2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami
Table of contents
- Scenario description
- Actors and response
- Governmental response
- International response
- Yakuza (criminal) response
- Nuclear response
- Review and Analysis
- Improvements to be made
Point of earthquake, 'reach' of tsunami.
The 2011 Tōhoku earthquake was the first incident in a series of unfortunate events. Following the earthquake, which occurred in the sea nearby the coastline of Sendai, a tsunami followed quickly after as a side effect of the under-sea earthquake. These type of earthquakes and tsunami’s happen frequently in the area in and around Japan, but the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake stands out as an even larger earthquake, ranking at the fourth largest earthquake in all the time where there have been records of the size and scale of earthquakes. (CBS news, 2011)
The ensuing tsunami caused waves that reportedly came as high as 40.5 meters. (NHK WORLD, 2011) This was a reason for the power network to fail in North-Eastern Japan, which caused a multitude of other problems and incidents. However it is extremely likely that the 40.5 meters high tsunami waves are a local phenomenon, as other sources indicated that local observation posts had estimated the heights to be closer to approximately 9.3 meters at its highest.
The lack of an organized output of information towards the media could be seen as the first in a string of negative management of the crisis, although it should be said that there was a noticeable lack of information, as is to be expected with a crisis of this magnitude. However the spreading of misinformation definitely was not a positive contributing factor to the crisis.
Furthermore the effects of the tsunami also hit civilians in areas that were less pronounced – the tsunami had swallowed entire areas in its water and as a result millions of people were now without a home, food or water. (NPR, 2011) During that time it was stated by former prime minister Naoto Kan that this was ‘’the most severe crisis since the war ended 65 years ago’’. (NPR, 2011)
During the earthquake and the tsunami, there were multiple factors that came into play and that showed how prepared the Japanese authorities were. There were also other actors, such as criminal organizations and the companies that owned nuclear energy plants in the affected area. This means that the crisis quickly escalated from a Japanese incident to a world-wide incident that required attention from not only Japan and their neighbours but also the global (nuclear) community, involving such superpowers as China, Russia and the United States of America. The incident was reported throughout the entire world and was a key point in the media for days, producing a media-hype where news agencies would report on the subject almost every day.
The national police association (NPA) of Japan has recently released more in depth numbers that offer a look into the destruction caused by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. In total 15,894 people were killed as a result or as part of the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Following that, 6,152 people have been (severely) injured. A further 2,561 have gone missing. (National Police Agency of Japan, 2016)
During the course of this report the process of the earthquake will be analysed and critically reviewed in order to give a set of recommendations that could aid in the event that such an incident occurs once more, whether that be in Japan or in any other country that houses is close to an area high in seismic activity, tsunami’s or nuclear facilities.
This particular case is an interesting crisis to analyse, because it involves a sequence of events that all caused a next event. The earthquake was a direct cause for the tsunami, which was on its own a direct cause for the nuclear plant malfunctioning. Therefore it can be deduced that the earthquake was a root cause for the other situations. As such the direct events of this earthquake fall under this crisis too, even if they can be regarded as their own crisis.
Actors and response
In the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake there were a lot of actors involved. Most of these have been identified as governmental organizations such as the police, hospitals, the army, and the fire departments. There are also a number of smaller, government-affiliated organizations involved on a smaller scale. These would include small governmental agencies, government officials and schools.
There are also several private organizations involved that played a large role. A particularly interesting footnote is that the Yakuza (the resident criminal organisation of the country of Japan) were heavily involved in the initial response and aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami, as part of a non-government sanctioned effort.
Another key actor in the incident has been the companies presiding over the nuclear energy plants. The main power plant that was hit by the tsunami, and the power plant that received the most global attention, was the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.
Other power plants that suffered under the earthquake and the tsunami were the Fukushima Daini Nuclear Power Plant, the Onagawa Nuclear Power Plant and finally the Tōkai nuclear power stations. All of these were damaged, however the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant was the only plant to suffer such damages that radioactive particles were released. This caused the area to become contaminated with radioactivity.
The governmental response was primarily focussed on the shortage of food, water and other primary requirements that occurred after the incident. This was primarily done through three (3) channels.
The first channel was the joint operation between a ‘headquarters of emergent disasters’ and the ‘headquarters of response to nuclear crisis’ which became the main body of the entire response from the government. (Okada Norio, 2011) These headquarters were both lead by the prime minister of the country of Japan, Naoto Kan. This channel is to be seen as the most important channel of the governmental response, and it was a key factor in especially the nuclear crisis. During the duration of the nuclear crisis, prime minister Naoto Kan worked closely with the nuclear specialists of the Fukushima Daiichi plant, working together with them to come to a solution, or at the very least attempt to minimize the threat.
