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Charlie discusses the the recent earthquake and tsunami in the Indonesian city of Palu and the importance of taking responsibility for protecting yourself as much as possible during incidents.

I said last week I would write something on the Palu earthquake and tsunami. As the title suggests, I thought I would talk about taking personal responsibility for looking after yourself and your family during incidents.

The devastation in Palu since the incident on 28th September 2018 has been huge. The earthquake liquefied the mud many of the districts were built on, so houses and people were buried under meters of mud. Whole houses also floated on the mud and ended up in completely different locations. The tsunami reduced the rest of the town to matchwood. The latest death toll is about 2,000, but the fear is that hundreds, if not thousands, lie buried under the mud and debris.

After the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, Indonesia, which suffered approximately 130,000 deaths, was funded to set up a tsunami early warning system, using buoys to monitor the sea for tsunamis. By 2018, none of the buoys were working due to vandalism and theft and the country couldn’t afford a replacement system. There were other detection systems which did detect the recent earthquake and tsunami, but they underestimated the size of the waves. Due to the earthquake taking out the local power grid, very few received an alert, which contributed to the high death rate.

If the state cannot protect you, what can you do to protect yourself? Many times, before tsunamis take place, the sea goes out much further than it normally does and I have read stories about people picking up fish or investigating shipwrecks just before a huge wave arrives. So, if there is a very unusually low tide, don’t wait to see what happens, head to high ground or upstairs in a substantial building. In Palu, they suggested instead of relying on government alerts, as soon as they felt an earthquake they should automatically head for high ground, as a tsunami is likely to follow soon afterwards.

In first world countries, we don’t worry too much about natural disasters, as we think the state will help us. Even when we make poor decisions, such as not evacuating when told to, or going out on the road when there is a red weather warning, we expect the emergency services to come and rescue us. This doesn’t happen in major incidents, or it takes a while for the help to come. Those who didn’t evacuate on the Florida Panhandle may have to wait for days in homes with no electricity and water, before they are rescued or have their power restored. The drivers on the M80, who didn’t listen to the warnings about the ‘Beast from the East’ were caught in the snow and had to stay overnight in freezing conditions on the motorway.

In the UK, there is good work being done by local authorities trying to promote community resilience and encouraging communities to take responsibility for themselves and their neighbours, so that the limited resources of the emergency service can be deployed to look after the vulnerable. So, I hope as business continuity people, we have thought about our own and our family’s resilience, we have plans in place to look after ourselves, we listen to warnings and we make all reasonable efforts to be self-reliant. In huge disasters, as the people in Palu know, help takes time to arrive and if you can look after yourself that is one less family for the authorities to worry about.

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