The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake occurred on 26 December with the epicenter off the west coast of Sumatra, Indonesia. The 9.15 magnitude earthquake created a tsunami inundating coastal communities with waves up to 30 metres (100 ft) high that killed 230,000 people in 14 countries. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history.  Following the 2004 crisis, international resources poured into Indonesia and other affected countries to improve infrastructure for tsunami early warning detection systems.  While much funding was directed toward “hardware” components of tsunami early warning systems (like cables and buoys), relatively few resources have been mobilized to understand and improve the ‘soft’ components of the warning system like appropriately communicating alerts to local at-risk populations.

USAID is addressing the challenge by supporting projects like Dr. Harkunti Rahayu’s PEER research project which is tackling some of these issues by better understanding bottlenecks in how local governments respond to near-shore tsunami warning systems and how they communicate crucial messages to at-risk communities. Dr. Harkunti utilizes two social sciences techniques: Logic Mapping and Social network analysis (SNA) to better understand communication during a crisis situation. "The information people get in the first five minutes can save their lives," explained Dr. Harkunti—which is why it's crucial to ensure people get the information they need when they need it. 

Through her research she has identified communication gaps that can be filled with informal communication networks like mosque speakers, schools, local radio stations, and community groups. Her team is providing the data that the government needs to make important policy decisions to include these information networks into their official communication plan. 

Client: USAID
Location: Indonesia

The Challenge: USAID wanted to encourage other missions around the world to support local researchers to solve development problems. They contacted us while we were in a remote location on another shoot. They had an urgent deadline that couldn’t wait. They needed to film before Ramadan started in a couple weeks and businesses shut down for the next month. This meant we had to move quickly. Most details were still being worked out when we a landed in Jakarta on Saturday night so we had to be adaptable to schedule changes and work on the fly. 

The Solution: We focused on one local Indonesian Researcher, Dr. Harkunti. We spent 5 days filming her, her students, and how the tsunami warning system works in Indonesia. We started at her university in Bandung on the island of Java where we filmed her in the classroom with her students dissecting their research and working on communication models. Then, we flew up to Padang City on the island of Sumatra to see in person where Dr. Harkunti and her students conducted their research. We followed her tracks as she gave us a crash course in tsunami warning systems. In the end we were able to create a 2 minute film showcasing how Dr. Harkunti's research is improving the Indonesian tsunami warning system so more lives are saved next time a tsunami hits.

About the initiative: In April 2014, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) launched the U.S. Global Development Lab, a new entity that brings together a diverse set of partners to discover, test, and scale breakthrough solutions that will help achieve the Agency’s goal of ending extreme poverty by 2030. Under that initiative Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research (PEER) is an international grants program that funds scientists and engineers in developing countries who partner with U.S. government-funded researchers to address global development challenges. PEER partnerships leverage major investments made by U.S. government science agencies in research to improve development outcomes in USAID-presence countries. Since PEER’s launch in 2011, it has supported more than 160 projects in over 40 countries with an investment of about $28 million.

About the client: USAID is the lead U.S. Government agency that works to end extreme global poverty and enable resilient, democratic societies to realize their potential.