Published works

Published works

Too good to be true? How a remote island community developed a 100% effective risk communication strategy and what Australia can learn from it

TitleToo good to be true? How a remote island community developed a 100% effective risk communication strategy and what Australia can learn from it
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsSutton, S
Conference NameAFAC17
Date Published09/2017
PublisherBushfire and Natural Hazards CRC
Conference LocationSydney

On 13 October 2005 the leaders of the island of Simeulue were presented with a prestigious award by the United Nations. The Sasakawa Award for Disaster Reduction was given in recognition of the island community losing a remarkably low number of people during the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The award paid tribute to the fact that Simeulue accomplished a “unique achievement in the midst of all the death in Aceh due to the tsunami” and acknowledged that an oral story saved the community. In fact, of a population of 80,000, only 7 people died during the incident – and locals insist that 6 of those died during the earthquake and only one – a man named Laksahmin – died from the tsunami.

Research published soon after the tsunami indicated that the essence of this unique achievement was a traditional story which included information on the signs of an impending tsunami and the action to be taken to minimise loss of life.

In the indigenous story tsunami is called “smong” and the knowledge of smong is based on the community’s experience of a previous smong event. This earlier tsunami occurred on 4 January 1907 and affected 950 km of the Sumatran coast.

The core of the old story (from both the literature and from the interviews that comprise this research) is that the big tsunami struck Simeulue in 1907 killing a great proportion of the population. The survivors were those who ran to the nearby hills. Ever since then the story has been repeated in many private and public social contexts. Old people and grandmothers in particular reiterate the story. The principal story elements are:

1) Jika gempa kuat                                      1) If there is a strong earthquake

2) Jika laut surut                                         2) If the sea recedes

3) Lari ke gunung                                       3) Run to the mountains

         3b) Ngakk menunggu - lari saja!                3b) Don't wait - just RUN!

This paper sets out the preliminary results of a PhD research project which is exploring the Simeulue DRR phenomenon. This project aims to generate an understanding of how the simple narrative described above came about and in particular, why it was so effective in minimising loss of life in 2004. It is hoped that these findings can be adapted to improve risk communication and DRR in other locations in Indonesia and indeed the rest of the world.

Refereed DesignationNon-Refereed

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