For earthquakes, disaster risk management from Germany is in demand
It was 27 February 2010 in the middle of the night when an enormous earthquake struck off the coast of Chile. A tsunami hit the shore. The quake and the tidal wave took the lives of more than 5,000 people, while the earthquake hit the surrounding cities, killing over 500 people. Not even the distant capital of Santiago de Chile was spared. The caretaker of the German school there was warned by an alarm – thanks to technology from Germany.
The LifePatron early warning system gave the caretaker an extra 30 seconds. ‘People usually only wake up from secondary waves and are disoriented at first – wasting valuable time’, said Jürgen Przbylak, Managing Director of Secty Electronics, the German company that developed LifePatron. The system registers primary waves, which arrive earlier than secondary waves but are not perceived by humans. Since the earthquake in 2011 in Japan, the interest in LifePatron has increased significantly.
Early warning system for Indonesia
German technology is in demand for disaster risk management. Commissioned by the German Government, the German Research Centre for Geosciences (GFZ) developed an early warning system for tsunamis in the Indian Ocean after a seaquake caused appalling damage there in 2004. The German Indonesian Tsunami Early Warning System (GITEWS) consists of some 300 measuring stations located throughout Indonesia. The data are converted to a situation report via a simulation system. When disaster strikes, GITEWS creates risk maps in a matter of minutes. This way, the central warning centre can initiate measures to protect human lives.
The system has officially been in operation since March 2011. Since the start of test operations in 2009, it has already been able to record eleven tsunamis in their early stages. However, an earthquake off the coast of Sumatra in 2010 revealed the system’s limitations: While GITEWS only required five minutes for a warning, in this short period, the first waves had already hit.
‘For early warning measures, it’s important that the population responds appropriately,’ says GFZ researcher Daniel J. Acksel. For this reason, the Indonesian Government is implementing information and education campaigns.
German volunteer work as a model
China too is working together with German specialists in disaster risk management. After the earthquake in Sichuan in 2008, the government searched worldwide for concepts for better disaster management – and found what they were looking for in Germany. The volunteer work and decentralised organisation were particularly convincing factors. ‘This is an attractive model for China, since institutions on the ground don’t communicate enough during disasters’, said Christof Johnen, project manager at the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).
Neighbours help first
The GIZ experts are supporting the establishment of a National Institute of Emergency Management. This will train administrative staff members, carry out research and advise policy-makers. On the ground, those bringing emergency assistance should be able to react with greater expertise. In this area, Germany’s Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) is viewed as exemplary. Many studies show that when disasters occur, most people are not saved by international teams but rather by their neighbours.