BYU professor addresses natural disaster mitigation in Indonesia


The Kennedy Center hosted a lecture on Wednesday, Nov. 30, on the integrated tsunami and earthquake disaster mitigation in Indonesia. The lecture also addressed how to work effectively to save lives through education.

Ari Davis
Ron Harris addresses tsunami and earthquake mitigation in Indonesia for the weekly lecture series at the Kennedy Center on Wednesday. (Ari Davis)

Geological sciences professor Ron Harris specializes in mountain building processes, neotectonics, active faults and fault zone hydrodynamics. He bridged his skills to help with natural disaster mitigation and training geologists in developing countries.

Harris spent a significant amount of time in Indonesia educating communities on safety procedures in the face of a natural disaster.

“One of the reasons I’ve been drawn to this part of the world is because it’s one of the most tectonically active areas on the planet,” Harris said.

The 2004 tsunami devastated Indonesia resulting in more than 160,000 deaths. Following the disaster, Harris helped the Indonesian people develop the knowledge and skills to increase their chances of survival.

“I stayed in their villages and I got to know their families,” Harris said. “I knew hundreds, maybe thousands of these people through my years of research there. I lived among them and know what their needs were.”

Harris dedicated his time and skills researching through historical records, looking at tsunami deposits and exploring landforms to calculate how much energy is stored and forecast potential disasters. He took this knowledge and applied it to his three-point method of forecasting, communicating and implementing information related to safety procedures.

“You can’t do just one part,” Harris said. “You need all three and you need to be involved in all three. It’s important to not only forecast safety procedures, but to also communicate and implement the information.”

Harris forecasted, communicated and implemented an important principle within communities through the phrase “Dua puluh tiga kali,” which translates into “20 three times.”

“If there is 20 seconds of ground shaking, you need to get up and run 20 minutes to evacuate and then go up at least 20 meters in elevation,” Harris said.

Harris contacted the heads of local Indonesian governments and got them involved in educating the people through songs, dance, parades and other forms.

This training helped prepare the community for a 2013 earthquake and flood that rose to heights of 30 meters. In the end, only seven people died because of the evacuation drills and education implemented by community leaders.

“There were 428 homes that were wiped out,” Harris said. “In Indonesia that’s about five or six people per home so over 2,000 people were saved.”

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