A specialist team has been deployed to Sulawesi, Indonesia, with equipment to set up a radio station serving survivors of the recent earthquake and tsunami.

The magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck on Friday 28th September and triggered a local tsunami with waves of approximately six metres. More than 1,500 deaths have been confirmed to date, and it is estimated that more than 70,000 people have been displaced.

Having conducted an initial assessment of the situation remotely, the First Response Indonesia (FRI) team quickly set about making preparations to travel to region. Team members are specially trained to deal with the particular needs of such emergency situations, and they have access to purpose-built equipment that is designed to be portable and easily assembled.

The FRI assessment revealed that almost all radio stations are off the air, due to either damage or lack of electricity and other fuel. The mobile data service is also down and voice calls are only available in some areas.

The team will either support an existing station by providing some additional equipment and expertise, or set up on their own frequency - depending on what they actually find when they reach Palu. Most conventional radio stations struggle to operate if their studio and transmitter facilities have been seriously damaged. The versatile 'Suitcase Radio' (see photo below) has proved its worth in similar situations over the years, notably after Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban.

Alongside the obvious need for vital practical supplies including water, food, shelter and medicine, experience and research have shown that radio can make a significant positive difference. Working with local partners and other agencies involved in a response, radio can be used to share important information about the relief effort.

Radio can also provide space for people to talk and enable them to be heard, be a source of comfort and encouragement, and help to restore some sense of normality to affected communities.

Accessing reliable news when the normal communication channels are unavailable can be a real challenge. The situation is not helped by the fact that some people seemingly create misleading stories deliberately, as reported by The Guardian: 'Indonesian authorities are struggling to counter fake news reports causing panic among residents of the island of Sulawesi in the wake of the devastating earthquake that hit last week.' [1]

The First Response Indonesia team that has been deployed is made up of four people from different parts of the country. They all arrived in Makassar on Thursday 4th and are due to fly onwards to Palu today, Friday 5th. Not surprisingly, flights and logistics in the region are still challenging: they will have to transit via Balikpapan Airport and change to a smaller plane there, with arrangements in Palu to be confirmed. They are carrying a considerable amount of equipment that has to be taken into consideration - including the 'Suitcase Radio' and more than 500 radio receivers to distribute to affected households.

As part of their preparation, the team has mapped the potential coverage they might be able to achieve in Palu. The plot (below) shows that they could reach over 400,000 affected people in this area.

Please pray for the FRI team on this deployment - for the safe arrival and setting up of equipment, for their personal safety in travel and whilst working, for good relationships with other agencies on the ground, and for an effective contribution to the overall response for the people of Palu, Central Sulawesi.

Please would you consider making a donation to support this specialist work - serving those affected by disasters through the provision of emergency radio services? Thank you.

First published: 5th October 2018

All photo / image credits: First Response Radio

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/oct/04/sulawesi-tsunami-indonesia-battles-fake-news-as-hoaxers-spread-panic - accessed 5th October 2018