As Japan was struck by the worst earthquake in its recorded history, tsunami alerts were issued across the region. Most were later lifted but the quake was proof again of the need to be on high alert and ready to go.
Hundreds were killed after a tsunami struck Japan
Thousands of Indonesians fled their homes in the northeastern parts of the country when the tsunami warnings were first sounded. The panic later turned out to be in vain but experts pointed out one can never know in advance.
In the end, a tsunami of only 10 centimeters was detected in North Sulawesi Province and the Maluku Islands, according to Indonesia’s meteorology and geophysics agency.
Indonesian President Yudhoyono launched a tsunami early warning system in 2008
Indonesians have been especially wary of tidal waves since 2004, when their country was the worst hit by a tsunami that killed some 230,000 people.
More effective early warning systems
Because of the chaos and devastation at the time, more sophisticated early warning systems have since been introduced to speed up evacuation procedures and reduce safety risks if big tsunamis strike.
"We have learnt from the experience in Aceh in 2004," Soeharjono, the head of the earthquake department of BMKG, Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, told Deutsche Welle.
"Indonesia now has a law on how the government and people should react when a disaster strikes. We have been preparing people with training sessions and people know about the conditions in their own regions," he explained.
Although some elements of the early warning systems are hi-tech and involve sensors, what is also important is word of mouth and more simple telecommunications.
Aceh was especially devastated in 2004 and over 100,000 people died
Informing villagers by SMS
Kresna Astraatmadja is a journalist in Papua who is also part of a project to inform villagers of impending tsunamis. He and about 50 other people were very quick off the mark on Friday.
"Ten minutes after the earthquake in Japan, we had already informed people in the surrounding villages. I kept contact by SMS and telephone with the heads of the villages."
Twenty minutes later, the villagers and most of the crew had packed enough food and water to survive the situation and made their way to the mountains because the beach was only 50 meters long.
He stayed on the beach and watched as the tsunami hit – it was not dangerous he said because it was only 10 centimeters high in the end but still he had never seen anything like it. Most of the people who left the beach remained in the mountains, he explained, reluctant to return.
Indonesia is made up of about 17,000 islands. The country is especially vulnerable to tsunamis because it sits on the meeting point of several tectonic plates. Some 60 percent of the coastline is at risk from tsunamis.
Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein