Using science to inform disaster preparedness in Indonesia


Disaster response training exercise using boats, inflatable craft and a helicopter in waves close to shore in the ocean off Padang, Indonesia.

Disaster managers test their capability
to respond to a major tsunami event
during the international disaster
response Mentawai Megathrust
exercise. Image courtesy of DFAT.

A team of Australian and Indonesian scientists have developed an earthquake and tsunami scenario used recently for a major international disaster response training exercise in West Sumatra, Indonesia.

This scenario developed for the Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra formed the scientific basis of the Mentawai Megathrust Disaster Response Exercise held in Padang, West Sumatra, from 16 to 23 March 2014. The exercise was organised by the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB), and involved 18 nations from the East Asia region, in support of disaster management work being undertaken by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

The scenario built upon more than 15 years of research by scientists from Australia, Indonesia, Singapore and the United States studying the effects that earthquakes and tsunami can have on the corals that fringe the Mentawai islands.

Dr Danny Natawidjaja from the Indonesian Institute of Science, who has worked extensively on the corals, explained that during large earthquakes the islands are suddenly uplifted and the corals die as they are lifted out of the water.

"Between large earthquakes the islands slowly subside and the corals start to grow again," Dr Natawidjaja said.

"By studying this process scientists can measure the scale of each uplift event, and accurately date when it occurred. This has enabled us to estimate the magnitude of large earthquakes over the past several hundred years."

Geoscience Australia hazard modeller Mr Jonathan Griffin describes how this information was used to build a suite of possible earthquake scenarios that fit the coral data, and then model the tsunami inundation from each scenario.

"By compiling the results from many scenarios we can build a robust picture of which areas might be inundated during a tsunami," Mr Griffin explained.

The work further highlights the ongoing capacity building program of the Australian Government in partnership with Indonesia's BNPB through the Australia-Indonesia Facility for Disaster Reduction to help reduce the impacts of disasters in Indonesia.

Geoscience Australia scientists developed the scenario in partnership with colleagues from Indonesian science agencies including the Bandung Institute of Technology; the Geology Agency of Indonesia; the Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology; the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency; and the Indonesian Institute of Science.

  • Further detail in Minister for Justice, The Hon Michael Keenan MP's media release.