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Are YOU prepared for disaster?

Indonesia, June 7, 2010

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The usual reactions that I got from people when they hear that I’m working in Padang were not usually far from: How often do you feel an earthquake? Isn’t it dangerous to live there? How far from the beach is your office? Don’t you fear a tsunami?

I don’t doubt the fact that Padang (in fact, the whole islands of Sumatra and Java) lies in one of the most active fault lines in the world. The latest big earthquake that struck the West Sumatra province on September 30, 2009 measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, just adding to the worries.

Yet, I believe that if you cannot change the hazards, it is better for you to be prepared in case the worst happened. This is essentially what we do in our Mercy Corps West Sumatra Offices. Taking advantages from the experiences and materials from our Disaster Risk Reduction programs we always keep ourselves ready. Last May, we handed out simple gear to our staffs: a whistle.

You might be wondering what a whistle has to do with disaster preparedness. Well, keep your fingers crossed and read the following scenarios:

  • You are working when suddenly a severe earthquake strikes. Minutes later, you find yourself trapped under the rubble with zero vision. Outside, you can hear your colleagues shouting but you are too weak to reply. Then you remember the whistle hanging on your neck cord, grab it, and blow it out to tell that you are alive but trapped under the rubble.
  • You are on a search-and-rescue mission after a landslide struck a village just outside of town. You divided into teams and began the mission until at one point you find a damaged house from which you can hear people crying out for help. Your mobile phone receives no signal, so you grab the whistle to call the rest of the group together and conduct an evacuation.

In addition to the whistling gear, our office also finalized the evacuation plan for all of the three offices and one guest house. Soon, an emergency drill will be conducted to practice the plan.

With this, next time when people ask, "Don’t you fear working on a disaster prone area?" I will answer: I would be frightened if I worked in a disaster-prone area WITHOUT any preparation.

Besides, you cannot tell when a disaster will strike, nor that you cannot avoid it. Why don’t we learn from it as well as be prepared for it?