On the occasion of International Day for Disaster Reduction, tsunami evacuation drills in Samoa mobilised 1,400 students and teachers to test their school disaster preparedness and evacuation plans.
Conducted simultaneously in six schools that were affected by the tsunami in 2009, the drills were the first ever on such a scale to test school disaster response and evacuation plans for students, teachers, and principals.
“Today’s drills are not a one-off – all school disaster plans will be regularly tested through drills as they are part of the schools’ work plans now,” said Molly Nielsen, Principal of the Disaster Management Office, Samoa.
The school tsunami preparedness is a partnership initiative between the Government of Samoa, the Government of Japan and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The evacuation drills were implemented in collaboration with the Samoa Fire and Emergency Services Authority, the Samoa Ministry of Education, the Samoa Meteorology Division, and the Samoa Red Cross Society.
Speaking at the opening ceremony, Shinya Aoki, Ambassador of Japan to the Independent State of Samoa remarked, “As a tsunami wave is difficult to survive, a proper evacuation is absolutely critical to save lives.”
Samoa and American Samoa were hit by a tsunami in 2009 when 143 people were killed, and thousands of people affected. Based on hazard risk information, safe evacuation points from all schools are at least 10-15 minutes away. That’s about as much time they have to respond to a tsunami warning.
“I experienced the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, and the 2009 tsunami in Samoa. So, I know that the threat of a tsunami is real. With today’s drill, we want to make sure that communities don’t forget what they need to do, as a mere 5 to 7 minutes of reaction time can make the difference between life and death,” said Notonegoro, Deputy Resident Representative, U.N.D.P Samoa.
During the drill preparations, the school children had an opportunity to try on virtual reality headsets and experience what their surroundings would look like under water. This was not only a fun experience but served as a mental preparedness exercise for a flood-like event.
“Evacuation drills in schools are crucial to ensure that future generations are aware of this risk and know what to do,” said Dr. Laura Kong, Director, International Tsunami Information Centre (ITIC). ITIC has been working in Samoa since before the 2009 tsunami and is a key technical partner in this project.
Tsunamis pose a major threat to Samoa because most human settlements and economic activity are located along the coast line.
“Samoa will always be at risk of tsunamis due to its proximity to the Tongan trench. UNDP is committed to support the Government of Samoa in disaster preparedness and risk reduction,” said Ms. Anne Milbank, Disaster Risk Reduction Programme Manager at UNDP Samoa.
“Japan has experienced and recovered from countless natural disasters. It is vital to share experience and knowledge about tsunamis around the world, and save as many lives as possible,” said Mr. Toshiaki Tanaka, Resident Representative of the Japan International Cooperation Agency Samoa Office.
Supported by the Government of Japan, UNDP is partnering with Governments to organise tsunami education activities and drills in 18 Asia-Pacific countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Fiji, Indonesia, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Timor Leste, Tonga, Vanuatu and Viet Nam.