Earthquakes & Tsunamis in Bali: What to do, and where to get information, quickly

I’ve been through enough earthquakes in my life to have developed a theory. Anything less than a 6.0 on the Richter Scale gets lost in the memory banks, all blended together. But 6.0 and larger, one remembers where one was and what one was doing when the quake struck. Over 7.0, the Richter measurement is accompanied by another scale, called the Sphincter Pucker Scale.

Last Thursday’s (Oct 13) quake at 11:16 local Bali time was initially reported as 6.0 by the United States Geological Service, later revised to 6.1, while the local geologists reported the quake as 6.8 (a rather large discrepancy, since a 6.8 is approximately seven times as “big” as a 6.1).

At any rate, I was driving my motorbike down the road when I thought it was having some weird engine seizures. Then people in the shops started screaming and bolting out the doors. I saw road-side ad signs dancing the fandago, and with all this input deduced a rather large quake was occurring.

At my house, we lost some roof cornices that, if any had fallen on my head, could have meant some nasty scalp lacerations (but my skull is thick as a brick), and I would have missed today’s surf. The damage that occurred at Carrefour department store and other buildings is more indicative of shoddy construction than the quake’s energy.

Anything larger than 7.0 and I bet half the buildings in Kuta and environs come tumbling down. Earthquake construction code? What quake construction code?

Anyway, here are some websites that will give you pretty quick information on quakes (provided the quake wasn’t severe enough to disrupt Internet connections, but should that occur, one is more than likely to be preoccupied with rather more urgent matters anyhow–although I don’t know about today’s teens such as mine–if they can’t get the Internet to figure out how to deal with a situation, they’re at a total loss).

1. The USGS earthquake service will report real time earthquakes within minutes of its occurrence, giving location and severity. (For Bali/Indonesia, click on the “worldwide” link on the left sidebar). The Oct 13 Bali quake details are here.

If I felt a quake, and was worried about a TSUNAMI, I’d go straight to this website (and the tsunami warning one listed below, while keeping an ear open for the tsunami warning sirens that are supposed to go off) to look at the details. Tsunamis travel at about 500 miles per hour in deep water, so a potential tsunami from this quake, 62 miles SW of Uluwatu, would have struck in about seven minutes. How fast can you climb a coconut tree? But tsunamis *generally* require a 7.5 or greater. Not only that, but tsunamis are mostly caused by shallow quakes that cause vertical motion of the seafloor, shoving water. The depth of the Oct 13 quake as given in the above report was 21 miles, most likely too deep to cause such motion.

If the quake is severe enough to topple buildings and take down cell phone and Internet service, and you’re on the coast or beach or harbor areas, your safest bet is pretty obvious: go inland or go high. Go as far and as high as you can. (When I did post-tsunami relief work in Aceh, I was in a destroyed village up on a slope, the placid ocean half a mile away. If I’d been running for my life, I surely would have thought this high enough, far enough. It wasn’t for those villagers.)

2. The Pacific Tsunami Center will give warnings about tsunamis. (Indian Ocean page is here).

3. Tech nerds can look up seismograph for any quake as recorded at various stations. (The Bali quake is here, note that the quake was recorded as far away as the Scott Station in Antarctica.)

4. For quickest breaking news in Indonesia, minute-by-minute update reporting is at Detik.Com, which is an Indonesian language news portal. had streaming reports of the Bali quake within minutes.

For complete public service, below is advice from the USGS website on what to do if caught indoors during a quake, but I’ve actually heard something slightly different from experienced quake search and rescue folks. One man told me that most survivors were pulled from voids within fallen structures, and the best places for voids is not under anything (or lying on your bed for Pete’s sake), but curling up *beside* the stoutest object nearby, a kitchen counter, a solid wood bed frame. Large falling objects will be caught at an angle, creating the void, into which you are tucked.


DROP to the ground; take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and HOLD ON until the shaking stops. If there isn’t a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building.

Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.

Stay in bed if you are there when the earthquake strikes. Hold on and protect your head with a pillow, unless you are under a heavy light fixture that could fall. In that case, move to the nearest safe place.
Use a doorway for shelter only if it is in close proximity to you and if you know it is a strongly supported, loadbearing doorway.

Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
DO NOT use the elevators.

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One Response to Earthquakes & Tsunamis in Bali: What to do, and where to get information, quickly

  1. Pingback: A note on Bali earthquakes and tsunamis | Bali and Indo Surf Stories

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