Leadership in Crisis Saves Lives


Indonesia is a prone country to natural disasters. Number of the natural disasters tends to increase every year, particularly hydro-meteorological disasters. Hydro-meteorological disasters that often occur are as tornado, flood, landslide, severe weather and drought. On the other side, Indonesia has potential as well to geological disasters, such as earthquake and volcano eruption. These are potential threat to more than 200 million population. Indonesia which has about 13.000 islands is not only surrounded by active tectonic plates but also ranks of active volcanoes in the world, part of the ring of fire. In term of volcano eruption, Indonesia National Authority for Disaster Management (BNPB) states that the natural phenomena of volcano eruption threatens around 3.8 million population (Nugroho, 2012).

Case study of this essay is on crisis leadership during Mount Kelud eruption in Indonesia. Mount Kelud is located on the border of three districts, namely Malang, Kediri and Blitar that are under administration of East Java Province. Kelud which has an altitude of 1.731 meters has a long history of eruptions in the year of 1586, 1919, 1951, 1966, and 1990. This essay also describes how a reliable leadership is able to save lives in times of crisis situation. Some leadership values in the essay is a reflection and lesson learned from three figures during the current crisis. The three figures are a volcano observer from the Centre of Volcanology and Mitigation of Geological Hazard (PVMBG), a head of sub-district Ngancar or Camat Ngancar in Kediri, and a military official in the same sub-district. The volcano observer becomes a key figure who had an initiative and knew about the volcano based on scientific approach, while Camat Ngancar is responsible to local residents and during the crisis, the other communities in different districts living around the slope of Kelud followed as well his order. Meanwhile, the military official of Ngancar or Komandan Rayon Militer (Danramil) has resources, such as personnel and trucks, which helps process of evacuation. In the context of disaster management in Indonesia, leadership exemplified in the case of Kelud can be an example and a model of leadership, particularly at the local level.

In the context of disaster management, leadership aspect is very important in times of crisis. Klann (2003) mentioned that a simple definition of leadership is the ability to influence others in a positive viewpoint. Meanwhile, Parmenter (2010) describes that crisis leadership consists of components such as ability recruit a team with care, well-managed the immediate crisis, communicate effectively, and be a serving leader.  The leadership values highlighted in this case study are planning, communication, and solidarity.

Evacuation of 86.000 local residents in the three districts bordering Mount Kelud on February 13, 2014 provides an important record in disaster management in Indonesia. Kelud which killed 50 people in 1990 has a characteristic of explosive eruption. The other characteristic is rapid increasing status from level III (Siaga) to level IV (Awas) which possibly happen within few hours and followed by explosive eruption. In the last eruption, PVMBG announced an increasing status of level III to level IV on February 13, 2014, at 21.15 pm. Not in a long time period, at around 22.55 pm, the first explosive eruption occurred on the same day. Level IV that is the highest level indicates the volcano can erupt at any time and communities around the slope should evacuate. Eruption burst high until 15 kilometers and range volcanic ash reached up to 1.000 kilometers. Just before erupting, local communities around Kelud evacuated successfully within two hours. They evacuated an orderly manner and even not making honk during evacuation process. Vulnerable groups, such as the elderly and children, knew where they had to gather and up truck to take them away from the safety radius up to over 10 kilometers.

Behind the evacuation process, the performance of crisis leadership is a key indicator of success.  Although there are technologies that can analyze and detect potential eruption, the most serious challenge is to save communities from explosive eruption. Planning is one of leadership skills that is capable to read and predict what to do. The success of the evacuation is composed with a brilliant plan as a reflection of the eruption in 1990 and incident of 2007 in times of crisis to the possibility of eruption. At that time, the evacuation was not conducted with well-planning. The volcano observer conducted planning comprehensively and considered beyond of the planning was saving lives. In the context of disasters, planning is very important because it emphasis on structure and process (Canton, 2013). Afterwards the volcano observer started to structure an organization consisting some stakeholders, actions, resources and roles. One of the most determine is how the local residents are willing to evacuate independently. Meanwhile, the process refers to a series of activities to achieve a goal. It starts from identifying the stakeholders involved, determining the resources, roles, trainings, and conducting evacuation exercises in times of crisis or so-called as contingency plan. According to Goehring and Harris (2015), planning has “three critical strategic elements that are purpose, people, and resources” (p.1). The volcano observer has set a goal that is very clear, saving lives. In this framework, the relevant stakeholders are embraced and put under structure that was discussed together among them. The volcano observer knew that evacuation was a major work and he was not able to work without assistances from the local government, military, volunteers, and local communities. Local governments and the military are needed because they have the authority and resources, such as legitimacy of policy, personnel and trucks.

