Not Just A School Drill

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When I heard about UNDP initiating a regional project on school tsunami preparedness my initial reaction was - why us? It’s been a while since our last work with schools through the Safer Communities through Disaster Risk Reduction (SC-DRR) project which was completed in 2012. Since then, we don’t typically work in schools, and so my interaction with the Ministry of Education and schools was limited at best.

But as one of 18 countries under this project funded by the Government of Japan, we were guided by the regional office and tsunami experts in identifying criteria for school selection, preparedness, reviewing school plans and evacuation routes, and conducting school drills.

Based on risk data provided in InaRISK, and discussions with key stakeholders we agreed to conduct drills in six schools in Bali and Aceh. We realized quickly enough that we needed partners on the ground since currently we do not have active DRR initiatives in both location – to help us facilitate engagement with local government, the school authorities and even local traffic police. So, we partnered with the Red Cross whose volunteers played a crucial role.

Bali is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It is home to many hotels – including in newly developed tourism area of Tanjung Benoa. What’s new is that the local administration is signing Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with eight hotels that school children and even people from the local community can evacuate to, in the event of a tsunami warning.

When we conducted the drill the students from SD 2 evacuated to ION Benoa, one of the only hotels that is six storeys high. As I watched, I realized that the moment the students left the school’s premises, the drill was no longer just about the school.

The Pecalang - the local security guards - had been notified and they were there to regulate traffic flow so that the students could evacuate safely. The hotel staff guided students and faculty up the stairs to safety. By the time we did the third drill there were plenty of observers – local community, university students and even tourists – who got interested in what we were doing.

The drills have prompted the local administration to sign MOUs with eight hotels. These MOUs signal the beginning of a broader initiative - from school preparedness to whole of society preparedness – advocacy, awareness campaigns, evacuation plans and preparedness drills for Tanjung Benoa.

I know that a drill is only part of a process. There is so much that happens before, and much that should happen after. But I realized not to underestimate the importance of a drill. Where there are plans in place, a drill helps to test, nurture the awareness and provide opportunity to improve them based on the developed situation in the community. Where there is an absence of plans, a drill provides an opportunity to develop one.

Then there is the drill itself - visible action that the community or neighborhood witnessed, and in turn spurred interest - a movement beyond our expectations. 

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