The second response came in the form of a government emergency response headquarters which would be led by the foreign minister. This headquarters seemed to be in charge of organising international efforts, as the minister stated that they would welcome foreign help in regards to the crisis. (Okada Norio, 2011)
Countries that promised support (no detailing of what support) in blue
The third and final governmental reaction came in the shape of another headquarters that was to be headed by the defense minister. This headquarters was dubbed the countermeasure headquarters, and given the occupation of its leader, surrounded the military operations that would be undertaken to help in the relief effort. A joint task force (JTF) called ‘Fuji’ was organised by the minister containing 100.000 officers. Approximately 180,000 military personnel were used in total. (Okada Norio, 2011) This seems to include foreign military personnel such as United States Marines.
There was a large amount of NGO responses as can be imagined. Many organisations concerned themselves not only with the earthquake and tsunami, but also the nuclear crisis that came to light. The Japanese Red Cross stated that they had received over $1.000.000.000, - in donations. These donations were utilised heavily to dispatch over 200 emergency relief teams. Furthermore there were also reports of foreign organizations and governments sending emergency relief equipment, with over 1300 tonnes of relief goods arriving in Japan. (Okada Norio, 2011)
Approximately 7 UN organisations were involved in the crisis as well. A majority of them were concerned with the well-being of foreign people in the affected area. The World Health Organisation as well as the Food and Agriculture organisation worked together to inspect the quality of the food that would be exported from Japan or came from the ocean around Japan following the nuclear crisis as leakage of radioactive waste and particles had occurred at that point. (Okada Norio, 2011)
Yakuza (criminal) response
Contrary to what would be expected, the inhabitant criminals of Japan did not capitalize heavily on the crisis, instead offering help and support to citizens that were hit. They were among the first to offer help, arriving with busses and vans loaded with rice to hand out to those who had lost all they owned. This occurred previously as well in the Kanto and Hanshin earthquakes. (Matanle, 2011) These acts could be drawn back to the ‘respectable’ culture of the Yakuza, namely the Ninkyodo code.
It was also stated that 50 tonnes of supplies in 25 trucks were driven into town at night, where the supplies were handed out by men that were presumed to be Yakuza from the Inagawa-kai organisation. (Adelstein, Independent, 2011) The operations conducted by the yakuza went under much scrutiny as some said that there were hidden motives for the yakuza to operate like this. This criticism was waved away, with an unnamed source claiming that ‘’There are no yakuza or katagi (ordinary citizens) or gaijin (foreigners) in Japan right now. We are all Japanese. We all need to help each other.’’ (Adelstein, Yakuza to the Rescue, 2011)
According to some sources the yakuza discredited the government, stating that ‘’ It takes too long for the arm of the government to reach out here so it's important to do it now.’’ (Jones, 2011) That would mean that there is internal dispute between two bodies of response to the crisis and could indicate a lack of cooperation between the Yakuza and government. That is not so hard to imagine given the criminal activities that the Yakuza normally conduct. However it should be kept in mind that until recently, the yakuza and the government organisations were seen as relatively ‘close friends.’ Therefore, perhaps a closer cooperation could’ve been profitable for both parties.
Most of these activities went under the table as the Yakuza would not like to draw attention to itself. Since the NPA announced a crackdown on all criminal organisations (including the Yakuza) the yakuza has become less pronounced in the day-to-day life of the Japanese society. This was represented in the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake as well, as they operated mostly at night to cover up their operations in fear of police crackdowns or repercussions. (Adelstein, Independent, 2011)
As mentioned before, the nuclear power plant employees, and their bosses, worked closely with the headquarters of response to nuclear crisis set up by Naoto Kan. They were involved in almost all steps of this process, as Naoto Kan and his own ministers and advisors would naturally lack the knowledge on nuclear plants to deal with this situation. (Matanle, 2011)
However they did not play quite as large a role as they perhaps should have. The operations that were conducted in the plants were often approved and submitted by the prime minister, or the headquarters. It seemed like the company was only there to offer advice and perhaps their expertise could have been used in a better way.
Review and Analysis
As earthquakes and tsunami are very prominent for the country of Japan, there were previously made plans available. In the Kanto and Hanshin earthquakes and their responses, there were a lot of errors. So much errors that the Yakuza was on the ground and helping earlier than the JSDF. The same thing occurred in 2011, however the effects were noticeably lessened. Furthermore in the Kanto and Hanshin earthquakes, Japan had declined help from other countries. This was no longer the case in 2011. (Matanle, 2011)
Based on the extremely bad results of the Kanto and Hanshin earthquakes, the government of Japan had come up with a new ‘rulebook’ for dealing with these situations. This rulebook consisted of the following principles.
1. The council (of headquarters) should not be partisan.
2. Discussions should have local ownership.
3. Discussions should result in ‘creative outcomes.’
4. Plans should have the support of the entire nation.
5. The plan should give ‘hope for the future’.
Based on these principles it could be said that comparatively to prior events, Japan had definitely increased it’s positive factors when it came to dealing with large crisis’ like these.
Furthermore the Japanese people got increasingly larger access to news about seismic activity due to its importance to the wellbeing of the people. They got increasingly larger access to networks that let them know when seismic activity was detected. (Matanle, 2011) Using these networks it is possible to know, in advance, when an earthquake is going to occur and seek shelter, minimizing human lives lost in the crisis.
