Lessons from Japan’s disaster
(First of two parts)
At 2:46 P.M. on March 11, 2011, a 7-magnitude earthquake struck the Pacific coastline of eastern Japan. It triggered a tsunami with high surges of 10 to 20 meters.
For some, this was just another natural disaster. But in fact this was the fourth largest earthquake in the world since 1900.
What is amazing is how the Japanese people successfully and effectively responded to it and there are lessons from them on how we could mitigate future possible damage.
As we struggle to cope with our own sense of vulnerability, the Japanese experience defines in very clear terms what it means to be sustainable. We have often used that term in many diverse ways but it may also mean continuity, longevity and survival.
Many sectors are continuing to analyze what has happened in Tacloban and other typhoon-devastated areas and, more importantly, on how to cope with the disaster. We can learn a lot from the Japanese.
From the very start, the Japanese government had three top priorities. The first was to collect information. The government immediately dispatched helicopters within 37 minutes after the earthquake. They were able to get visuals within a broad area. Within a few hours they had information on the scope and extent of the tsunami.
The second priority was to establish routes. They mobilized construction companies based on prior agreements with the local industry in the event of a disaster.
The third priority was the support from the local government. They selected staff members of disaster offices inland which had less damage. The most qualified members were selected to solve the urgent needs of the local mayors.
The Japanese government created an innovative approach to address the crisis. It was called Operation “Comb” because the emergency network of rescue routes resembled a comb.
Due to the effectiveness of the system, 11 routes were opened the following day. Swift road-clearing operations to create rescue routes helped expand support activities.
After 15 routes were opened, gross goods movement increased by 50 percent and traffic volume more than doubled.
Facilitating road clearance
There were several reason that facilitated road clearance.
First, none of the existing bridges collapsed. They remained intact due to lessons applied from an earthquake 17 years earlier.
Second, the government concentrated their efforts on 16 rescue routes instead of spreading their efforts in a haphazard manner.
Third, they took advantage of agreements with local construction companies for them to give emergency support in case of future events.
The US Armed Forces and American citizens also gave extensive support for the rapid opening of the Sendai airport.
The road-clearing teams had rechargeable satellite phones which were distributed to local governments. Eventually, vehicles outfitted with satellite communications and disaster operations function came to the place.
Responding to the mayors’ needs, the government was able to provide temporary housing, temporary toilets, tents for victims’ bodies, coffins, fuel, food, and other basic necessities. In three days, the government had shipped goods in response to 90 percent of those requests.
For comments or inquiries, e-mail [email protected]
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.