At 10:08 am on Sunday 13 August, a magnitude 6.4 earthquake occurred off the coast of Sumatra, about 75km to the west of Kota Bengkulu (Figure 1). The earthquake occurred at a depth of around 35 km, and resulted in strong shaking in the Bengkulu and Seluma districts. The earthquake was felt as far away as Padang and South Sumatra but did not generate any tsunamis.

In North Bengkulu (the area closest to the quake) strong shaking was felt for about 10 seconds, causing some panic amongst locals. The most common response was to quickly move outdoors. Some minimal damage to buildings was observed, but there were no reports of casualties. The earthquake resulted in power outages in some parts of the district.

Bengkulu BPBD activated in response to the event, with staff undertaking field checks, and reporting for duty if a wider response was required. They were stood down later in the day.

Figure 1  Map showing the location of the earthquake and modelled shaking intensities. Source:

There is significant seismic risk for many communities on the island of Sumatra, and the districts involved in the StIRRRD program have included a number of activities in their DRR Action Plans to better understand and reduce this risk. StIRRRD alumni are also working on a range of other seismic risk reduction activities. For example, at the University of Bengkulu, Dr. M. Farid is working to understand and map liquefaction hazard; and Universitas Andalas (Padang) staff are trialing a method to retrofit un-reinforced brick buildings with wire mesh, to improve their ability to withstand seismic shaking.

Coaching and Mentoring in Bengkulu and West Sumatra

The StIRRRD team spent a busy week in early July, providing support and training for the districts in West Sumatra and Bengkulu provinces. A day each was spent in Seluma, Bengkulu City, Agam, Padang City and Pesisir Selatan. Each of these districts are at different stages on their journey towards reducing risk from disasters, and the visit enabled some honest conversations about the difficulties they face, as well as a chance to celebrate and learn from successes achieved to date.


Monday was spent in Seluma, which is facing challenges as the district tries to implement Action Plan activities.  It was discussed that improved coordination between agencies will help with improved implementation.  District BPBD staff are aware of this issue and it was reassuring that they were able to arrange a meeting with representatives from all the main local government agencies. The meeting was chaired by the Deputy Head of District, who expressed support for the StIRRRD project, on behalf of the Bupati. The Head of Parliament also attended, and gave an impassioned speech encouraging stakeholders to improve their coordination efforts, and to work together to improve the capacity of people in Seluma, so they can reduce the risk from disasters. The StIRRRD team will continue to through coaching and mentoring, and a community project designed to make better use of the tsunami shelter in the village of Rawa Indah is scheduled to commence later this year.

Commitment to the actions outlined in the Seluma DRR Action Plan was confirmed during the July visit, with the Head of BPBD (Pak Azwardi), Deputy Head of District (Pak Rosyikin), and Bu Yudhy Harini Bertham from University of Bengkulu signing the document


DRR activities in the city of Bengkulu are being well coordinated by the district BPBD office. They have implemented a tsunami “Blue Line” project and included it in an evacuation simulation for schools. Work is planned for 2018 to further implement blue lines along the city’s coastline, and to improve evacuation routes and upgrade signage. The StIRRRD team, including an expert from the University of Bengkulu (UNIB), spoke with invited stakeholders about the need to involve local communities in future blue line projects, to help raise awareness and empower community initiatives.

Tsunami Safe Zone signs and Blue Line, Bengkulu City

Representatives at this meeting also discussed the concept of a ‘lifelines’ group, comprising agencies which provide critical infrastructure services to the community (e.g. water, electricity, transport). It seems that the good progress on DRR being made in Bengkulu could be enhanced by setting up a similar group of agencies, which would work together to better understand the likely impact of hazards on their own assets and services, and on the other utilities that they rely on.


Wednesday was spent in Agam, where the local BPBD office hosted a workshop with a wide range of agencies involved in DRR work. This included representatives from the private sector (banks, forestry and electricity), NGO’s such as Jamari Sakato and a micro-loan program for women, university staff from Padang and Agam, ‘disaster-ready’ journalists, Police, several local government agencies, the tourism office, and a number of sub-district heads.

The workshop covered a range of topics, including a ‘lifelines’ group, and demonstrated the widespread support for DRR work in Agam, from political leaders, local government and the private sector, down to the village level.  The approach taken in Agam starts from the ‘bottom’ and work up – i.e. ensure that well-educated communities and local government staff are able to take the initiative and implement their own DRR programs, in a coordinated and timely manner. A key message that was re-iterated by several speakers is that DRR is everyone’s responsibility, not just BPBD.

Pesisir Selatan

On Thursday morning, a meeting was held with the Bupati, Head of Parliament and the District Secretary.  Although the district is very scenic and has a wide range of natural resources, it is also vulnerable to disasters. There is only 1 road linking Painan to Padang City, and this traverses some difficult terrain and can be easily cut by landslides or flooding. The district leaders are keen on further development, and requested help to advocate to central government for additional inland roading networks. These would also allow evacuation from low-lying land into the hills.

A view of Pesisir Selatan’s coastline, from Cubadak Island

Several OPD agencies, including public health, environment, water resources and social affairs also reported on their work programs during this meeting. They are committed and have a good understanding of the challenges they face, but have inadequate resources, and there is limited coordination between agencies on DRR activities.  Further work will be required to improve the capacity of people in Pesisir Selatan, to reduce risk from disasters.


Friday morning was spent with Padang BPBD, who were involved in the StIRRRD project as a pilot program. To address tsunami risk, the local BPBD office has committed enthusiastically to the ‘Blue Line’ concept, which was originally developed in Wellington, New Zealand. Initiatives in the project include:

  • Large-scale maps showing tsunami hazard zones and the location of buildings which can be used as vertical evacuation shelters.
  • Engaging a consultant to determine future locations for blue lines across the city.
  • Technical design specifications for signs and the lines themselves.
  • Working with other agencies to add additional lighting so the lines can be seen at night.
  • A comprehensive socialisation program, with specific actions to enable risk reduction activities in various social settings, including homes, villages, schools, campuses, tutor’s buildings, mosques, hospitals, markets, malls and hotels. They also use TV and radio to disseminate information.
  • As part of this program, BPBD staff are visiting individual homes, and helping them to make their own plan for a tsunami. Once trained, the household receives an information sticker to put on a window, and a record of the visit is made (see image).
Log book recording visits by BPBD staff to individual households

This visit highlighted some excellent DRR initiatives which are underway, as well as challenges some districts are facing. Significant and rapid progress is being made in some locations, while others are struggling to make headway. Key lessons from this visit for successful DRR implementation include:

  • Commitment and support from political leaders – not just words, but the backing to implement a range of activities, and to ensure that the responsible agencies coordinate and communicate regularly with each other.
  • A ‘DRR champion’ who has some level of seniority and respect, who has the passion and ability to plan and then implement appropriate activities, and who can work well with other agencies.