LIPI Offers Landslide Early Warning Detection Device

A resident surveys the scene in Cililin, West Java, on Tuesday after a landslide the day prior killed at least 14 people. (JG Photo/Rezza Estily)

A resident surveys the scene in Cililin, West Java, on Tuesday after a landslide the day prior killed at least 14 people. (JG Photo/Rezza Estily)

The Indonesian Institute of Sciences says it has invented sensory equipment to determine whether a landslide is likely to take place in an area, claiming it can be used as part of an early warning system for those living in areas prone to the disasters.

As another rainy season of deadly landslides winds down, Adrin Tohari, a researcher with the institute known as LIPI, told that Indonesia did not have an adequate early warning system in place.

“That’s why we created the equipment, to help boost the system so that we can warn people as early as possible of the coming of a landslide,” he said.

LIPI’s 15-by-20-centimeter electromagnetic sensor is capable of reading the water saturation level of a land mass. The device is buried in areas prone to landslides.

“The equipment will send a signal about the volume of water inside the land. Based on the volume of water, we will know if an area shows indications of getting a landslide. The more water, the more likely it will have a landslide,” Adrin said.

He said that despite the equipment’s capabilities, the government seemed reluctant to use it.

“The government has yet to give us full attention. So the equipment and our proposal set for an early warning system remain here as research stuff,” he said.

Recent data from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) revealed that more than 120 million Indonesians are living in landslide-prone areas.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, a spokesman for the agency, said last week that there were as many as 124 million people living across 270 districts and cities in Indonesia that were classified as being at a moderate to high risk of landslides.

“They surely don’t have to be relocated,” Sutopo said. “What is needed is the ability to anticipate and protect themselves from a landslide. During torrential downpours, they should be ready and seek a safe place.”

There have been 63 landslides in Indonesia this year, with 18 in West Java alone, according to data from the BNPB website. Most of the landslides have occurred during or after heavy rains.

At least 14 people died and three more are still missing after a landslide hit Cililin, West Bandung, last Monday. The landslide came after torrential rains hit the area, with dozens of residents forced to flee their homes after seven houses were buried.

Sutopo said the government should be able to refer to a map flagging disaster-prone areas as the foundation for spatial planning.

However, Adrin said mapping alone was not sufficient, adding that the ability to measure water saturation levels and land shifts was necessary.

“We need more than just a disaster-prone map to have a proper early warning system,” he said.

An early warning system also needed to be underpinned by awareness and participation from people and officials in landslide prone areas, Adrin said.

“We need to educate people and officials at the regional level, as knowledge and awareness about how to respond to a disaster threat are part of a warning system,” he added.