Local Government Responses to the Great East Japan Earthquake

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1 Local Government Responses to the Great East Japan Earthquake Takehiko Imai, Counselor of the Information Policy Department, Sendai City Most of the speeches today started with the speaker relating how they were affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and subsequent tsunami. I would like to change the focus. A lot of the materials and reports on the disaster start with a description of the damage, such as houses that collapsed and areas where everything was swept away. However, the people who lived there had been carrying on with their daily lives in those places before the disaster and had built their communities and traditions there. Suddenly they lost all the things that they had enjoyed. We must clearly understand the current circumstances in which they find themselves and from which they have to recover. (P.2 of the Material) This table shows data on the damage caused by the disaster. Compared with the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the Great East Japan Earthquake had a much more severe impact. The tsunami caused not only flooding but also damaged buildings, especially houses. Many houses were partly or completely destroyed. In the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, houses collapsed as if they had been squashed. In the Great East Japan Earthquake, most houses that were partly or completely destroyed suffered damage to pillars or beams inside. (P.3 of the Material) This table gives a comparison of the damage caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake with that caused by the 1978 Miyagi Earthquake. Although the Miyagi Earthquake had been the largest natural disaster that Sendai City had suffered, the Great East Japan Earthquake caused incomparably greater damage. About 100,000 people were evacuated. (P.4-5 of the Material) Let me explain the damage to Sendai City. Since Sendai City has a long coastline unlike Tagajo City in the previous presentation, a wide area of our city was affected by the tsunami. The tsunami reached up to 5 km inland from the coast. (P.6-7 of the Material) Sendai City suffered landslides at housing sites in addition to damage from the tsunami. The landslides occurred mainly at housing sites that were built around It affected up to about 2,000 houses, although this number is less than those affected by the tsunami. As these pictures show, houses collapsed or were pushed over and roads were destroyed by landslides. (P.8 of the Material) Major damage to public facilities includes destruction of a factory that refines liquefied natural gas (LNG) into city gas on the coast. A sewage treatment facility was also severely damaged. (P.9 of the Material) A dozen elementary and junior-high schools were damaged. In some of them, the structure sheared as shown in the pictures, and they are still unusable

2 (P.10 of the Material) Let me explain the situation in the city on the day when the earthquake occurred. This picture shows the sewage treatment facility in Gamo about 500 m inland from the coast that I mentioned before. This facility used to be in a relaxed and tranquil environment. (P.11 of the Material) This picture was taken from the top of the facility immediately after the earthquake. As you can see, city officials could do nothing but watch the tsunami surging. About 100 people were cut off in the facility and spent the night filled with fear and anxiety. The next day, we were saved by helicopters and managed to return to City Hall. Since the officials who were evacuated from the facility did not know about the circumstances in other areas, we thought that we would be able to go home soon. However, we were allotted other jobs and kept working for a while. The situation in the city soon became clear; it was too chaotic for us to leave behind. All the officials in City Hall were in a whirl, running on their business throughout the city as well as City Hall. (P.12 of the Material) Next I will describe the condition of the information systems. There was no damage to servers and other equipment even after the earthquake thanks to the disaster preparations that we had made. Since the power was cut off, we shut down the servers after making a backup of the data. We resumed systems operation step by step after the power was restored on March 13. (P.13 of the Material) With the voice communication system, we had trouble connecting outside calls, although we had no problems at first with internal calls thanks to the Internet Protocol (IP) phone service that connected sections in City Hall. However, as the battery in our non-interruptible power supply system ran out, internal lines became partially disconnected. Voice communication systems were not recovered completely until March 21 after the power was restored. (P.14 of the Material) The server for the city s official website was in the building of an Internet service provider (ISP) in Sendai. After the disaster, the ISP s Internet exchange point with Tokyo was disconnected and the website became inaccessible. As a countermeasure, we established a temporary server in one of the ISP s data centers in Tokyo to continue operation of the website. The website returned to normal around March 15. distribution service was also helpful. We received many requests from residents to provide information about restoration of lifelines. There were many requests for information on when the city s gas supplies would be resumed. The city s gas supply was suspended throughout the service area for safety after the disaster. Before resuming the gas supply, checks to ensure that there was no damage to gas pipes were carried out in every area and after each area was checked, checks were - 2 -

