By Shafei Moiz Hali

Japan is currently dealing with its worst disaster since WW II. On March 11th, at 2:46PM during the usual hustle and bustle a massive 8.9/9.0 magnitude earthquake hit the North-eastern Japan, followed by a tsunami with waves as high as 20-30 feet slammed Japan’s eastern coast and wreaked havoc; killing hundreds of people as it swept away boats, cars and homes while widespread fires burned out of control. The earthquake has not taken its full toll yet; it is still on a path of destruction as its after-effects have left Japan’s nuclear facilities as ticking time bombs, where three major blasts at the nuclear facilities at Fukushima are spreading radiation, and already a hundred and sixty people exposed to radiation have been identified.  

The sad part is that all “fail-safe” mechanisms failed as Japan’s nuclear facilities while battling the disaster received two straight jabs one from the 8.9 earthquake which knocked out its main source of electrical power and the second from the Tsunami, which made the back-up power supply kaput. A Post Hoc analysis from even a layman would ask the simplest of all questions; why didn’t the nuclear facilities at Fukushima have a third “fail-safe”? The answer to the question is that, the odds of this scenario to ever take place were so low that few statisticians and simulationists ever contemplated for such an event to occur, but the sad truth is that in Fukushima it has!

Dealing with the impact of Japan’s 8.9/9.0 earthquake is extremely difficult; the exact death toll is yet to be identified as the repercussions of this disaster are depopulating the country. It is hard to fathom that Japans 8.9/9.0 earth quake has actually accelerated Earth’s spin, shortening the length of the 24-hour day by 1.8 microseconds, according to geophysicist Richard Gross at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The magnitude of damage escapes all traditional disaster management techniques, still the Japanese authorities are optimistic and believe that with an all-round help, successful recovery campaigns can be launched. 

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This disaster in Japan is an extremely abnormal phenomenon, which is not only making the recovery task of the disaster management authorities difficult, but also puzzling the scientists. Japan Earthquake Prediction Committee (JEPC) had predicted that the earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 nearby Sendai city would occur in next 30 years but it took place earlier. The stranger part is that the relatively small quakes with 5-7 magnitude, which occurred in different areas in Japan are not aftershocks of the first 8.9/9.0 quake. The smaller quakes did not occur in areas where aftershocks should occur. The problem is worsening as the JEPC has predicted another earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 would hit Japan within the next three days.

Traditional disaster management process prescribes that, in-order to fight disasters, countries need to follow a circular process of disaster management in which the first phase comprises “Mitigation” where all possible measures are taken to strengthen the infrastructure for carrying out recovery operations and to minimize the effects of disasters before they even occur. Extensive work had been done by Japan to ensure optimum results from this phase, as their building codes and town planning matched all the latest standards for mitigating the damage caused by earthquakes, it is true that post hoc analysis proves that infrastructure in Japan, including the nuclear plants, were earthquake resistant but were not designed to absorb the shock of the powerful tsunami – that actually undermined the infrastructure as well as the fail-safe mechanisms.
The next phase to come is that of “preparedness”. Japan being one of the most developed nations in the world had prepared well for disasters and had equipped its authorities with the right tools and training, but as seen in the “mitigation” phase, the Japanese authorities had left a weak link in making their infrastructure tsunami resistant. 

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The third phase of the disaster management process comprises “Response”. It is too early to analyze as it is still underway and the disaster keeps morphing in to a new kind of a calamity.  The response teams are fighting against heavy odds, latest technology is being employed to rescue as many people as possible, all resources and all means of rescue are being tapped. A 20-kilometer evacuation zone has been established at the number one reactor and a 10 kilometer zone around the second reactor has been created to prevent nuclear fallout. About 170,000 people have been moved out of the danger area. Two robot teams are being used to assist rescue workers to hunt through rubble in areas that are inaccessible or dangerous for humans. Two different types of robots are the “Active Scope Camera”, a snake-like camera which wiggles into hard-to-reach places. “Quince”, a robot with wheels, climbs atop rubble, is being used.  50,000 Japanese troops are carrying out rescue operations and it is expected that assistance teams from more than 50 countries are converging towards Japan.

The fourth phase is “Recovery” in which efforts commence once the immediate damages from the disaster are curbed. Currently the “response” phase is underway and it is early to analyze the problems that can occur during this phase. The gravest concern of the rescue teams and the authorities is that once the efforts in the “recovery” phase will commence, the authorities will have to deal with problems such as preventing radiation exposure and the predicament of providing logistics.  As the people are being rescued and evacuated to make-shift sanctuaries where food supplies are dwindling and communication infrastructure are badly damaged, hindering the recovery effort.

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Many lessons will be learned and will be employed in the “mitigation” to prevent the damage from future quakes and tsunamis. 

It is through courage and the sheer force of will that the Japanese overcame the carnage and disaster of WWII and the same is needed to conquer the catastrophe of March 11, the Japanese can take solace from the words of Robert Roy Pool and Jonathan Hensleigh:

“Through all the chaos that is our history, through all of the wrongs and the discord, through all of the pain and suffering, through all of our times, there is one thing that has nourished our souls and elevated our species above its origin. And that is our courage.”

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