Photograph courtesy Kogami
Tsunami drill, SDN No. 28 Padang Sarai.
Tsunami Science
Preparing for Disaster

Tsunamis are part of the curriculum for students in Padang, Indonesia. Once a semester, the 567 students at this primary school, just a half mile or so from the coast, participate in a tsunami drill.

“An alarm bell rings, and children erupt from their classrooms into the small, sandy courtyard,” Tim Folger writes in this month’s feature on tsunamis. “Squatting in circles, they hold their small backpacks over their heads to protect them from debris that might fall during the earthquake. They all chant in unison.” The head students from each class squat in the middle of the circles leading a chant of the 99 names of Allah.

“Every student can recognize their friends in the class by looking at each other,” says Patra Rina Dewi, the executive director of Kogami, a local tsunami-awareness organization.

The students and teachers then run about two miles inland, to an area identified as safe on Padang’s official hazard map. Patra says this is the hardest part for the children. Still, she says, “they are not scared, but have fun. We are with them six months before the drill, so they understand why they need to do the drill.”

Photograph courtesy Kogami
Tsunami drill, SDN No. 28 Padang Sarai.

The two to three hour drill is based on a specific scenario developed the day before, in order to simulate the element of surprise as much as possible. The hypothetical disaster situation spells out how strong the earthquake is, how long until the tsunami hits, and how many are injured. Students and teachers carry out responsibilities they were trained to do by Kogami, such as helping injured students (pictured at left).

Kogami was formed after Patra and some friends saw the tsunami risk map in the April 2005 issue of National Geographic. She found out that her city did not have a disaster-preparedness program, and decided to start her own with the help of Kerry Sieh, Director of the Earth Observatory at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, Danny Hilman Natawidjaja of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, and a U.S.-based organization called Surfzone Relief Operations.

“We think it is our responsibility to do long-term education and advocacy about earthquake and tsunami risk reduction,” she says.

—Tara McElmurry