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(1/16/2005) The people of Bali have joined the rest of the world in their shock and horror at the almost incalculable tragedy and devastation caused by the Sumatran earthquake of December 26, 2004, and the resulting tsunami that swept across Asia and Africa. Having only too recently drunk from disaster's bitter chalice, the people of Bali reacted quickly mobilizing money, food, clothing and medicines for those struggling to survive amidst the wreckage of their once prosperous lives.
Knowing all too well that nothing can replace the lives lost or recoup the shattered dreams of an entire generation, Bali must take heed and embark upon whatever steps it can to avoid a similar catastrophe visiting our shores.
Less than two weeks after the tragedy, the U.S.A. has acknowledged the threat posed by tsunamis and is rushing ahead full-steam with a US$35 million project for the introduction of an early warning system to protect its Atlantic, Pacific, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean beachfronts. Similarly, we are encouraged by reports that the Government of Indonesia is seriously considering offers of assistance from Australia to help establish a tsunami warning system.
Where is Bali's Voice?
But, frankly, the very survival of Bali's way of life is something too important to be passively left to bureaucrats and politicians. The island's community leaders and tourism industry stakeholders need to add their voice to the chorus calling for early detection; lobbying for an urgent introduction of a system of tsunami preparedness.
Impossible to predict as to their timing and location, being caught in the path of such a violent geophysical phenomenon is, on its most basic level, Mother Nature's most macabre illustration of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet, no one can deny that Bali sits at the juncture of several tectonic plates resulting in frequent tremors generated by earthquakes, the majority of which are mercifully minor in magnitude. Not surprisingly, following the recent tragedy, hoteliers and tourism operators in Bali are suddenly answering questions regarding potential tsunami and earthquake threats and natural disaster preparedness from potential customers.
A Brave New World
The world changed on December 26, 2004.
While we find solace in the lack of a major tsunami in Bali's living memory, the horrific images on our televisions in recent weeks means that it is now certain that a very real fear of such a catastrophe will be in the minds of our families, visitors and tourism industry staff for years to come.
How will hotels and attractions operator react when we experience our next inevitable geophysical "shake?" Will we, as we did in the past, let out a collective yelp and then quickly return to our work? Or, will hotels, beaches and swimming pools empty as guests and staff run, seeking higher ground?
Clearly, Bali's well-developed security plans, hammered out between the Hotels and the Bali Police, must now be redrafted to include evacuation scenarios – no matter how remote the threat. Competent authorities have to be identified and communication networks put in place and tested that will instantaneously assess and communicate the severity of every seismic event and the follow on threat of tsunami.
Now is clearly the time to answer these questions, train our staff, and have communication hierarchies in place that will prevent widespread panic precisely because a reliable and trusted watch guard system is in place.
In the aftermath of the Boxing Day tragedy, let's not underestimate the need for staff training and general education on the nature of earthquakes and tsunami. After seeing the horrific and unforgettable images that have been shown on TV over the past week, when the next quake occurs – no matter how minor - will hotel staff abandon their posts and run home to protect their families?
Until the memories and images of the Sumatran tsunami fade from out collective memories, we suggest that past performance by staff and guests will be no indication of future behavior when the next earthquake is felt.
Yes, the world really did change on December 26th, 2004.
Like the fate awaiting the proverbial ostrich whose head is buried in the sand with its derriére pointing squarely out to sea, it's exceedingly stupid to ignore Mother Nature.
More to the point, Bali's visitors are not likely to allow us such mindles bliss.
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