Disaster Preparedness Deficiencies in Japan

Two other bloggers have captured some useful information about the deficiencies now coming to the fore about the Japanese disasters, so I will point you to their articles:

(1) Eric Holderman, Disaster-zone.com, cited this article: in Scientific American: Japan Faces Up to Failure of Its Earthquake Preparations;Systems for forecasting, early warning and tsunami protection all fell short on 11 March. Posted on March 29.

(2) This is an excerpted version of a posting on the Homeland Security Watch blog (hlswatch.com) on April 1., by Arnold Bogis. I removed the baseball analogies in order to save space.

Some obvious lessons for homeland security planning in general.  Yet, just as in baseball, this balance between best and worst case scenario planning can be difficult in even the best prepared of countries–or simply ignored.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s disaster plans greatly underestimated the scope of a potential accident at its Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, calling for only one stretcher, one        satellite phone and 50 protective suits in case of emergencies.

Hard to believe, but it seems that in a nation often lauded as among the best, if not the best, in terms of preparation for a natural disaster simply dropped the ball regarding catastrophic planning for nuclear facilities. More from the Wall Street Journalarticle describing the lack of proper planning:

Disaster-response documents for Fukushima Daiichi, examined by The Wall Street Journal, also contain few guidelines for obtaining outside help, providing insight into why Japan struggled to cope with a nuclear crisis after an earthquake and tsunami devastated the facility. There are no references to Tokyo firefighters, Japanese military forces or U.S. equipment.

The main disaster-readiness manual, updated annually, envisions the fax machine as a principal means of communication with the outside world and includes detailed forms for Tepco managers when faxing government officials. Much hinged on the fax machine. One section directs managers to notify the industry minister, the local governor and mayors of nearby towns of any problems “all at once, within 15 minutes, by facsimile.” In certain cases, the managers were advised to follow up by phone to make sure the fax had arrived.

Obviously one could take up several blog posts to simply unpack these and other related revelations. Undoubtedly, other Japanese efforts at disaster readiness saved thousands, if not tens of thousands, of lives following the earthquake and tsunami.  I have serious doubts about the current ability of the United States to manage a similar size catastrophe–both the immediate impact and long term consequences.  And I agree … that the nuclear crisis is needlessly overshadowing the larger natural disaster.

Yet it still boggles the mind that a society so prepared could allow such a substandard state of planning to exist.  The current disaster would not have been avoided if much of the response plan had been improved–only moving the back-up generators to higher ground would have saved the plant from the loss of power that initially drove events.  However, this disaster did underline the deficiencies in planning and hints at the difficulties that it caused in responding to this maximum of maximums event.

What the managers of the Fukushima plant failed to do was honestly consider even a bad, never mind worst, case scenario. * * *   Perhaps planning for an earthquake and resulting tsunami stronger than the reliable historical record indicates would not have been feasible before current events.  But the existence of a decent Plan B may have helped ameliorate the consequences of this Godzilla-esq black swan that fell on the people of Japan.

I suggest readers to the hlswatch.com website to see the comments and discussion today.

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