Indonesia’s location on the ring of fire makes it susceptible to frequent earthquakes— in January alone there were 44 total earthquakes. Natural disasters devastate cities and towns, destroying homes and separating families, and sometimes killing thousands of people.

On Friday, September 28th, Indonesia was hit by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.6 on the Richter Scale, followed by a tsunami with 18-foot waves. Over 1,200 people were killed and more than 17,000 were left homeless. An estimated 300 children were separated from their families. With power outages and main roads blocked to this day, many citizens have been unable to contact separated family members. Human trafficking is also a major concern for children isolated from their parents. The Indonesian government, as well as other countries located on the Ring of Fire, needs to take more action in keeping people safe during natural disasters.

Resolving this issue begins with the realization that natural disasters are becoming more common and more severe. More planning is required around how countries use their coastlines with regard to towns, power plants, and other infrastructure. Countries need disaster recovery plans in place as well as mechanisms for communicating plans to people in the poorest and most remote areas of their country. The best protection against tsunamis is an accurate warning system that gives people time to seek higher ground. Because of the high risk centered around Pacific Rim countries, 27 states have come together to form the Pacific Tsunami Warning System. It houses a network of seismic equipment and water level gauges to identify tsunamis at sea and reacts quickly to any changes in these levels. Setting up evacuation plans, warning sirens and designated shelters all over the country would, at the very least, provide citizens a plan to follow in the event of a large-scale natural disaster.

More importantly, citizens need to be educated about how to handle these situations. According to National Geographic, “A tsunami’s trough, the low point beneath the wave’s crest, often reaches shore first. When it does, it produces a vacuum effect that sucks coastal water seaward and exposes harbor and sea floors. This retreating of sea water is an important warning sign of a tsunami, because the wave’s crest and its enormous volume of water typically hit shore five minutes or so later. Recognizing this phenomenon can save lives.” Phil Cummins, a professor of natural hazards at Australian National University, says that “in that case you can’t rely on a warning system; people should seek high ground immediately. They cannot afford to wait for a siren or a warning, they need to move instantly.” Practice drills, similar to those here in the U.S. for first responders, would promote emergency evacuation plans. It would force people to think about where they would go or who would take their children if something should happen to the parents.

Although September’s tsunami enveloped the land and villages quickly, leaving little time for people to reach higher ground, the real horror was the aftermath. Days without water or shelter have only heightened the suffering of survivors. A disaster recovery plan should also incorporate resources such as food and water and a military or national guard presence to keep order in devastated areas. Too often we are seeing the catastrophic failure of governments in mobilizing relief for their citizens. They sometimes wait days and weeks for other countries to send aid, either due to a lack of supplies or devastated infrastructure. Investments in large scale disaster planning, along with a pre-established plan for managing aid within foreign countries, would speed relief efforts. An emergency plan should first require countries to have basic aid stockpiled for their citizens, followed by a tiered approach for international necessity.

Keeping people safe is the government’s responsibility. Because natural disasters can happen at any time, it is imperative that governments have a set plan for what to do both during and after a disaster like this one.