Project Objective:
This project aims to promote Japan-U.S. mutual learning on how best to respond to a catastrophic disaster. This will be done by developing a written report and accompanying lecture that shows a detailed side-by-side examination of Japanese and U.S. responses to such a disaster. Japanese information will be based on the response to the earthquake/tsunami disaster that struck Eastern Japan on March 11, 2011. U.S. information will be based on the results of a major 4-day earthquake/tsunami disaster response exercise called “Cascadia Rising” that took place in the American Pacific Northwest in June, 2016. 

Project Impact:
This project will enable disaster response planners, government officials, academics, and others in Japan and the U.S. to learn from each others’ experience and strengthen catastrophic disaster response planning in their own respective countries. Both the written report and the accompanying lecture will be fully bilingual in Japanese and in English. In order to achieve the widest possible distribution of the information developed in the project, the lecture will be given at several Japanese and U.S. venues at no cost, and the written report will be posted online so as to be available to interested parties at no cost. 

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Disasters are a Threat to Both Countries

Both Japan and the United States constantly face threats from a variety of natural and man-made disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, nuclear power plant accidents, and the like. One of the most devastating types of disaster is the deadly combination of earthquake and tsunami. The December, 2004 earthquake/tsunami that struck South Asia claimed more than 200,000 lives. The March, 2011 earthquake/tsunami that struck Eastern Japan took nearly 20,000 lives. And a future earthquake/tsunami that could hit the North American Northwest Pacific Coast might kill 10,000 people or more.

Planning on how to respond to any emergency or disaster is difficult, but planning the response to a major catastrophe such as those cited above is an extraordinary challenge. What do you do when entire towns have been swept away, when emergency responders such as fire and police departments have been wiped out? How do you bring in critical emergency supplies when roads, bridges, airports and even seaports have been so damaged as to be unusable? Where do you shelter tens of thousand of evacuees? And how do you coordinate the efforts of the dozens of government agencies engaged in rescue work along with countless private organizations, non-profit groups, international helpers, and citizen volunteers? 

The Value of Mutual Learning 

Both Japan and the U.S. are modern, urbanized societies with adequate human and material resources for protection against disasters. Moreover, we are both open democratic societies with strong international ties to each other. It would seem logical that our two countries could learn a great deal from each other in this field. To be sure, our approaches to disaster management are somewhat different, but this may be all the more reason why we can learn from each other. As Alex Greer of the University of Delaware’s Disaster Research Center has pointed out: 

The Japanese and U.S. approaches to earthquake preparedness and response are very different. The U.S. system is defined by its bottom-up structure, all-hazards approach, strong laws, pronounced lines of control between the local and federal levels, and Incident Command System. The Japanese system relies on development of advanced technology, a directive approach, technologically proficient emergency management staff, on-the-job training, a single-hazard approach, integrated earthquake drills, and the newfound integration of volunteers. These very different approaches to disaster management mean that the two countries can learn much from each other.” 
- Greer, Alex, “Earthquake Preparedness and Response: Comparison of the United States and Japan,” in Leadership and Management in Engineering, July, 2012, p. 122. 

This view is echoed in a November, 2012 policy brief by the Center for New American Security (CNAS). With reference to U.S. and Japanese disaster management: 

“It is inevitable and appropriate that there will be inconsistencies in national approaches to disaster response. However, these inconsistencies merit more reflection. When two sophisticated governments arrive at two different ways of doing things, each should ask whether the other has taken an approach that offers improvements.” 

- Danzig, Richard; Saidel, Andrew; and Hosford, Zachary: “ Beyond Fukushima, A Joint Agenda for U.S.-Japanese Disaster Management,” CNAS Policy Brief, November, 2012, p. 5. 

A Timely Opportunity for Mutual Learning

The infrequency of catastrophic disasters is a blessing for humankind, but that very infrequency adds to the difficulty of studying both the phenomenon itself and the response to it. Moreover, politicians, academics, and the general public have many other things on their minds than catastrophic disaster, and as these terrible events recede into the past it can be difficult to raise interest in their study.

However, the present moment may be one where interest in this topic is at a relatively high point in Japan and the U.S. Five years after 3/11, Japan is still struggling with disaster recovery, and the April, 2016 earthquake in Kumamoto has kept the Japanese all too aware of their vulnerability to disaster.

On the U.S. side, the risk of a potential earthquake/tsunami in the Pacific Northwest has come to the forefront of popular news media such as The New Yorker magazine, and in June, 2016, authorities in the U.S. and Canada cooperated in a massive 4-day earthquake/tsunami response exercise called “Cascadia Rising.” Coordinated overall by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the exercise included core players from the states of Washington and Oregon and the Canadian province of British Columbia, as well as numerous other Federal, state, and local agencies. The area impacted by the exercise scenario includes a population of over 10 million people. Several thousand civilian and military disaster responders participated in the exercise.

