Improved Tsunami Disaster Management in the Indian Ocean

Successful completion of the Training Program PROTECTS (Project for Training, Education and Consulting for Tsunami Early Warning Systems).

Ten years after the tsunami disaster of December 2004 the training program PROTECTS (Project for Training, Education and Consulting for Tsunami Early Warning Systems) successfully comes to a close with a festive ceremony in Jakarta/Indonesia. After the successful implementation and hand over to Indonesia of the German-Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System for the Indian Ocean (GITEWS), PROTECTS was a direct follow-up project of GITEWS for training and further education purposes with respect to disaster protection measures.  Since the start of the PROTECTS-Program in June 2011 right up to March 2014 a total of 169 different training modules have been executed. The project was financed by the Federal Ministry for Education and Research with a total sum of 7.2 million euros.

PROTECTS  and GITEWS  are impressive examples for successful Science and Knowledge Transfer of the Helmholtz Association”, outlines Professor Dr. Reinhard Hüttl, Scientific Executive Director and Chairman of the Board at the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences  which has the lead in this program.  “In the past years Indonesia has also invested its own funds in disaster training for its population as well as in the improvement of the dissemination of warning messages. In this respect PROTECTS has also cooperated on a national level with the Indonesian Agency for Disaster Management BNPB.” On the local level disaster management in the tsunami-threatened districts of Java, Sumatra and Bali as well as in the Province West-Nusa-Tenggara has been strongly improved.

Dr. Jörn Lauterjung, Project Coordinator of GITEWS and PROTECTS at the GFZ adds: „PROTECTS also aims to embed and maintain an awareness and appreciation of the actual danger within the participating institutions and the affected population. For this purpose, national standards, instruments and procedures for Tsunami Early Warning and Risk Management have been developed as official references for players in the tsunami endangered areas”. The geological situation of Indonesia makes its coastlines especially vulnerable. The Sunda Trench, where the strong earthquakes originate stretches arch-shaped along a total distance of approx. 5000 kilometres from the North West corner of Sumatra to Flores Island in the East of Indonesia. Should a tsunami originate here, the waves can - in an extreme case - reach the coastline within 20 minutes which leaves only very little time for warning. Training measures for the population and an efficient disaster management as developed within the framework of the PROTECTS project are, therefore, indispensable.

In training of expert personnel the BMKG (Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysical Services Indonesia) as operators of the Warning Centre were supported by experts from the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, the Alfred-Wegener-Institute (AWI), the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Society for International Cooperation (GIZ).

Indonesia avails of one of the most modern Tsunami-Early Warning Systems. This sends out a warning at a maximum of five minutes after an earthquake on the basis of data available from around 300 measuring stations. These include seismometers, GPS stations and coastal gauges.  The data obtained from the sensors are evaluated using most modern systems such as the SeisComP3 developed by the GEOFON working group at the GFZ and a Tsunami-simulation System in the Warning Centre to provide an overview of the existing situation. With the help of the decision-support system appropriately graded warnings for the affected coastal areas are then issued.  Over 170 people are involved in the operation of the Warning Centre in Jakarta with approx. 40 working a shift system 7 days a week. The BMKG is responsible for and operates the Warning System. According to the BMKG figures  a total of 1700 earthquakes with a magnitude larger than  M= 5 and 11 quakes with a magnitude of 7 or larger have been evaluated by the Earthquake Monitoring and Tsunami Early Warning System since the official hand over in March 2011. Tsunami warnings to the public have been issued in the case of 5 events.

Due to the positive development of the Tsunami Early Warning System and the accompanying training measures, Indonesia, in addition to Australia and India,   was officially bestowed the status of Regional Tsunami Service Provider (RTSP) for the Indian Ocean by UNESCO in November 2012. This superseded the service of the Japanese and US Early Warning Systems which to this date had, on the request of UNESCO, performed an interim service for the Indian Ocean. In the case of a strong earthquake the bordering states are informed by the respective RTSP of the tsunami risk at their coasts.

Directly after the tsunami disaster on 26 December 2004 the Federal Ministry commissioned the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, represented by the GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and further partners with the development and implementation of an Early Warning System for Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. Funds amounting to a total of 55 million euro came primarily from the contribution of the Federal Ministry within the framework of the Flood Victim Aid. The project was funded as a research project of the Federal Ministry for Education and Research and executed in cooperation with Indonesian Ministry of Science (RISTEK) and the responsible special authorities. A natural disaster such as the tsunami of 2004 cannot be prevented and, even with a perfectly functioning alarm system, such calamities will continue to take lives. However, the impact of such a natural disaster can certainly be reduced with an Early Warning System.

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