Preparing Children is the Key for a Successful Evacuation Drill


Last month, UNDP Indonesia conducted three tsunami evacuation drills, with more than 1300 school children participating the activities. I was astonished to learn that many students were genuinely scared of a drill. The realness of the situation, loud sirens, climbing up a flight of stairs under scorching sun was an intense experience for the students. Some of them were crying, some fainted and needed medical care.  Luckily, there were no injuries during the drills, but we learnt several lessons.

Prepare the students and rehearse was a major lesson for us. We learnt that some younger students panicked because they didn’t know what the drill was. Many children hadn’t had sufficient food or water before the drill, and were suffering because of the heat. Before our second drill, we made sure that students were fully briefed and there was no about that this was a drill. Students were reminded to have a proper breakfast. The evacuation points had water and fruit ready for the students when they arrived. Since then, there has been no incident with students.  

Identify your partners. Sitting in Jakarta and conducting school drills in Bali or Aceh is not possible unless one has a network of partners. We partnered with the Red Cross and had local champions in the community to help us engage with the selected schools. We were in touch with them daily. Their commitment and enthusiasm made it possible to organize the drills.

Establish the baseline. Does the school have an evacuation plan? Is it regularly updated? Do younger students know what to do in the event of a tsunami? And so on. We used a School Preparedness Assessment methodology for Earthquake and Tsunami developed by the Indian Ocean Tsunami Information Centre (IOTIC) and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) to assess the level of preparedness in the schools before conducting the drills. The methodology is based on five parameters: Knowledge, Attitude and Behaviour; School Policy, Early Warning System; Emergency Response; and Resource Mobilization Capacity.

Develop a scenario and role play. Our scenario was an earthquake that triggers a tsunami warning. We asked the local met agency to send us a fake SMS so that we could simulate. We also encouraged that the principal calls for self-evacuation. We worked with the local police for safe evacuation. The students evacuated to nearby hotels since they were the safest evacuation points in Bali. The school called an ambulance to sound the siren and to be available to attend to any injuries.

Have people observe and evaluate. The teachers played a really important role here. One of the things they said was that they need to have simple messages that can be easily understood by students of all ages – what a tsunami is; how to respond to a tsunami warning; how to prepare etc. This is very much a part of the regional project on tsunami preparedness in schools so the importance of having such materials was further validated. 

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