The recent earthquake that occurred in Lombok in August, 2018, presented an opportunity to study the responses of those affected in the immediate aftermath of the event. We find that tourists caught up in disasters are uniquely vulnerable. Few followed the encouraged actions of what to do in the event of an earthquake and most were reliant on local residents and tourist operators for advice. This article summarises the earthquake and how people responded and provides some reflections for policy makers.
The island of Lombok is located in Indonesia. It lies on the boundary between the Australian Plate and the Sunda Plate, which has produced numerous powerful earthquakes in the past. The region is a popular tourist destination.
The August 5, 2018, Mw6.9 earthquake occurred as the result of shallow thrust faulting on or near the Flores Back Arc Thrust. The earthquake occurred at a depth of 31.0km, centred at the northern tip of Lombok. The local time was 7:46 pm. The earthquake caused severe shaking in Lombok and surrounding islands, including Bali and the Gili Islands. Following the earthquake, tsunami warnings were issued: however, the maximum expected height was only half a metre and the warning was later cancelled.
It is important for emergency managers to have an understanding of human behaviour during extreme events so that they can best develop their plans. In an effort to understand the behaviour of tourists and others following the earthquake, researchers from Risk Frontiers conducted a rapid assessment study utilising media analysis containing interviews with survivors. The method involved locating some 120 news articles sourced from a variety of online international, national and local media outlets. From these articles, interviews with 146 people who experienced the earthquake were extracted and analysed to identify damage that occurred and how people behaved during and after the earthquake.
A significant majority of interviewees were tourists (n=102). Other interviews included local residents (n=20) and expats (n=9), with a further ten not stating where they were from.
During the earthquake, interviewees most commonly reported, of their own behaviour, that they ran outside (n=43). Others reported that they dropped to the ground as they could not remain standing (n=5), sheltered under a table or bed (n=5), ran outside onto the beach (n=4), moved away from buildings (n=4), sheltered in doorways (n=3), deliberately dropped to the ground (n=2) or moved away from trees (n=2).
During the earthquake, interviewees observed others most commonly either running from buildings (n=44) or screaming (n=37). Other observed behaviours were crying (n=10), moving away from buildings (n=7), caring for others (n=4), running specifically to the beach (n=4), seeking shelter under tables or beds (n=3), holding onto objects or other people (n=3), panicking (n=3), seeking shelter under doorways (n=2), calling or messaging others (n=2) and dropping to the ground (n=1), reporting they could not stand.
Immediately after the earthquake, those interviewed moved to higher ground (fearing a tsunami) (n=29), sought advice on what to do from locals (n=9) or from hotel reception/staff (n=6), gave first aid to the injured (n=4), called or messaged someone (n=4), informed others of tsunami threat levels (n=3), climbed trees (fearing a tsunami) (n=3), searched for family member/s or friend/s (n=3), put on life jackets (fearing a tsunami) (n=2), assisted rescuing trapped person/s (n=2), were themselves incapacitated/requiring treatment (n=2) or extinguished fires (n=1).
Interviewees observed that immediately after the earthquake, others moved to higher ground (n=24), were screaming (n=12), panicking (n=11), caring for others (n=10), running (n=5), assisting the injured (n=5), crying (n=5), remaining on the beach (n=4), calling others (n=4), climbing trees (n=3), searching for others (n=3) or moving debris (n=1).
People said their actions immediately after the earthquake were directed by local residents (n=9), hotel staff (n=9), local authorities (n=3), other tourists (n=2) or by a minister of religion (n=1).
Descriptions of interviewees’ emotions during and immediately after the quake included feeling fearful (n=37), panicked (n=14), calm (n=9), concerned (n=7), upset (n=5), terrified (n=5), in shock (n=4), apathetic (n=2) and surreal (n=2).
Over subsequent days, a significant number of people said they evacuated soon after (n=29). Some stayed to assist rescue, medical or relief efforts (n=11), although these were mainly locals and expats.
The evacuation of tourists from the Gili Islands was said to be chaotic due to the combination of the lack of capacity to evacuate tourists and the fearful state of tourists and locals. There were reports of long waits, pushing and shoving and passage being offered to the highest bidders.
Discussion and conclusion
Many tourist destinations are susceptible to a range of natural hazard risks. Tourists are uniquely vulnerable. Tourists may be unaware of risks present at their destination, lack local support networks and encounter cultural and communication barriers. Research has previously shown that tourists behave differently to locals. Observations from the Lombok disaster support such conclusions: in particular, that many tourists simply leave soon after a disaster and are reliant on locals for direction. Many of those interviewed ran from buildings or observed others running from buildings. This behaviour is in conflict with actions encouraged by international and local authorities, which promote the actions of drop, cover and hold.
Promotion of disaster risk by travel agents and tourism operators conflicts with wider tourism promotion. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs does provide some details about natural hazard risk on its Smartraveller website, although more needs to be done than passively informing travellers. There could be an opportunity to engage with the medical profession and travel health clinics to promote natural hazard risk and safety behaviours at the time travellers seek travel health advice.
For more information, go to www.riskfrontiers.com