Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Jakarta crisis center ready to handle floods

Urip Hudiono, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The Jakarta Operation Coordination Board (Satkorlak) for Disaster Mitigation is now fully prepared to handle floods in the capital, according to one agency worker.

"At least three of us will be on duty around the clock to monitor the situation and do field checks," said Arsudireni Ronny, an on-call task force monitor.

The board -- chaired by Governor Sutiyoso himself and coordinated by the City Public Order Agency head Soebagio -- is responsible for handling natural disasters, particularly floods that annually cripple the capital.

Ronny explained that the monitoring task force would be responsible for collecting information on the latest situation in flood-prone areas and making full reports for further action and coordination.

The task force monitors will make phone calls every two hours to people manning the eight main sluice gates -- Pesanggrahan, Angke Hulu and Krukut Hulu in West Jakarta, Sunter Hulu in North Jakarta, Karet in Central Jakarta, Manggarai in South Jakarta, Pulogadung in East Jakarta and Depok -- to gauge the water levels. They will also get regular updates on the high and low tides in the Java Sea, which have a great impact on the ability of the water to flow freely out sea.

They also communicate regularly with the five municipality administrations to get the latest on flooded areas.

"If the telephone lines are down, we can use our two-band radios," Ronny said, adding that the task force also monitors radio stations and share information with Jakarta Police.

A disaster mitigation expert from the Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology (BPPT) had earlier urged the administration to disseminate flood information via radio and television in the absence of a proper early warning system.

The general public is also encouraged to make reports on floods to the center's 24-hour hotline number 382-2011.

Ronny said that the task force, involving 40,000 people from the administration, police and different organizations, would be deployed to the flooded areas if all means of communication failed. The task force did rehearsals in Cengkareng, West Jakarta, last November.

However, he had no knowledge of how the board would handle severe malfunctions in the capital, particularly primary infrastructure such as roads and power lines during a major calamity.

The administration had earlier requested Rp 200 billion (US$23.8 million) to set up a crisis center but the city budget now only calls for Rp 15 billion for the center.

If there is an emergency, the city will use its 113 rubber dinghies and the number can increase if the National Police and the Indonesian Military help by deploying their 19 and 105 dinghies, respectively. The administration has also designated places for 242 public kitchens and refugee camps near flood-prone areas.

Most Jakartans strongly criticized city officials for their late and/or lack of a response when the Great Jakarta Flood of 2002 hit, killing at least 30 people and forcing more than 300,000 to seek refuge.