Disaster warning equipments lacks testing, maintenance
The Jakarta Post | Thu, 05/10/2012 12:33 PM
On Dec. 26, 2005, the first anniversary of the devastating earthquake and tsunami, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono sounded the siren on the coast of Ulee Lhee in Banda Aceh. The siren — along with five others across Aceh — has been silent ever since — until the big earthquake of April 11.
Iskandar, the head of the Disaster Information Management unit at the Aceh Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBA), confirmed that the six sirens had never been tested annually on the agreed date of Dec. 26.
Meanwhile, Suharjono, an official at the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG), said one reason behind the lack of testing was the local government’s hesitance to create public panic — despite the need to check the equipment once a month.
“Perhaps people are still traumatized,” Suharjono said. The result is that no one really knows whether all the sirens work properly or not.
The spokesman of the Aceh administration, Usamah El Madny, denied allegations that acting governor Tarmizi Karim had refused to sound the sirens on April 11 to prevent public panic. Residents said they heard the sirens only 30 minutes after the earthquake.
“We are Acehnese, so is Tarmizi; so the information is wrong,” Usamah said.
The equipment was donated, he added, refering to the international community donors that contributed to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of North Sumatra and Aceh.
”There is no way we would not use the facilities.” However he said the officials in charge were survivors of the 2004 disaster who were so traumatized that they fled, leaving the head of the BPBA, Asmadi Syam, to sound the siren himself.
Out of an estimated need for 1,000 tsunami sirens, Indonesia so far has 34. Apart from Aceh, other locations where the sirens are located include Lampung, Bengkulu, Bali, West Java and Papua, Gorontalo, and Ambon.
Checking the sirens also helps the employees of the disaster information management unit under at the provincial Disaster Mitigation Agency (BPBD) learn how to operate them.
Suharjono added the importance of periodic checks for sirens is to familiarize the public with its sounds. “Today people are only familiar with two sirens: those of fire trucks and ambulances. The sound of disaster warnings should be approved by residents,” he said.
In 2008, residents in Banten rejected the sound of a pre-tested tsunami siren, saying that it was too similar to the siren used by state steel producer Kratatau Steel to signal the end of the work day. Banten’s first recorded tsunami occured in 1884, following the eruption of Mount Krakatau.
Following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, the West Sumatra provincial office also conducted several drills to test its equipment and public preparedness.
Bali has six tsunami sirens that are tested monthly. “Bali is a good example for other provinces. They can manage the tsunami sirens that were previously managed by the BMKG,” Suharjono said.
Another problem is that people think that sirens constitute the whole of a region’s disaster warning equipment. People in Simeulue, Aceh complained that their early warning system equipments did not work properly on April 11. “It must have been broken as it did not help us,” said Munawar, a local resident.
The BMKG said that equipment included tide gauges, buoys and seismometers, among other things, to alert seismologists and other experts
Suharjono, the seismologist in charge of the BMKG’s earthquake and tsunami division, added that only three out of the agency’s 25 tsunami buoys were working properly.
The buoy in Banda Sea, for instance, was found damaged five months after it was installed in 2009. The buoy was found on the coast of South Sulawesi after it went missing. He blamed the damages partly on “irresponsible people” who stole valuable parts of the instrument, like cables.
After the April earthquake, the President ordered the BMKG and the National Disaster Mitigation Agencym(BNPB) to provide a public explanation about the function and importance of the early warning system.
The various pieces of equipment are under the responsibility of different agencies and ministries. Equipment for earthquakes, tsunami, and extreme weather, for example, are under the care of the BMKG, while those for volcanoes and landslides are under the geology agency of the Energy and Mineral Resources Ministry.
The BMKG revealed that there are only three provinces with six tsunami sirens deemed adequate: West Sumatra, Aceh and Bali.
Other than sirens, the country still requires beach radar systems, tide gauges and seismometers.
Suharjono said maintenance for the equipment under the BMKG was still adequate.
However a budget to replace aging equipment was not yet set. The government plans to spend Rp 5 trillion (US$545 million) for necessary equipment and another Rp 4 trillion from the state budget for disaster preparation.
The National Disaster Mitigation Agency also has an on-call budget of Rp 500 billion to be distributed in the event of a disaster. “This on-call budget will help us to give rapid post-disaster response” instead of waiting for disbursement from the state budget, agency spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroho said.