Padang Pariaman, Indonesia - At 10:00 a.m. on a sunny morning exactly two years after the Indian Ocean tsunami, the squall from a siren defeated the noise from a bustling market. Immediately, the town's streets were choked with citizens - many of them laughing.
On the morning of December 26, 2006, Mercy Corps helped eight communities around Padang Pariaman, an area devastated by the 2004 tsunami, conduct a simultaneous earthquake and tsunami drill. Despite visible smiles and notable camaraderie between the neighbors, the participants took the drill very seriously.
About five seconds after the sirens blared, school children clad in uniforms, businessmen and women toting young children slogged through the muddy market roads up to higher ground, following the evacuation route established by local authorities.
Afifah, a lady in her mid-twenties - as well as five months pregnant - had her two small children in tow as they hurried towards their destination, a concrete school building with enough room to accommodate a few hundred people.
"My daughter is crying because she thinks that there is real trouble," Afifah said, a little out of breath. "She's a little scared. But this drill is important, so that we know what to do when the actual time comes."
Mercy Corps, along with the Padang Pariaman district government and a local partner organization called Kogami, conducted the drill to prepare surrounding communities for future earthquakes and/or tsunami waves. Approximately 10,000 people from eight communities participated in the drill.
The simulation in Padang Pariman was part of a nationwide simulation event commemorating the two-year anniversary of the deadly Indian Ocean tsunami. The event, which took place across many vulnerable areas of Indonesia, was kicked off by Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
These drills coincide with the launching of an Early Warning System that includes the installation of sirens in coastal areas, implemented by the Meteorological and Geophysical Agency of Indonesia.
The simulation event is one of the activities included in the Emergency Capacity Building (ECB) Project, funded by The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. ECB is the collaborative effort of seven humanitarian agencies, including Mercy Corps, to address and resolve common problems in emergency response and preparedness. Mercy Corps is leading ECB's pilot project in Indonesia.
"Mercy Corps especially applauds the government of Padang Pariaman and our partner, Kogami, for their tireless effort to encourage all these communities to participate today," says Helmi Urzais, Mercy Corps' ECB program manager in Padang. "This effort shows the seriousness and priority of the local government and their willingness to partner with others that have specific expertise in the area of emergency preparedness. Their support in preparing these communities will ultimately save lives that would otherwise be unnecessarily lost."
Together, we're preparing for the worst while hoping for the best.