The dramatic and tragic events that befell Japan on March 11 were recorded to an unprecedented degree as millions around the world watched the drama unfold on TV. There had been very limited footage of the even bigger tsunami that devastated Aceh in 2004 but this time we had a detailed view of the destructive forces of nature. No doubt many people in Indonesia were asking themselves 'how prepared are we for the next big one'?


What we don't know is when. It could be as you are reading this or it could be in a hundred years. Given the frequency of major earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and tsunamis in recent years we would be forgiven to believe that the earth is entering a more active geological phase. Or it may just be that modern communications make us more acutely aware of events around the globe. Either way, the fact is that Indonesia is within the 'ring of fire' and sits astride several moving plates. Fault lines can also shift. Jakarta is not considered to lie in a high risk zone, yet it was devastated by a large quake some 300 years ago. No-one expected Christchurch in New Zealand to suffer as destructive a quake as it did on February 22nd.


There are many simple precautions that everyone can take even before earthquakes strike, such as maintaining a good supply of bottled water, non-perishable foodstuffs and basic emergency items such as torches with fresh batteries, first aid supplies, batteryoperated radio etc. These items would prove equally invaluable in the event of severe floods or social unrest as many of us witnessed in Jakarta in 1998. Having cash, credit cards and travel documents to hand would also smooth an evacuation, were it necessary.

In Jakarta most expatriates work in large office buildings and live in sturdy houses or apartment blocks. The large buildings should withstand all but the most severe earthquakes. But the majority of victims are invariably the poor who continue to build and dwell in poorly constructed houses that quickly collapse when a large quake strikes. There are ways to strengthen structures so they can withstand earthquakes but they cost money and who is prepared to pay? The Japanese have built considerable safety into their homes; were it not for the tsunami, deaths resulting directly from the earthquake on March 11 would have been relatively light. This would not have been the case in Indonesia. Only regulation is likely to change this situation and it is not likely to happen unless a culture of safety can be developed. Many expatriates plan to remain in Indonesia and build their own homes or villas, particularly in Bali. Those planning to do so would be wise to obtain expert advice and spend a bit more money to ensure their homes are better protected.


If you are inside a building the natural reaction is to run outside. This may be the best course of action if you are in a small building or home which is likely to collapse and you can get out quickly and safely. But if you are in an office block or apartment building it is probably safer to stay inside until the shaking stops. According to the US Geological Survey many deaths and injuries are caused by falling masonry and other objects when people exit buildings. My observation in previous Jakarta earthquakes is that evacuation is the norm, with little attention being paid to the possibility of falling glass and masonry. Another debatable point is whether to duck underneath a table or desk or lie alongside it. The conventional advice seems to be to go underneath but there is another viewpoint that says it is safer to lie to one side since if the desk or table is crushed, the person underneath will be crushed too, while a person lying alongside will have some protection in the so-called 'triangle of life', a small protected space between the crushed object and the structures that crushed it. This should have particular relevance to schools and it would be interesting to hear more expert opinion on the subject.

If the earthquake is a big one, an ensuing tsunami is a distinct possibility so anyone living near the coast and further inland if the terrain is flat should have a plan to move to higher ground. This would particularly apply to the low lying coastal areas in the south of Bali. With the likelihood of traffic congestion and damage to roads a motorbike or bicycle might be the most efficient means of getting away from the coast. A lot of useful information and advice about earthquakes and tsunamis can be found on the US Geological Survey's website: www.earthquake.usgs.gov.


We have already covered how money spent on construction can help to protect a property and how a small investment in emergency items can help you survive after the event. But how do you protect against financial ruin if you have survived the natural disaster? Again it is a question of planning. If your home is insured, does your policy also cover earthquakes and tsunamis? If not mentioned in the small print the chances are you would not have a claim approved. Should you be injured, do you have adequate medical insurance, including evacuation cover? You might wish to take protection a stage further and have cover against long-term disability. All these items cost money, but a fraction of what it would cost in the event of a calamity.

If you do not survive the disaster do you have adequate life cover to ensure surviving members of your family are fully provided for?

These are all issues that should be addressed while your home and office are still standing and before that big wave comes towards you!

Of course the chances of our being caught up in the next 'big one' are still very small, but by spending a little time planning for the unlikely event and by ensuring you have ample financial protection in place for yourself and your family, you will have bought a large chunk of peace of mind. And that is a wise investment.

Colin Bloodworth has worked as a financial adviser in Indonesia since 1992. He is Director of PPI Indonesia and can be contacted at colin.bloodworth@ppi-advisory.com or +62 21 3004 8024