Located in the island of Kudahuvadhoo, Dhaalu Atoll Education Centre (DHAEC) is a school with students from different islands of the atoll and beyond. As the atoll education center, it caters to a student population of 767, making it one of the largest in the atoll.
Similar to the other 198 schools located across Maldives, DHAEC sits less than 350m from the shoreline and is surrounded by ocean. The highest point on the island is the 2-storey building of the school which may come as a surprise to most.
Unlike most other countries, the Maldives has an estimated lead-time of 2 hours from a tsunami generated in the Sumatran subduction zone. With the lead-time in mind, a yellow alert is issued following an earthquake with the potential to generate a tsunami likely to affect Maldives. A red alert is issued when a tsunami has been generated, and a green alert provides the all clear. For Maldives, the real problem lies in reaching safety. There are not enough boats to evacuate entire populations from islands, and there is no higher ground to get to.
It was in the year 2004 that the Maldives witnessed the last and only Tsunami in it's history. It has been 15 years ever since. For the majority of today's students tsunami is just something they have heard or read about. Hence, the need for awareness building and preparedness becomes crucial to ensure that if a Tsunami occurs again we will be better preapared to face it. In this context, given that schools are an excellent means for dissemination of this information within a community - the “Strengthening School Preparedness for Tsunami in Asia and the Pacific” project funded by the Government of Japan and implemented by UNDP aims to strengthen preparedness levels of schools to Tsunamis, and limit its impact on students, teachers, and the community.
During the last days of September, a week-long programme was carried out for staff and student leaders from DHAEC, creating awareness on tsunamis, training on fire & safety, first aid, as well as psychological first aid. This builds on the School Emergency Operations Plan (SEOP) that is developed by the school, which is further enhanced through targeted sessions and desktop drills. The SEOP also identifies teams from within the school tasked from communications to search and rescue teams. These teams are activated during any emergency scenario faced by the school.
The programme concluded with a multi-hazard drill with alerts being issued to the head of school. A yellow alert puts teachers and staff on alert and teams start preparing for a possible red alert. Once a red alert is issued all teams are activated and everyone evacuates to higher floors. The SEOP also identifies a part of the school for community evacuation. To test the teams, multiple injects are given throughout the drill to assess their performance, and lessons learned are shared at a post-drill debrief.
This time with the intention of scaling up, a 3-day workshop was conducted in parallel to the DHAEC programme, with 10 other schools participating. In addition to trainings, participants joined as observers for the DHAEC drill, learning from the first-hand experience of the drill.
Such a programme is made possible by the support and contribution of numerous institutions. UNDP Maldives worked with the Ministry of Education, National Disaster Management Authority, Maldives National Defense Force, Maldivian Red Crescent, Maldives Police Service and other local authorities to implement this programme.