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Palu, Indonesia Earthquake and Tsunami: Leaning in to Disaster Response

On September 28, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck Indonesia, also triggering a tsunami that measured up to 18 feet in some areas. 1,649 people are known to have died following the earthquake and tsunami, and 265 are still missing. To date, 71,000 people have been displaced from their homes and are living in shelters.

On October 1, the Indonesian government issued a request for international organizations to submit offers of assistance. Within hours of this, the Team Rubicon National Mission Planning Team (MPT) had developed a response plan; submitted an official offer of assistance; and began mobilizing resources to deploy and provide Emergency Medical Team (EMT) Type-1 Mobile services. We leaped into action knowing before we would actually launch an EMT that we would still need a specific request for our services from the government of Indonesia. That afternoon, we sent a notification to members of the International Response Team and current applicants.

As part of this response plan, we sent three Team Rubicon representatives to Jakarta that evening. Their objective was to meet with decision makers – along with other NGOs – to understand unmet need and then ascertain whether Team Rubicon would receive a request from the government of Indonesia.

By the following morning, Indonesia’s National Manager of Response and Early Recovery followed up and confirmed that Indonesia’s National EMTs could handle and manage the Palu earthquake and tsunami response.

While Team Rubicon has worked through the appropriate government and official channels, we are adhering to our rule of “do not self deploy” and respecting the government’s order that NGOs not deploy without a specific acceptance letter.

In the disaster response field, we often work with ambiguity, uncertainty, and without the full picture. To positively affect disasters and help people on their worst day, you have to lean in and make timely, responsible decisions with the information you have. So, while we will not be deploying to Indonesia (at this point in time), this scenario was still a positive exercise in leaning in to a situation and seeing first-hand how quickly we could assemble an international response and mobilize our personnel and resources to put together a Type-1 Mobile Emergency Medical Team.

As always, we will continue to stand at the ready for the next time a disaster strikes at home or abroad and communities need our help.

A former U.S. Army infantry captain and Iraq veteran, Dennis Clancey joined Team Rubicon as a volunteer in 2014, responding to the 2015 Nepal earthquakes and Texas floods. In September 2015, he joined the organization full-time as the Deputy Director in charge of global disaster response.