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Japan's Earthquake Experience: Crisis Management Models

Mar 06, 2012 Written by  Jessica Han, Editorial Intern
Fukushima_Reactor_4The 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit the Pacific coast of Tōhoku, Japan on March 11th, 2011, set records not only for being the largest earthquake to ever hit Japan, but also for the degree of international implications it would cause, as was witnessed in the past year. The destruction following the earthquake and tsunami was devastating, with attention centered especially on the level 7 meltdowns of reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex that lay within the tsunami’s path. Additionally, an estimated 9,473 persons were found dead, 1,796 remain missing, and 320,885 civilians were evacuated. Furthermore, the Matsushima Air Field base was wiped out, as well as hospitals, infrastructure services, routes of transportation into and out of the region, and an irreplaceable amount of fishing boats, a priceless commodity for this fishing region.

However, from outside of the destruction came an international outpour of support from countries all over the world, providing food and aid supplies. Large-scale social networking across different countries followed, using the Internet to start awareness campaigns through which many charitable donations were collected. Although Japan is geographically an extremely small country, it is an undeniable world leader around whom the world was ready to rally support.

Locally, the response of the Japanese government itself manifested in the immediate installment of a task force assigned to damage assessment and rebuilding efforts. The Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) hosted a leading member of that task force, Yoshio Onodera, to present during their Miyagi Prefecture's Crisis Management System Based on the Great East Japan Earthquake Experience event held in middle of February to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the disaster, as well as to address the Miyagi Prefecture’s rebuilding efforts and the significance they hold on an international scale.

Japan’s work rebuilding has been, and will continue to be, planned out extremely carefully. It is rare that such a developed area requires such extensive repair, and as the Miyagi Prefecture taskforce realized in the past year, there are very few guidelines or practices for intensive contemporary urban development. The taskforce primarily realized how ill-prepared Japan's communication and transportation systems had been as rescue workers struggled to communicate even with government officials in their own country, or bring in supplies that were only a town away. Upon further inspection, the taskforce noted that infrastructure services should have been fortified for a potential disaster as well. Although Japan certainly regulates building codes to withstand earthquakes, other services such as sewage and energy supplies were rendered useless after the earthquake occurred. During the immediate aftermath of the incident, the taskforce was unable to work efficiently due to a dearth of logistical data such as the size of facilities, space available, travel time, etc., that had previously appeared trivial but were actually critical in evacuation planning.

Fortunately, the lessons learned by the taskforce helped establish goals to accomplish in the face of a future calamity by developing a “Crisis Management System”. The taskforce realized how necessary it was to manage public expectation and keep communication lines open with not only the evacuees but also the global community. If the area is not addressed quickly and strong leadership is not maintained despite the wreckage, evacuees that settle elsewhere will be less likely to return. The efficiency of recovery greatly decreases without a population and community to support it.

Finally the taskforce was able to decide that they wanted to use this opportunity to rebuild the area to give it the ability to adapt to modern times - the site would become a place for innovative practices as well as a model for conscientious modern urban development. Consequently, the taskforce has since then invested in innovations coming out of universities and has been developing a modern approach to the effective use of human resources in the face of recovery and development.

A year has passed since the tragic earthquake and tsunami, but many successes have been achieved at an incredible rate. By July 2011 most of the major roads had been cleared and recovered; by December all the evacuation centers were closed. Plans have been put in motion to develop a national fuel supply that is accessible to areas all over the country, and a special economic zone has been established in Tōhoku as an investment for its expected recovery. There has been talk of developing protective barriers against future tsunamis by excavating into the plentiful mountains of Japan, as well as estabilishing evacuation routes. Through it all, the Japanese government has also made efforts to be environmentally aware and pioneer green-energy practices for use in redevelopment. As a leader in the global community, it is clear that Japan is well equipped to turn misfortune into opportunity. Fortunately, the rest of the world will be able to use the plans of the Miyagi Prefecture redevelopment guidelines and procedures, as it is working towards (and is becoming) a case study for judicious and deliberate urban redevelopment.

Photo: David Guttenfelder, Pool. "The Unit 4 reactor building of the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station is seen through a bus window in Okuma, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011. Media allowed into Japan's tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant for the first time then saw a striking scene of devastation: twisted and overturned vehicles, crumbling reactor buildings and piles of rubble virtually untouched since the wave struck more than eight months earlier."

Last modified on Tuesday, 06 March 2012 04:15

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