First 24 hours
On 30 September 2009 at 17:16(GMT+7), a 7.6 magnitude earthquake, followed by a 6.2 magnitude earthquake, struck off the coast of Padang city, the capital of West Sumatra Province in Indonesia. The next day, another earthquake of 7.0 magnitude struck Jambi Province. The sudden earthquakes resulted in numerous buildings collapsing, burying scores of people alive, and triggering landslides in many areas that obliterated villages and made roads inaccessible. The President of Indonesia has welcomed international assistance. Meanwhile, international urban search and rescue (USAR) teams were already busy mobilizing and planning to respond.
Day 2 – Global Life Saving and
Within hours, the first United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC*) team member departed from Zurich, Switzerland together with the Swiss Rescue advanced party team of 7 in a Canadair “Challenger” aircraft. The team arrived in Padang 13 hours later to support the national authorities in paving the way for an expected huge international response particularly in urban search and rescue (USAR) assistance. In total 21 countries and organisations comprising 668 emergency responders and 67 search dogs responded and worked around the clock conducting life saving USAR and humanitarian operations in and around Padang under difficult and challenging conditions.
Parallel humanitarian activities were also in full throttle, with over 200 NGOs from national and international organisations, and 11 UN agencies, divided into 10 clusters, primed for assessment and coordination work. 9 UNDAC members with co-opted experts from the EU Civil Protection Team, International Humanitarian Partnership (IHP), MapAction, DHL and Télécom Sans Frontière swiftly deployed to support the national coordination structures at all levels, and assisted the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) in coordinating international USAR teams and strengthening the UN Country Team. Already joint rapid needs assessments have been initiated based on which further humanitarian response planning will take place.
Key UNDAC / INSARAG** coordination mechanisms were well functioning from the Reception and Departure Centres (RDC) established at the Minangkabau international airport, to the On Site Operations Coordination Centre (OSOCC), operationalised alongside the national authorities, in the Governor’s house. The UNDAC team worked jointly with the authorities in assessments and deployment of the USAR teams, including overall management of the teams (i.e. securing bases of operations, logistical, safety and security issues) facilitating daily USAR Team Leaders’ meetings and providing key inputs into the OCHA sitreps in accordance with the INSARAG Guidelines. The time tested standardised procedures in past earthquake response, adverted duplicative efforts and translated to a well integrated international response that augmented local capacities and morale in all sectors of operations.
The first 24 hours saw the majority of USAR teams arriving, and 70% of mainly large multi-story collapsed buildings in the city searched.
Day 3 – Ongoing USAR life-saving
operations, announcement of adequate
international USAR assistance
On 3 Oct 09 at 19:37, after consultations with the national authorities and USAR team leaders and when the scale of the disaster became clearer, an announcement was made in the VOSOCC*** that further international USAR teams were not required.
Day 4 – Expanded USAR operations
beyond Padang City
After 48 hours from the start of international USAR operations 100% of collapsed buildings in the city had been searched. The situation North, South and East of the city was also assessed. In those areas there are mainly smaller one-story residential buildings and landslides. INSARAG heavy classified teams were put in charge of the identified sectors, and they led the way; collaborating with other USAR teams and synergized USAR efforts.
Collapsed buildings were found twisted into a carcass of impossible angles making it impossible for anyone to be found alive, while tragic landslides buried entire villages. Nonetheless, the unyielding spirit to search for life victims persevered through with teams sending search dogs with their highly developed sense of smell, scouring the debris and mud pile, coupled with highly sensitive seismic, acoustic and optical fiberscope detectors, hoping for a glimmer of life, but unfortunately this was not to be.
Day 5 – No further complex USAR
In the morning of 5th October, after discussions between the national authorities, international teams and UNDAC, it was unanimously agreed that national teams are now fully engaged in all sectors and there were no more further complex USAR operations assistance required of international USAR teams.
The national USAR teams with the support from the international teams, having conducted over 80 hours of non stop extensive USAR operations, have come to the conclusion that the requirement for further assistance from the foreign teams in the area of complex operations utilising additional heavy specialised equipment and technical search capability will cease.
Many teams then transitioned from searching mud and debris, to helping the affected population recover in tangible ways, for instance, retrieving bodies for grieving families to connect and facilitate emotional closure, demolishing unstable structures, building temporary shelters and providing medical care to affected victims in remote villages.
Any government would be overwhelmed with a disaster of this magnitude, with national response capacities obviously overstretched. In this earthquake response, national and international response capacities have been untiring and unrelenting in the effort to save lives. There has been excellent teamwork and integration, between responders at all levels.
From the start, the United Nations worked hand in glove with the authorities in a strategic, coordinated, effective and prioritized way surmounting a multitude of challenges. The demonstration of solidarity and responding swiftly as one big global family to a friend in need was what the world witnessed – as good friends would indeed.
* UNDACTeam – A pool of diverse emergency response experts from Member States and humanitarian agencies that can respond at a moment’s notice to support the authorities of the affected country, during a sudden onset emergency requiring international humanitarian response.
**INSARAG – Mandated by GA 57/150 of 16 December 2002, the International Search and Rescue Advisory group (INSARAG) is a global network of more than 80 countries and organizations focusing on urban search and rescue (USAR) related issues that meet regularly for training and exercises based on the globallyaccepted INSARAG Guidelines as reference.
*** Virtual OSOCC (http://www.ocha.unog.ch/virtualosocc), an information-sharing portal of OCHA – UN INSARAG Secretariat was able to monitor and update international USAR teams with crucial information as the situation unfolded, and important information such as announcing that there were adequate USAR teams on site, close of the life-saving USAR phase, and other requests were well communicated to the global USAR community.