Thus, the interest currently engendered in Japan and the U.S. in earthquake/ tsunami preparedness would appear to signify an excellent and timely opportunity to promote mutual learning on this topic. 

The Project

This project aims to promote Japan-U.S. mutual learning about responding to a catastrophic disaster, specifically an earthquake/tsunami. This will be done by developing a written report and accompanying lecture with a side-by-side discussion of how Japan and the U.S. address this type of disaster.

The core project team will consist of five individuals:

Project Director: Ms. Angela Ortiz, CEO, Place to Grow, Tokyo
Senior Consultant: Mr. Leo Bosner, Adjunct Lecturer, Kokushikan University
Editor/Translator: Ms. Sako Narita, Disaster Volunteer, HuMA (a Japanese NGO)

Writer: Mr. William Lokey, Emergency Management Consultant (U.S.)
Writer: Ms. Amya Miller, Disaster Relief Adviser and Consultant (Japan)

The project proposed by this application will take place in seven main phases: (1) Kickoff Seminar, (2) Research and Writing, (3) Editing and Translation, (4) Final Editing, (5) Report Publication, (6) Lectures, and (7) Follow-up.

Phase 1: Kickoff Seminar. The Cascadia Rising exercise took place on June 7-10, 2016. The exercise tested 6 "Core Capabilities" for disasters defined by FEMA: (1) Critical Transportation, (2) Mass Care, (3) Operational Coordination, (4) Operational Communication, (5) Situational Assessment, and (6) Medical Surge (including Public Health, Health Care, and Emergency Medical Services).  One month later, on July 13-15, the Washington State Emergency Management Division hosted a 3-day seminar to discuss the exercise. The seminar specifically addressed issues that arose in the course of the exercise regarding the 6 Core Capabilities cited above. Seminar participants included 5 Japanese disaster specialists and 3 American disaster specialists.

Phase 2: Research and Writing. During and after the seminar, the project team will contact various American and Japanese disaster specialists and will work with them to produce sections for the project report. The American sections will discuss issues that arose around the 6 Core Capabilities in the Cascadia Rising exercise. The Japanese sections will discuss issues that arose around the same 6 Core Capabilities in the response to the March, 2011 earthquake/tsunami.

Phase 3: Editing and Translation. Upon completion of the report’s sections, all sections will be edited for clarity an content and will be will be fully translated into Japanese and English.

Phase 4: Final Editing and Report Assembly. After all sections have been reviewed, edited, and translated, the entire report will be assembled as a whole. A lecture will be developed with PowerPoint slides discussing, explaining, and summarizing the project report. Both the written report and the accompanying lecture will be bilingual in Japanese and English.

Phase 5: Report Publication. When the report has been completed in final form, the project team will publicize it via announcements to the press and to disaster specialists and organizations in Japan and in the U.S. A limited number of hard copies of the report will be printed and sent to key individuals and organizations in both countries. The report will also be posted online and made available to all interested parties to download and use at no cost.

Phase 6: Lectures. After the publication of the written report, the project team will present lectures about the project at various venues in Japan and the U.S. It is anticipated that a number of universities, government agencies, private businesses, and non-profit organizations in both countries will host this lecture.

Phase 7: Follow-up. The project team members will actively solicit and search out feedback on this project to assess its impacts and to determine what sort of project(s) could be done in the future to continue this effort. 

Summary and Conclusion

This is a unique and timely project that aims to strengthen the U.S.-Japan relationship through educational, cultural, and intellectual exchange.

The project is unique in that it goes beyond traditional policy-level discussions and addresses specific, comparable disaster response activities of Japan and the U.S. in order to enable planners in both countries to learn practical lessons from each other and strengthen their respective programs. The project is timely in that it takes advantage of the current interest in earthquake/tsunami disaster readiness in both countries.

Place to Grow and its parent organization, O.G.A. For Aid, have shown a long- term commitment to disaster management, humanitarian aid, and outreach to the international community, so one can expect follow-up on this project in the future.

Moreover, all five project officers have complementary backgrounds as well as proven experience and track records for this project, so one can expect their continued interest as well:

  • Ms. Ortiz helped set up and run a Japanese NGO for disaster survivors.

  • Mr. Bosner has been studying Japan’s disaster management since 2000.

  • Ms. Narita has a strong background in humanitarian disaster relief.

  • Mr. Lokey has over 35 years’ experience in emergency management.

  • Ms. Miller has significant involvement in Tohoku’s post-3/11 recovery.

We are currently applying for funding in support of this project. 

Photos (from top of article):  Vernon Meekins, U.S. Marine Corps; Japan Government Cabinet Office; Japan Ministry of Defense; U.S. Army National Guard; Japan Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology; FEMA; Leo Bosner, Kokushikan University and OGA For Aid; Liz Roll, FEMA.