The next element of crisis leadership is communication. Communication is a following step that comes together with planning, mainly how comprehensive ideas are able to be understood by the stakeholders involved. Communication is essential and critical to the organization before, during, and after the crisis (Klann, 2003). According Nilakant (2015) communication is considered as well for establishment of trust, coordination and collaboration. The volcano observer considered trust so that he was able to influence the stakeholders. Trust was built through constructive discussions. The volcano observer approached the Camat Ngancar as local government representation. Communication approaches were conducted in informal and personal techniques. The volcano observer shared knowledge and information on several issues related to Kelud, for example signs of volcano eruption, volcano characteristics, potential number and types of materials, as well as threats to the community around the slope of Kelud. This communication gradually motivated and encouraged the Camat Ngancar who involved actively in following process. It is significant for the Camat Ngancar to overcome crisis. Boin and Renaud (2013) say that the joint sense making is particularly important to effective crisis management. On the other hand, according to Waugh and Streib (2014) that the government has a central role in times of crisis. The volcano observer realized that the government had resources, including the military. Besides that, establishment of trust will make easier to conduct coordination and collaboration.

What the volcano observer have done is very touching. He not only greeted the Camat Ngancar and the military official, but also established communication with the local community. Communication with cultural approach to community, particularly to community leaders is a key to build awareness about the potential hazard of Kelud and as well evacuation. On the other side, cultural mitigation was conducted jointly between the volcano observer and the Camat Ngancar. At the same time, the volcano observer built coordination with community radio stations around Kelud. It is very strategic step because information about potential threat broadcasted by radio approached effectively to the communities.

During anticipating the crisis of explosive eruption, the volcanic observer always provided the latest information to the head of sub-district Ngancar. Later on the information was forwarded to the community radio stations and community radio volunteers of Radio Antar Penduduk Indonesia (RAPI) so that the communities around Kelud were well-informed and ready to evacuate. At the same time, the military had prepared the personnel and dozens of trucks to transport the population exposure. In addition, volunteers from various organizations under the coordination of the Camat Ngancar Ngancar was ready in assisting evacuation. This situation shows that the communication has built is able to collaborate and synergize the relevant stakeholders during crisis. As the first explosive eruption occurred, 86.000 residents living around Kelud has already evacuated out of radius 10 kilometers from the center of Kelud.

What has done by the volcano observer, the Camat Ngancar, and local military official is a quality of solidarity which is based on humanity. This shows as reflection of right soul. According to Mitroff that most major crisis causes people to suffer a deep existential crisis (2010). The Camat Ngancar was the last person leaving outside the radius of 10 km. The safety of the residents is the first priority. However, it is interesting that these three figure are very humble because they do not pay attention to positions but safety of the community.

Finally, this essay concludes that we can learn two things. First, crisis leadership performed by the three figures is lesson learned about how to save lives. Discourse of disaster management comes down to saving lives. This is applicable to other crisis hazard situations in Indonesia. Planning that is supported with communication will produce good result. Communication has to have strength to establish fruitful coordination and collaboration. On the other hand, trust is one of indicators in order to strengthen the coordination and collaboration. Second, the practice of crisis leadership is a good approach for disaster management in Indonesia. The practice should be shared to communities who have exposure to any hazards, particularly volcano eruption. Every community has its local wisdoms and knowledge that can contribute to crisis leadership.


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