Never had I been so thankful to America as I was on Thursday, February 12, 2009. At 1:34 am local time, a powerful tectonic earthquake measuring 7.2 on the Richter scale shook Talaud Islands, the northernmost part of Indonesia, where I originally come from. In Jakarta, 2500 km down Southwest, I was soundly asleep. A cousin called not long after that but I had already had my mobile silenced before going to bed. Six hours later, when I saw the unanswered call, I called him back but couldn’t get through. Unaware of the situation, I dialed my sister and asked perhaps she knew why my cousin called me at such hour.
“Don’t you know about the earthquake?” She was perplexed. She thought that the catastrophe was the reason I called her, “Turn on your television,” she told me without further a do.
I couldn’t because, for personal reason, I don’t have a television at home. I rely on Google, Sunday papers and weekly magazines for my source of information.
Google and the Internet, which are American inventions, this is in fact, should be the first reason I thanked America but I haven’t. My work and my appetite for news require me to constantly hook up on Google. Sometimes, one or two thoughts came by and I subconsciously acknowledged this fact but then another time I had this conclusion that as America gives so America takes: it’s a symbiotic relationship anyway. Although I can’t remember any single thing that I ever give back to America: I don’t drive American car, I don’t use American mobile phones; even for the laptop I use to connect to the Net is Japanese and more: when write and blog from that laptop, the English spelling I prefer is non-American.
Next, there is Global Positioning System or is simply popular with its nickname GPS, is another reason I thought I should thank America. As the case for the Internet and its Google, my work demands me quite often going into the field, driving around the country with a GPS receiver always installed inside the car, helped me navigating through the unfamiliar. Without the coordinates collected by this GPS receiver, I can’t back to my office and carry out post-measurement analysis. Mind you, to make navigation system possible like this is not cheap: you have to put, not one satellite or two or three into the sky but at least twenty-four satellites. And how much America offered them to the world? Free, my friends.
Then the earthquake struck home. And aftershocks that followed every 30 minutes or so. My family and our neighbors fled to high ground in the forest anticipating the Big Wave coming. Besides, the aftershocks still felt strong registering, between 4 to 6 on the Richter scale so it was still quite unsafe to be under the house roof. In the neighboring islands, which were closer to the epicenters, houses are leveled to the ground. It was a bad day for everybody but worse for my mother: not because she’s bit frail to flee but the day was her birthday. In February 12, 1945, because of the war, she was born in the forest. Now, 64 years later, she was back, perhaps, in the same spot she was born into.
Fortunately, in my island, the earthquake didn’t destroy telecommunication infrastructure, which very much helped the communication and coordination during the disaster in one of the most remote areas in Indonesia. And what they asked of me, their brother in Jakarta? Turn to that American invention again, the Net, and find out as much as I possibly could about the earthquake and advise them because there had been rumors about tsunami coming in.
And it was finally here I ended up for the last seven days after the quake: National Earthquake Information Center of Unites States Geological Survey, USGS for short. Until I finished this article, the agency’s website remains open. Data of the earthquake as it takes place around the world is in full display here and is updated as soon as new one occurs. All the information is there: epicenter of the quake, magnitude, time, analysis and most importantly, the epicenter is mapped and linked to Google Earth! This link makes it possible to quickly locate where the quakes and aftershocks took place and, after plotting them together, area of the earthquake can clearly be identified. Based on data from this site, I could inform my family and friends back home. It is amazing that in the event like this one could feel like a god as they asked you as far as when the next earthquakes hit, and if ever there would be tsunamis, etc.
Every now and then I compared the data with USGS’ Indonesia counterpart, the BMG but I’m sorry to say that BMG’s data is not as updated and complete as USGS’, despite the fact, there are 64 Earthquake Monitoring Stations in Indonesia and as it acknowledges in its official site: “Indonesia is one of the countries which is very susceptible to tsunamis.” Sometimes, people back home, questioned my information but I gave them a quick reply: “This is from America, don’t you know?” And I grinned to the fact that America, at this time, became such as a magical, guaranteeing word.
A week after the strong earthquake, I still work overtime. Not for my job’s sake but to spend time monitoring USGS’ Earthquake Centre for some life-saving information to report back home. During these days also, I’ve lost counts of how many times have I thanked America for making this information, free, fast and accessible to every one. I’ve no doubt at all that this information can and have saved lives. Never in my entire life have I been so grateful to America.
(Jakarta, February 19, 2009)