Seychelles joined more than 20 countries in the Indian Ocean region in participating in a tsunami simulation exercise, referred to as the Exercise Indian Ocean Wave 2018 (IOWave18).
The two-day tsunami exercise, which spanned from September 4-5, tested the capacities of the national warning system and local emergency responders in areas such as communication, rapidity of response, preparedness and evacuation procedures.
The exercise is conducted every two years and is aimed at increasing the level of tsunami preparedness in Indian Ocean countries in the aftermath of the devastating 2004 tsunami.
It builds on previous Indian Ocean exercises conducted in 2009, 2011, 2014 and 2016.
On the first day of the simulation exercise, Seychelles and other countries were tested with a scenario where a tsunami alert was raised due to a magnitude 9.0 earthquake which occurred off the coast of Iran.
According to the director general of the Department for Risk and Disaster Management (DRDM) Paul Labaleine, although a Code Red alert was raised on the first day no deployments of resources were made.
Rather the first day mostly focused on the component of communication links between the various agencies involved.
These agencies included the police force, the Seychelles Fire and Rescue Services Agency (SFRSA), Seychelles Peoples’ Defence Forces (SPDF) and district task forces among others.
Mr Labaleine explained that communications was an essential component to evaluate because it allowed the emergency liaison officers and responders in each agency to get used to these procedures.
“For some of these participants it was their very first time. Aside from communications, they were also able to participate in drafting an action plan for a tsunami response for the very first time,” he pointed out.
Meanwhile the second day, which was yesterday, saw another simulation where a tsunami alert was received at 7am.
The earthquake was at a magnitude of 9.3 and occurred off the western coast of Northern Sumatra in Indonesia, the same area which had caused the tsunami in 2004.
This time, the responders conducted a much hands-on approach whereby a Code Red alert was activated following which all protocols and resources were mobilised.
“This tsunami was much stronger than that of the previous day. Even though it was almost the same magnitude as the first earthquake, the waves were much stronger,” Mr Labaleine explained.
Perseverance district was chosen as the location for the mock drill and Mr Labaleine explained that this is because coastal areas are the first to be evacuated and assisted during a tsunami threat.
Additionally, Perseverance is also the ideal testing ground due to its extreme low-level and its large number of inhabitants which “acts as a challenge” for the emergency response teams.
From 8am up until around noon, their goal was to evacuate inhabitants to the shelters set up at the Perseverance primary school and the Anse Etoile church.
At 1.30pm officers from the DRDM, police force, SFRSA, Perseverance District Emergency Brigade Team and even from the Public Utilities Corporation were deployed on the field.
A rapid assessment exercise was undertaken to evaluate the extent of the damage and conduct search and rescue operations to save those who somehow had not been able to evacuate.
In order to administer these operations, a temporary command centre was set up on the second floor of the Perseverance secondary school and which was linked to the main command centre at DRDM’s office in Mont Fleuri. The exercise concluded at around 3.30pm.
To note, yesterday was the first time that the command centre made use of drones during a disaster operation. This refers to the WeRobotics workshops held earlier this year in which various disaster responders, including the DRDM, were introduced to drones applications.
Perseverance District Administrator (DA) and head of the district’s emergency brigade Pharisianne Lucas said that she was satisfied with how the exercise was conducted even though there were certain small deficits.
Ms Lucas explained that the decision to host Perseverance’s emergency shelter at Anse Etoile needs to be revised in cases where Anse Etoile is also impacted.
She also acknowledged weaknesses in communications as well in the lack of alertness of her own response team.
“They have to be on alert at all times because you never know what might happen […]we have to re-evaluate our brigade and ensure people are more committed at all times for the safety of our community.”
A debriefing on the two-day simulation exercise is expected to be undertaken in the coming weeks with all stakeholders.
The accompanying photographs show scenes from the exercise yesterday.