Even as the reported death toll from the Sulawesi earthquake and tsunami doubled this week, nearly 200,000 more are in urgent need of help and care, including thousands of children, according to the United Nations.

GovInsider spoke to a public safety expert – Hong Eng Koh, Global Chief Public Safety Scientist at Huawei – to find out what first responders at the site must do.

Below, Koh shares what Indonesia can do and what resources they need to coordinate care and support the displaced.

1. Search and rescue

We are now in day seven of the twin disasters, but there is still a very good chance of rescuing survivors. The first priority is definitely to search for and rescue these survivors, many of whom are likely trapped under rubble.

There are various considerations here:

  • Does the Indonesian authority have sufficient rescuers, sniffer dogs, and necessary equipment for such rescue operations? If not, the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre can play an important role to coordinate such personnel and resources from fellow ASEAN member countries to support this massive rescue under the existing agreement.
  • To better coordinate such local and foreign rescue efforts, a single agency (may be BNPB) has to be tasked to direct and coordinate all the efforts, to avoid duplication and missing out villages.
  • With limited resources, the authorities have to prioritise which cities and villages to focus on for such rescue efforts. The use of population data and aerial surveillance on the extent of destruction are necessary inputs for such decision.
  • Organisations such as the Pacific Disaster Centre can even do post-disaster simulation to assess the levels of destructions throughout the province.
  • The government will need a common operating picture to coordinate rescue efforts. This can be created using geographic information systems (GIS) showing population data, areas affected, levels of destruction, critical infrastructure (such as functioning medical facilities and airport runways), real-time triage locations and number of survivors, and real-time rescue personnel and equipment locations.
  • Such GIS mapping and data layers should be the focus point of a joint Command, Control & Communication (C3) Center to be led by the central coordinating agency mentioned earlier.

2. Care and treatment for the injured

  • Next, we need to consider the treatment of the injured and care for the displaced people. There are four things to keep in mind:
  • If there are insufficient functioning medical facilities in the province (especially with more aftershocks and potential major eruption of the Soputan volcano expected), there is a need for a separate operation to evacuate the injured to other provinces/cities.
  • For the homeless/displaced people, sanitation problems will lead to more victims. We need clean water supply, food and proper sanitation facilities, and proper housing including schools, community halls and tents. Again, there is a need for a central agency to collect, collate and distribute such aid.
  • Families of the displaced, injured, dead and missing persons will surely be very worried for their loved ones. It is important to have a centralised victims identification facility to process and communicate such information, including their status and location. Data collection are likely to be decentralised and reported into this system.
  • These efforts can also be centrally coordinated in the C3 Center mentioned above.

3. Minimise crime and public disorder

The third major concern is crime and public disorder. The police may need to be supported by the military to maintain law and order.

It is not unusual to see lootings in a major disaster like this one. While some of the people just want to survive because of lack of water and food (this is why taking care of displaced persons is crucial), there will be the criminally-minded who want to benefit from such disasters.

Survivors can be understandably shaken and distraught. They may be susceptible to fake news and rumors that further agitate them. Families with lost members may become more demanding. All these behaviors may lead to public disorder, and even clashes between people.

We learnt that prisoners in the Donggala Penitentiary in Central Sulawesi ran riot and set the prison on fire, and at least 100 prisoners managed to escape, severely undermining public safety.

There is a slight chance that criminals will kidnap vulnerable children during a disaster, and people traffickers may even smuggle them overseas. First responders and immigration officers have to be alert when they see adults with children.

With many communication infrastructures affected, Huawei on 29th September dispatched engineers and equipment to ground zero to work side by side with the telecommunication companies to bring online the public communication networks. We are grateful to the military for the use of their aircraft and vehicle. We now have 11 engineers onsite and more are on standby.

If you would like to find out more or have question, contact Hong Eng Koh at he.koh@huawei.com.

Image by ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance (AHA) Centre