Quake Basics: Learning the Quake Code
Quake Basics: Learning the Quake Code
Wisnu Widjaja works for the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB). On Wednesday, at 2:55 p.m., the Jakarta resident was driving home from Bandung along the toll road when he thought a tire had gone flat. It was an earthquake, he realized as he pulled over.
Once Wisnu arrived home, he turned on the television for news. As someone working in the disaster management field, he realized one thing: Jakarta residents were not prepared for an earthquake.
“Most of the victims in Jakarta were injured out of their own doing,” said Wisnu, who is the director of the BNPB’s disaster risk reduction division.
He heard on the news that people had streamed out of buildings in panic and chaos, causing many injuries.“Someone broke a leg, another was severely injured during a stampede,” he said. “People were standing in the lobbies of the buildings, which is totally the wrong thing to do,” Wisnu said. “Jakarta people are not ready for an earthquake because they lack the knowledge of how do deal with it.”
Quakes like the 7.3-magnitude temblor that struck Java Island on Wednesday, killing at least 57 people and shaking buildings in the capital Jakarta, are inevitable. Indonesia’s thousands of islands are scattered along a belt of volcanic and seismic activity known as the Pacific “Ring of Fire,” which makes them especially vulnerable. Nevertheless, the risks can be substantially reduced with planning.
Fauzi, the head of the earthquake and tsunami unit of the Meteorology and Geophysics Agency (BMG), said the probability of a big quake hitting Jakarta was very low because it did not lie on a fault line, meaning it would never be at the epicenter of an earthquake.
“There is no epicenter in Jakarta,” he stressed.
Fauzi said that what people in Jakarta had felt on Wednesday were the rumblings of the quake as it spread out from the epicenter in Tasikmalaya, West Java, and their lives had probably not been in danger.
Dwi Haryadi, an officer with the disaster management division of the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI), said it was important to relax and remain calm during an earthquake.
If people panicked, others might pick up on it, he said.
“If you have time, evacuate,” he said. “If you don’t, then find a place to protect yourself.”
Wisnu of the disaster management agency said it was crucial to understand that “tremors don’t kill. What inflicts damage is falling objects.”
He said the first thing to do in a quake was to find a way to protect yourself from falling objects, but then to stay still during the tremor.
“Since the head is the most vulnerable part of our body, we need to find items that can protect it,” he said. “When you’re in a house, you can use things like a pillow, but preferably something more solid. When you’re in a building, you can hide under a table.”
People should also locate hazards in their surroundings, especially things that are taller than them, or in higher places, Wisnu said.
“If you’re in a house or a building, avoid things like cabinets, which might fall on you,” he said. “If you’re outside, look for things like trees, billboards, electricity poles, which could also fall.”
Wisnu said residential buildings of one or two floors generally collapsed vertically, meaning that people inside were in danger of being crushed, but people standing out in the yard or the street were likely to be safe.
Therefore, Wisnu said, leaving the house was the best measure.
He said people who were inside tall buildings at the time of a quake shouldn’t remain near the building once they had exited.
“If an earthquake is big enough, there will be things falling down from the building, like shards of glass,” he said.
“People should get as far away as they can from the building to an open space.”
Dwi from the Red Cross said that after not panicking, finding the best exit route was the most important thing.
“Sometimes when we’re in a building, we don’t know the evacuation route,” he said.
He said people should always look for the emergency exit staircase, and never go down to the ground level in an elevator.
Dwi stressed the importance of leaving the building in an orderly way. “Sometimes the process of evacuation is what causes all the injuries,” he said.
“The space is narrow, people are in a rush, they start pushing and stepping on each other.”
Wisnu said that many people overestimated the duration of earthquakes. “The duration is usually short, a matter of seconds, and not minutes,” he said.
He said that during a quake, people should not try to leave the room, but try to find protection instead. After the tremor had stopped, then people could leave the room. “There’s nothing much we can do within that time. But if we run, it will create further chaos,” Wisnu said.
Dwi said that different people had different capabilities in quakes.
There will be people who are more vulnerable and will need assistance, such as the elderly, pregnant women and small children, he said.
“People who are more capable should help those less capable,” Dwi said.
Both Dwi and Wisnu said that Indonesia had learned a lot since the Indian Ocean tsunami tragedy in 2004.
“After the 2004 tsunami, Indonesia has fared much better in terms of disaster management,” Dwi said. “There are more publications and training programs available.”
Wisnu, however, said that more progress was still necessary.
“The problem is that people only care when a disaster happens,” he said. “After a while, they just get blase and forget about it.”