Case Study On Earthquake And Tsunami In Japan 2011

Case Study – Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

(11 March 2011)


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  • A massive 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck Japan, Friday afternoon, on 11 March 2011 @ 0546 GMT
  • The quake was centred 130 kilometres to the east of the prefecture’s capital, Sendai.
  • A tsunami was sent crashing into the country’s north-eastern coast.
  • It was originally reported at a magnitude of 7.9, but later was upgraded to 8.9 and then to a 9.0.
  • It lasted 6 minutes.
  • That makes it the fifth largest recorded worldwide since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Service, larger than the 7.9-magnitude Great Kanto Earthquake that devastated Tokyo in 1923 or the 6.8 magnitude quake that hit Kobe in 1995.
  • It had 10,000 times more energy than the magnitude 6.3 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand, which struck 17 days earlier

The Cause

  • Japan is located on the east edge of the Eurasian Plate.
  • The oceanic Pacific Plate subducts (sinks under) the Eurasian Plate.
  • This plate margain is “destructive” – it is not a smooth process, friction is present and the plates stick.
  • When the plates stick, tension builds up.
  • When this pressure builds up and is released, it causes a rapid shift in the plates and a lot of energy to be release, in this case about the same as the annual energy output of the UK.


  • Japan was largely prepared for the earthquake and many buildings remained standing afterwards, but it was not prepared for the subsequent Tsunami.
  • A tsunami warning extended to at least 50 nations and territories, as far away as South America.
  • Damage was caused in Tokyo and many injuries in the north where the quake was centred
  • The yen fell sharply but recouped most of its decline several hours later. Tokyo stocks fell.
  • Local television showed smoke rising from a Tokyo port building, fire in the capital’s waterfront Odaiba district and an oil refinery ablaze in Ichihara, near Tokyo.
  • A tsunami measured at anywhere from one meter to 7.3 meters hit at various places along the coast, while a 10-meter tsunami was seen at the port in Sendai, near the epicentre.
  • Aftershocks were continuing, with one hitting magnitude 7.1, according to the USGS. Tall buildings swayed violently in central Tokyo as the aftershocks hit.
  • Immediate power outages in Tokyo and eight other prefectures reportedly affected some 4 million homes.
  • In Iwate Prefecture a bridge collapsed and a building was washed away, with boats and cars swirling around in the rising waters.
  • In Tokyo, hundreds of concerned office workers tried in vain to make calls on jammed cellphone networks, some wearing hard hats and other protective headgear. Many of them streamed out of buildings in the business district, gathering in open areas. The crowd appeared spooked by the sound of glass windows rattling in tall buildings.
  • Traders said most of the selling was offshore as Tokyo traders evacuated. The yen could be in for further declines as the scale of the damage becomes known.
  • Tokyo’s major airports halted flights, though Haneda Airport was later reported to have reopened several runways. All Tokyo area trains were halted, while the shinkansen bullet train service was suspended.
  • Water could be seen rising over cars and pouring into warehouses at Onahama port in Fukushima Prefecture, with five deaths reported in Fukushima.
  • Two nuclear plants on the Pacific coast in Fukushima were automatically shut down.
  • At Fukushima the subsequent tsunami disabled emergency generators required to cool the reactors.
  • Over the following three weeks there was evidence of a partial nuclear meltdown in units 1, 2 and 3; visible explosions, suspected to be caused by hydrogen gas, in units 1 and 3; a suspected explosion in unit 2, that may have damaged the primary containment vessel; and a possible uncovering of the units 1, 3 and 4 spent fuel pools.
  • Radiation releases caused large evacuations, concern over food and water supplies, and treatment of nuclear workers.
  • The IAEA has rated the events at level 7, the same as Chenobyl, and the highest on the scale – meaning that there is a major release of radio active material with widespread health and environmental effects.
  • The situation has been further compounded by numerous aftershocks.
  • 2,000 people confirmed dead
  • 10,000 more people expected to be confirmed dead
  • 2,000 people injured
  • 530,000 people displaced, staying in 2,500 evacuation centres, such as schools and public halls
  • 24,000 people still completely isolated and cannot be reached
  • 1.2 million homes without power
  • 1.4 million homes without water
  • 4,700 destroyed houses
  • 50,000 damaged houses
  • 582 roads cut off
  • 32 bridges destroyed


  • A Tsunami warning was issued 3 minutes after the earthquake.
  • Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who convened an emergency Cabinet meeting, urged the nation to be calm and said the government will do its utmost to minimize damage from the quake. He told a news conference a large amount of damage had occurred in the northern Tohoku region.
  • A Meteorological Agency official appeared on TV urging those affected by the quake not to return home because of possible tsunamis.
    • “In some areas we have issued a warning of tsunamis of higher than 10 meters and we expect these areas will experience the high water levels soon,” said the official. “Please stay on high alert.”
  • The governor of Miyagi Prefecture asked for Japanese military forces to be sent in to help.
  • The Defence Ministry was sending eight fighter jets to check the damage, the agency said.
  • The government set up a task force at the Prime Minister’s Office. The Bank of Japan set up a disaster control team, headed by BOJ Gov. Masaaki Shirakawa, to assess the impact of the earthquake on financial markets as well as on financial institutions’ business operations.
  • In response, 91 countries have offered aid, from blankets and food to search dogs and military transport.
  • The Japanese government is among the best prepared in the world for disasters and has so far only made specific requests for help, such as calling for search and rescue teams.
  • Several charities, including Save the Children UK, British Red Cross and World Vision UK, are asking for donations.
  • A British rescue team has arrived in Japan to join the search for survivors of the earthquake and tsunami.
  • Fifty-nine search and rescue experts, four medics and two sniffer dogs flew out on a private charter plane with 11 tonnes of equipment on board.
  • Modern innovations, such as Twitter were bringing updates on the situation far earlier than the media.


