu.[6] The confusion can be traced back to an unclear overlap of responsibilities between BNPB and BMKG, incomplete and poorly maintained sensor systems, and incompatibilities between the two agencies’ data monitoring technologies.

                BMKG installed a separate system, known as InaTEWS, consisting of 22 ocean buoys and a network of tidal gauges between 2006 and 2010 to aid in early detection of tsunamis. At the time of the earthquake, not a single one of the buoys was working due to vandalism and maintenance failures, meaning when determining whether or not to issue the tsunami warning BMKG analysts were forced to use very limited data. Furthermore, InaTEWS only communicates some of its data to BNPB’s InAWARE system, and it is not integrated with GPS monitoring networks at all.[7] So even if the data had been more accurate, the two agencies had not streamlined the sharing of their information in order to produce the quickest and most informed decision.

 

Public Outreach

During a natural disaster, accurate and quick dissemination of information is essential. One of the complicating factors with the tsunami in Palu is that even if the buoy system had been working perfectly, and every phone received a tsunami warning via SMS (and indeed it appears some such warnings were issued), there was still very limited time in which to seek higher ground. The earthquake had also already damaged critical communication infrastructure, making it difficult to broadcast early warnings and information. This highlights the dual role of technology in disaster mitigation and management, as detection and early warning systems can only do so much during a sudden natural disaster.

                Public outreach and awareness campaigns that educate local citizens about natural hazards and increase preparedness before the disaster occurs are often more effective at mitigating risk, particularly in coastal communities vulnerable to tsunamis which can strike suddenly. Indonesian officials have noted that some people were confused about what to do with the alert notices and that in general there is a sentiment amongst some officials that the earthquake itself should be the warning to evacuate immediately.[8]

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Disaster mitigation in Indonesia

Snapshots of Sutopo, BNPB, and BMKG Twitter Page

                To that end, BNPB and BKMG have both stepped up their public outreach and social media presence over the last year. In the wake of natural disasters in Lombok and Palu, BNPB’s official Twitter account has been proactively debunking online hoaxes[9] while the agency's head spokesman, Pak Sutopo, has become something of a folk hero as he delivers press conferences about recent events even while in the midst of receiving treatment for lung cancer. Since December 31, 2017, Pak Sutopo's Twitter account has added over 100,000 followers, while BNPB’s official account has added roughly 75,000. Over the same time period, BMKG's Twitter followers have increased by nearly 400,000. The three accounts combined have around 4.1 million followers and growing every day.[10]

                This use of social media to improve outreach and ensure that accurate information is disseminated from trusted official sources is critical to the mission of these government agencies. It raises public awareness and helps reduce confusion, allowing the disaster prevention and mitigation efforts of improved monitoring technology to be put to better use. All of these technological components must be part of a comprehensive, long-range effort to improve disaster management. As we can see from the way BNPB has handled recent volcanic eruptions, and how the disaster agencies are increasing their social media presence to get better information out there quickly, these efforts to leverage technology to reduce risk are paying off. However, there is still room for improvement, particularly in interagency coordination. Nevertheless, given that BNPB as a national-level agency has only existed for 10 years, the progress being made on these fronts is encouraging given that natural disasters are a reality in Indonesia that cannot be escaped.

Written by James Guild, CfDS UGM VIsiting Research

[1] Arielle Emmett. (2018). Hazards in paradise: Indonesia prepares for natural disasters. (Online). Available at

https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/hazards-paradise-indonesia-prepares-natural-disasters [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[2] Global Disaster Reduction and Recovery (2017). Indonesia. (Online) Available at https://www.gfdrr.org/index.php/indonesia [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[3]DR. Raditya Djati (2016). Lesson Learned from Mount Merapi: Planning Towards Disaster Resilience. (Online). Available at: http://www.adrc.asia/acdr/2016/documents/03_Disaster%20Risk%20Reduction_ACDR2016_DR%20RADITYA_BNPB_INDONESIA.pdf [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[4] Pacific Disaster Center (2017). Life-saving technology provides alert as Bali's Mount Agung spews ash, raises the alarm. (Online). Available at: https://reliefweb.int/report/indonesia/life-saving-technology-provides-alert-balis-mount-agung-spews-ash-raises-alarm. [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[5] Reuters (2018). Indonesia's geophysics agency under fire for lifting tsunami warning. (Online) Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/30/indonesias-geophysics-agency-under-fire-for-lifting-tsunami-warning [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[6] Jane Cunneen (2018). Commentary: Could a better tsunami warning system have saved lives in Indonesia? (Online) Available at: https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/commentary/indonesia-quake-tsunami-palu-sulawesi-early-warning-system-10780966 [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[7] Arielle Emmett (2018). Hazards in paradise: Indonesia prepares for natural disasters. (Online). Available at

https://www.earthmagazine.org/article/hazards-paradise-indonesia-prepares-natural-disasters [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[8] Associated Press (2018). Why Indonesia still lacks an adequate tsunami warning system. (Online). Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/10/01/indonesia-still-lacks-adequate-tsunami-warning-system/ [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[9] BBC Monitoring (2018). Indonesia tsunami: Authorities fight hoaxes (Online). Available at: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-45734861 [Accessed November 1, 2018]

[10] Used SocialBlade to review account analytics from @bnpb_indonesia, @infobmkg, @sutopo_pn.