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Palu earthquake and tsunami: Copernicus EMS maps demonstrate their operational usefulness in the aftermath of the disaster

Copernicus Observer
08/10/2018

On Friday 28 September, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake occurred on the island of Sulawesi, Indonesia, triggering a number of aftershocks.

 

The main shock occurred at 10:02 UTC (17:35 local) at a depth of ten kilometres. The earthquake was followed by a tsunami and many landslides. Palu, a metropolis in Sulawesi, an island of northern Indonesia, was hit by waves as high as six metres causing widespread destruction, while landslides and “liquefaction” phenomena destroyed thousands of houses.

 

 

According to official reports, as of 6 October, 1,763 fatalities were reported, together with 2,632 injured, 265 missing and more than 62,000 people displaced. Over 10,000 buildings were affected.

 

In the wake of this tragedy, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS) was immediately activated, by the European Emergency Response Coordination Centre (ERCC) following a request for assistance from the government of Indonesia. The Copernicus Emergency Management Service is a key tool for ERCC, as it provides an understanding of the situation on the ground, thus assisting the European Union’s Civil Protection Mechanism to mobilise and coordinate offers of assistance from Member States.

 

Soon thereafter, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism was also activated, and several EU Member States started dispatching relief personnel and equipment to the affected area.

 

In parallel, the EMS Rapid Mapping team, which is available 24h/24h, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, embarked onto a busy weekend, preparing satellite acquisition plans over 9 Areas of Interest for Very High-Resolution imagery, which the Copernicus Service purchases from commercial sources whenever it is required.

 

 

Activation extent map - 18 AoIs identified for grading map production
(Copernicus EMS © 2018 EU, [EMSR317] Activation Extent Map)

 

 

The first grading maps, which allow to establish the severity of the impact of a given disaster, e.g. destroyed or damaged houses and infrastructure, in the case of an earthquake, were released on Saturday 29 September at 15.00 UTC, while the Copernicus Support Office was monitoring local social media to provide ground information when available. These maps are particularly helpful in case of an earthquake or a tsunami, as they enable to prioritise the dispatching of search and rescue teams to the most affected areas, in particular in isolated areas when communications and road networks are severely disrupted.

 

 

Palu grading map showing that, in this city, almost over 37.000 people, 10.000 buildings and other infrastructure were affected by the disaster [EMSR317] Palu: Grading Map (Copernicus EMS © 2018 EU)

 

 

We run a fully operational service, not a scientific or research activity” says Dr Philippe Brunet, Director for Copernicus at the European Commission, adding “I believe the Copernicus EMS Rapid Mapping service is unique. It has been, since 2012, activated 319 times. It does not function on a loose best effort basis but on strict timeliness and quality requirements imposed to our mapping contractors. There is no equivalent to this service in the world, and the European Union provides this service, whenever it is activated, after disasters strike, anywhere across the globe”.

 

As the first available maps revealed that the destructions were not only from the tsunami but also from landslides and mud flows inland south of Palu, more Areas of Interest were added to the activation, eventually bringing the total number of maps produced to eighteen.

 

 

Detail of Copernicus EMS grading map showing the many destroyed buildings.
(Copernicus EMS © 2018 EU, [EMSR317] Palu South East: Grading Map)

 

 

Our satellite maps are used by first responders in the field, as well as by the ERCC to ensure that EU assistance is dispatched where it is most needed” says Dr Brunet, “I believe they directly contribute to saving lives on the ground. By accident, I happened to be in south east Asia only a couple of weeks ago, looking at ways and means to intensify our cooperation with stakeholders in the region. The tragic events of Sulawesi only reinforce our determination to make Copernicus data and services available to the largest possible number of beneficiaries, in particular in areas such as ASEAN countries that are particularly prone to disasters and environmental and climate change-related challenges. We remain committed to expanding our tailor-made service to satisfy the needs of civil protection actors in their interventions. For instance, the Copernicus Emergency Management Service can deliver further support to the Indonesian authorities by means of maps of other affected areas and with post-disaster reconstruction and recovery maps.

 

The EMS maps generated a very large interest on social media, both in the country and worldwide, with over 200,000 views on the CopernicusEU and CopernicusEMS accounts, while Copernicus Sentinel imagery was being used by experts and citizens alike to illustrate the impact of the disaster. News outlets such as Agence France Presse, Reuter and Wall Street Journal also reused the Copernicus EMS free and open digital geoinformation to produce infographics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Infographic produced by Reuters with Copernicus EMS open data.

 

 

 

 

 

Tweet from the Head of the Earthquake Information & Tsunami Warning Centre at BMKG, the Indonesian Meteorological, Climatological & Geophysical Agency with a Wall Street Journal map based on Copernicus EMS geodata. Translation of the text: “Success comes from working hard. CopernicusEU has compiled a rapid assessment map of the damage and impact from the Palu tsunami”.

 

 

The eighteen maps delivered and the corresponding digital vector data are available for viewing and download on the EMS website: Activation EMSR317.

 

For updates on other EMS activations, follow Copernicus EMS on Twitter.

 


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