Life-saving training: BYU tsunami education in Indonesia

With recent hurricanes and specifically the tsunami in Palu, Indonesia, we’re reminded yet again of the devastating impact that natural disasters have on individuals and families across the world.

BYU Geography professor Chad Emmett is taking action to make sure that no matter how devastating earthquakes and tsunamis can be, lives do not have to be lost in the process.

Evaluate (and recognize) regional risk

Indonesia is at a high risk of earthquakes and tsunamis because of its location on the Ring of Fire where several tectonic plates collide. Add this risk to limited infrastructure and a lack of uniform tsunami education and evacuation plans, and the potential damage is astronomical.

Since the 2004 Aceh tsunami, national and local disaster mitigation agencies across the Southeast Asia country have worked to better prepare Indonesians against tsunami risk by putting up evacuation signs, designating gathering places, building tsunami evacuation buildings, offering training and holding evacuation drills. What hasn’t been done, however, is emphasizing the need for individuals to know the signs of tsunamis and the need for individuals to act on their own to save their lives.

tsunami signs
Evacuation signs point the way to landmarks that are high enough in elevation to be safe from tsunamis.

“The tsunami monitors and sirens did not work in Palu,” notes Emmett in regards to the catastrophic aftermath of the recent tsunami. “At the first shaking of the earth, people should have instinctively headed to higher ground.”

Emmett has been involved in research in Indonesia over the past 18 years. While the majority of his studies focus on Christian-Muslim relations and the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Indonesia, more recently Emmett has worked with BYU Geology professor Ron Harris to collaborate on an interdisciplinary study looking at tsunami mitigation and training efforts in the country.

Educating for a better-prepared future

During the summers of 2016 and 2017, Emmett and a group of BYU and UVU students and faculty (funded by Geoscientists without Borders) traveled the more than 9,000 miles to Indonesia to perform critical research and carry out essential education in regards to tsunamis.

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