BBC – Japan In Pictures

National Geographic – Japan In Pictures

Wikipedia – Japan 2011 Earthquake & Tsunami

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Japan’s national-level disaster recovery and reconstruction policy and planning procedures consist of three stages (Table 1). In addition to the establishment of organizations, laws, and guidelines, the recovery and reconstruction process primarily involves a special zone for the reconstruction-designated supplementary budget and flexible grants and policies (stage III).
Table 1

Disaster recovery and reconstruction policy and planning stages in Japan

The Seven Principles for the Reconstruction Framework were issued by the advisory panel consisting of respected intellectuals, academics, religious figures, and elected officers (IRP et al. 2013). In June 2011, based on the final report from the Reconstruction Design Council in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, the government issued the Basic Guidelines and Basic Act on Reconstruction (GOJ 2011; Reconstruction Agency 2011; IRP et al. 2013).

Recovery and reconstruction has been promoted by various public agencies and has been administered by the MLIT (2012). These processes are applicable to many projects, such as the employment of various measures for coasts (the Sendai Airport and wastewater treatment plants), rivers (restoration of levee sections and measures against liquefaction), sewage (plant treatment and coordination of plant reconstruction with municipalities), roads (restoration of expressways and state roads and the reconstruction of 224 km roads), railways (restoration of the Sanriku Railway and the JR Sen-Seki Line), airports (quake-resistant design projects), and seaports (restoration of port facilities), and act as measures against sediment disasters in risk areas (MLIT 2012). The MLIT also assisted with other projects, such as the promotion of town reconstructions (MLIT 2012).

The MLIT promoted a steady recovery and reconstruction process that should be carefully planned and implemented because they will represent the recovery and reconstruction model for future disasters. “Steady” indicates slowly but surely. Miyagi Prefecture included a detailed protection plan for a 100-year tsunami (IRP et al. 2013).

The OCD developed in this study is shown in Fig. 1. The elementary actor roles include a recovery manager (A1), a situation checker (A3), a recovery executor (A4), a reconstruction manager (A5), and a surveyor (A6), whereas the composite actor roles include a decision maker (CA2), a budget provider (CA7), a consultant (CA8), a construction business (CA9), and a reconstruction executor (CA10). The recovery and reconstruction process begins from the recovery management transaction (T1) executed by the recovery manager (A1). A1 can access the disaster data (AT1), which are the damage and loss records reported by each public agency. The results of this transaction prompt the decision maker (CA2) to consider the need for recovery or reconstruction. In the case of recovery, A1 requests the situation checker (A3) to assess the condition of a real location. Then, A3 requests the recovery executor (A4) to recover (T4) the specific area. Once T4 is completed, T3 is also completed. In the case of reconstruction, A1 requests that the reconstruction manager (A5) complete the reconstruction project (T5). Because the reconstruction case is more extensive than the recovery case, other transactions are included in the root transaction T5. First, A5 requests that the surveyor (A6) survey the conditions of the assigned location. Next, A5 requests four composite (external) actor roles to execute four transactions: a budget provider (CA7) to provide the budget (T7) for the reconstruction project, a consultant (CA8) for project consultations (T8), a construction business (CA9) to participate in procurement (T9), and a reconstruction executor (CA10) to reconstruct the assigned project (T10).

Areas that experienced minor damage were recovered via the urgent removal of debris, whereas others required additional effort for reconstruction. Based on the interviews, the scope of interest (SoIRecovery_and_Reconstruction_Process) containing T3 and T4 cannot be fixed because each area utilizes different operational procedures. In certain areas, both of these techniques were implemented by public agencies of the MLIT. Simultaneously, several areas hired local construction businesses, which are considered to be actor roles from other agencies that only participated in the recovery execution or both the situation assessment and the recovery execution (that is, only T1 was solely executed by government agencies). Thus, the SoIRecovery_and_Reconstruction_Process is dependent on the disaster area conditions. From the perspective of process management, this SoI differs from the SoI of typical business processes because the recovery and reconstruction process entails large-scale efforts that encompass a variety of conditions.

Recovery and reconstruction projects have been ongoing since 2011. As of 2013, a majority of the plans had been completed. Based on the interviewees’ opinions, these processes are being performed nearly three-times faster than for typical reconstruction projects.

Several problems have been encountered in the recovery and reconstruction projects, such as the “lack of technical experts and technicians”; “shortages in materials, including liquid concrete and etc.”; and “difficulties in acquiring bidders for projects and obtaining land” (MLIT 2013, p. 107). Moreover, a lack of prior agreement regarding intercity recovery and reconstruction collaboration was noted. The projects can continue because all actor roles operate under the same chain of command (GOJ and MLIT) and are governed by the guidelines and laws (Basic Guidelines for Reconstruction in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Basic Act on Reconstruction in Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake) that were established to place the municipalities and residents at the center of the recovery and reconstruction process and to increase coordination among many organizations (IRP et al. 2013).

Another vital role of the MLIT is the Liaison Council for Smooth Execution of Recovery and Reconstruction Projects (MLIT 2012). The liaisons have been established to help each organization communicate, update, share, and gather information and progress because these organizations are very busy conducting their duties. As a result, each actor role can understand the progress and status of other actor roles. Consistent with Marjanovic and Hallikainen (2013), this vital role has enhanced the efficiency of the total collaboration by enabling a mutual understanding of the recovery and reconstruction process.


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