President University forced to rescue staff and students amid Jakarta floods

At the beginning of the New Year, Jakarta faced widespread flooding. Cikarang, where President University’s main campus is located, as well as surrounding areas experienced water levels as high as 1.5 metres. The capital’s secondary airport, Halim, was closed due to the flooding. The management team at President University worked with emergency services including the National Guard on evacuating staff and students trapped by the flood waters, whilst strong currents and landslides were swamping away cars and debris. Causing widespread chaos, the floods left residents and rescue workers exposed to several risks, including the danger of infectious diseases, electrocution caused by short circuits, hypothermia and even poisonous snakes. 66 people died and over 180,000 were forced to evacuate their homes.

Jakarta is increasingly prone to flooding, whereby different factors exacerbate the problem. The capital is situated on a swamp on the North-western coast of Java. With some areas in Northern Jakarta being below sea level and a total of thirteen rivers running through the city, the area is naturally prone to coastal, alluvial and pluvial flooding. Rising sea levels, clogged sewage and waterways that service a growing population are worsening the situation. A shrinkage of underground water supply and illegal drilling are causing Jakarta to sink by 5-10 centimetres a year though in Northern Jakarta, this can extend to as much as 20 centimetres. It is predicted that by 2050, ninety-five percent of Northern Jakarta will be submerged which has led the government to plan the relocation of Indonesia’s capital city to a new place in Kalimantan (Borneo).

The floods demonstrate the significant importance of developing universities as change agents in the country’s endeavour to build its disaster resilience in several different ways, namely by highlighting the need for (1) implementing appropriately designed crisis coordination systems and plans, (2) educating staff, students and local communities in disaster awareness, (3) designing appropriate curricula for disaster management education, and (4) championing collaboration with the public, private and third sector to inform research and development and policy-making. The following paragraphs address these in turn.

Firstly, the circumstances faced by President University showed the vital importance of implementing crisis coordination systems and plans. These must be designed to enable the location and ongoing communication with staff and students, whereby such plans may be undermined by complicating factors as for example power cuts. In this, the ability to work with emergency services is vital as is the ability to provide temporary shelter, food and medical support. Where there is damage to university premises, a displacement or temporary suspension of teaching activities may be required. A university’s ability to respond efficiently depends on the capability to mobilise resources and networks quickly following a clear command structure and to monitor evolving situations closely through effective information exchange with relevant stakeholders. The ability to collect and manage information is also necessary to inform post-evaluations of response and recovery activities. During the rescue phase, the senior management of President University was actively involved in assessing the evolving situation, determining risks, locating affected staff and students and in collaborating with local emergency services. The BUiLD project management team expects to conduct a full post evaluation to understand the institutional impacts of the January floods in more detail and to further inform the design of a future Information Exchange and Management Model, Target Operating Model and Best Practice Model for Institutional Governance as part of a comprehensive Disaster Resilience Framework. Throughout the incident, the project management team and steering group were kept informed about the extent of the impact as the situation evolved. From a project resilience perspective, it was therefore possible to assess whether there would be any implications for its implication that would have needed contingency planning or measures.

Secondly, experiences during the floods showed the need for targeted disaster awareness campaigns to educate staff, students and communities about the specific risks involved. In this case, these appeared to involve in particular the danger of infectious diseases, electrocution caused by short circuits, hypothermia and risks of being attacked by poisonous snakes. Whilst it is not possible to fully eliminate these risks, it is possible to reduce the number of accidents, illnesses and infections through targeted awareness training and through educating individuals on how to protect themselves and others during such incidents. Simulations based on experiences during prior incidents can also inform preventive measures prior to an incident, such as working to reduce the risk of electric short circuiting by installing ground fault circuit interrupters or the risk of hypothermia by ensuring the availability of appropriate clothing. The BUiLD project includes the development of a disaster awareness campaign using a virtual reality element to address the specific disaster risks of each partner university. As these are located across Indonesia, possible risks range from seismic and volcanic activity, tsunamis and liquefaction to flooding and forest fires. In Palu (Sulawesi) a triple disaster involving an earthquake, tsunami and liquefaction affected consortium partner Universitas Muhammadiyah Palu in September 2018.

Thirdly, Indonesia’s future disaster resilience requires highly educated academics and professionals who are able to lead the diverse and complex aspect of managing and improving disaster resilience in the future. Indonesia currently does not have a standard curriculum even though a national forum exists for Higher Education Institutions to network and share best practice in disaster management. One of the challenges in developing disaster resilience curricula is that disaster prevention and management tends to be highly contextualised and therefore a balance between addressing a commonly accepted body of knowledge as well as expected skills set, and local adaptations must be found. The BUiLD project aims to contribute to this development by developing curriculum benchmarks that are accepted as an appropriate standard by the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Higher Education and adopted by consortium partners.  

Finally, President University’s experience of responding to the floods has highlighted the need for working in partnership with external stakeholders to leverage the role of universities as change agents in all aforementioned aspects of disaster resilience. Whilst most consortium partners are involved in leading some disaster research, training and consulting and response and recovery activities, a comprehensive collaboration model exists neither at the local nor the national level. The BUiLD project will create Centres of Excellence in Disaster Resilience in each participating university and develop a national disaster resilience network. Both the Centres and the network will be based on the penta helix model and seek to facilitate collaboration between universities and the public, private and third sector in advancing disaster prevention and response capability, research and innovation, curriculum development and policy-making.

Written by Nadine Sulkowski

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