Another note to make is that the Japanese government has given increasingly larger powers to the defence forces of the country, especially in light of any crisis. It seems that whenever a crisis occurs the government grants the military more power and jurisdiction to allow them to cooperate with other governmental instances such as police. Not only does this occur during the crisis, but also ahead of it. Careful planning has allowed them to raise the number of people that can be evacuated. (Matanle, 2011)
It is hard to discern what the improvement points are for Japanese crisis management efforts. Most crisis management plans are based upon the careful deliberation of possible scenario’s and coming up with possible countermeasures that can be taken. Japan has already done these things extensively and they continue to do so, as is shown in their scientific progress towards researching seismologic activity.
Furthermore, the 2011 earthquake and tsunami were of a tremendous scale, as mentioned before. They were the fourth largest earthquake ever measured and as such it is hard for anyone to predict how big such an earthquake will be. The tsunami also can hardly be predicted, as it is reliant on the size and scale of the earthquake as well as its location.
Due to that it seems extremely unlikely that Japan can make any proper adjustments in its plans because it is practically impossible to come up with scenarios for all the locations, scales and settings due to the breadth and size of the scenarios.
The nuclear facilities are not up to standards, however, as is the case with most nuclear facilities worldwide. There are not enough back-up plans that are successful, since the backup plans for the plant at the time of the crisis were limited to having two sources of backup power. However, this proved to be futile as these sources were just as exposed to the water of the tsunami as the primary source. This caused the entire plant to bleed dry of energy slowly as the generators slowly ran out of energy.
Another point that definitely can be improved upon even more is the cooperation with the yakuza groups. Even if these groups are criminals, they see themselves as honourable criminals and operate on a code of honour called the Ninkyodo. This code forces them, more or less, to act justified and honourable. This can be seen in the fact that they offer their support to citizens, without asking anything in return. It would be counterproductive to not operate with such groups even if they are criminal. Human lives should therefore be primary focus, and the morality should count second.
In conclusion it could be said that, compared to previous crises in Japan, they have definitely made many improvements such as their communication networks and interaction with other international agencies and countries. This can be seen in the cell phone network that alarms people when seismic activity has been detected and an earthquake is credible, and the foreign minister setting up a headquarter to organise the accepting of foreign aid. It can also be seen in the fact that other countries’ help was accepted more often, even coming to the point of accepting U.S. military forces on their soil.
In terms of organisation there is little to be said, as the organisation was quite good. A centralized approach would be more preferable, however it is hard to say what precisely needs to be bettered in light of the different scales of earthquakes. A small earthquake for instance, would be better dealt with by local agencies and governmental organizations, as well as the local populace. This would include things such as clean-up and shelter construction.
However a large scale earthquake like the 2011 earthquake that is being discussed here would be better dealt with by a large centralized body with a large amount of almost infinite power. The ability to use resources such as the military, foreign aid, international contacts and the capability to take control of a situation is preferable in these cases.
In terms of cooperation, there is also little to be said. The cooperation was relatively good between all parties minus the Yakuza, even if they are a very influential organization. This is also definitely an improvement point that should and could be easily made.
Improvements to be made
There is definite room for improvement when it comes to dealing with these crises for Japan. After the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, they have increased the regulations and standards that fall upon nuclear facilities. (Okada Norio, 2011) (Matanle, 2011) However it should be noted that while regulations have increased, foreign companies such as Tepco have been given leeway in the past. For instance, Tepco had removed a natural seawall that according to some could have stopped the tsunami from reaching the power plant. (Chester Dawson, 2011) This could have prevented most of the crisis, and taken a single large factor out of the equation almost immediately.
Therefore it is advised that the Japanese government doesn’t necessarily focus on the regulations as much but rather on the implementation and controlling of realistic sea walls and other countermeasures.
However on the other hand there are those that say that sea walls and other countermeasures are not effective at all. The water supposedly will wash over the walls regardless, though that is what they are meant to do. However unaccounted for is the fact that the water can splash into the building and flood lower levels of it, killing the energy that powers the facility. (Onishi, 2011) As such, perhaps the sea walls are not as effective as they should be, or perhaps a countermeasure should be thought of to further defend against the water spilling into the facilities.
Another possible place to innovate and create new opportunities for a network against crises like these is the work that the Yakuza does. Despite their immoral and questionable ethics, they are an organization that has helped the people stricken by crises before and continued to do so during the 2011 earthquakes. (Adelstein, Yakuza to the Rescue, 2011)
Their access to resources that remain otherwise inaccessible by the government. Furthermore it is a way to close ties and perhaps organise a better infrastructure to not only deal with the crises but also deal with criminal organisations and make them morally better.
Lastly the capability of the yakuza should not be underestimated, and should be used in these situations to gain access to people that are closer to the streets, ‘the boots on the ground’ so to speak and who know their way around towns and cities, and who know how to speak with people that have lost everything and are down on their luck. If handled correctly the Yakuza could become a valuable asset in the logistical components of the Japanese government, and also perhaps be tamed to be used in other crises as well.
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