3 also made to ensure that there was no damage to gas appliances in each household. To check the appliances, gas service personnel needed to visit every household. The city government informed residents of the schedule of the gas service personnel s visit to residents on its website. Since the information was announced on the website as late as 20:00 before the day scheduled for the visit, many residents made inquiries about when service personnel would visit their homes. We responded to these requests using an distribution service. As a result, the number of addresses registered for the service drastically increased from about 3,000 to 15,000. (P.15 of the Material) Naturally, there were lots of tasks that city officials had to deal with after the disaster. We were occupied with life saving and first aid and setting up shelters immediately after the earthquake and tsunami. A week later, clerical tasks related to support for disaster victims such as issuing Disaster Victim Certificates increased. Although we looked for a system that would work well for those tasks, we could not find one that met our requirements. Therefore, we modified existing systems that were separately managed by different departments or developed a simple program to meet our requirements. (P.16 of the Material) Sendai City received only relatively light damage to its Information and Communication Technology (ICT). The biggest issue was electricity. Taking the situations in other municipalities into account, we can see that this disaster was characterized by the following things in terms of local government s ICT. Firstly, some municipalities were plunged into a state where there were no administrative functions because their buildings or information systems were damaged in the disaster. Secondly, power supplies and communication networks were cut off in some areas for a prolonged period of time. Thirdly, the need for administrative work including issuing Disaster Victim Certificates and establishing shelters rapidly increased in a way typical of a post-disaster scenario. What measures should local governments take to cope with the situation? When a local government loses its administrative functions, the municipality cannot recover from the disaster. Therefore, creating a framework to restore the administrative functions of local government is needed in order to prepare for the situation where they lose most of their functions. Furthermore, the framework must always be ready for use when a disaster occurs. Frameworks to secure an alternative communications network that links City Hall, the disaster countermeasures office or other major facilities with shelters or branch offices and channels to access the outside such as the Internet and systems that use cloud computing must be prepared in case those systems become unusable. Preparing a system to assist with administrative work for the recovery in an SaaS model would be - 3 -

4 effective because many tasks required during the reconstruction period are suited to formalization and a large part of those tasks may be common between different local governments. (P.17 of the Material) What should we do to establish workable frameworks to restore the functions of local government? First, training for officials in normal times and establishing an information system to assist with administrative tasks in an emergency are needed so that they can be smoothly deployed in areas affected by a disaster. A more severely damaged municipality needs personnel who can cover a broader range of business. If personnel with no skills or knowledge were deployed to support restoration activities, they would be of no help. Human resources required in an area affected by a disaster must be trained people. In addition, they should be people who have expertise in constructing temporary city offices and other facilities and who have the skills needed to establish an information system. These frameworks are difficult for a municipal government to establish on their own, and not all municipalities need them. Therefore, I think that the Government should take responsibility for establishing those kinds of frameworks. (P.18 of the Material) How can we develop a communications network urgently in the areas affected by a disaster? Mobile phones will work as the base of the network. First, a specific frequency band should be secured in advance as a line dedicated for emergency use. Mobile base stations of mobile communications providers should be used to connect the network using this emergency band as needed when a disaster occurs. I heard that providers are planning to strengthen the functions of their mobile base stations to cope with disasters like the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami. It is important that these base stations can be shared across provider borders. In some areas, communications networks do not work without using satellites due to their topographic characteristics. A framework that works in these areas needs to be prepared to respond promptly to a disaster like the Great East Japan Earthquake. The network should connect to cloud computing systems as well as the Internet. It would be difficult to establish a communications channel with a capacity of 1 Gbps, especially with satellite communications. However, I strongly recommend preparing some form of framework. (P.19 of the Material) I think that procedures for the tasks needed when a disaster occurs are suited to formalization because many of the tasks are common among local governments throughout the nation

5 Almost 300 officials were sent to Sendai City from other local governments to support us. However, they had to return to their home municipalities after a period of between three to seven days. This meant that they returned just as they became familiar with the work here. I hope that a manual of work required after an earthquake will be prepared, and that a useful SaaS-model system will be provided. The Local Authorities Systems Development Center (LASDEC) provides an open-source administrative work assistance system. However, if we use it in City Hall in Sendai City, procedures such as procuring servers with a capacity that can handle the required volumes of data, installing the operating system and other systems on our PCs and preparing data on one million people are required. In addition, it costs money to procure servers. The Great East Japan Earthquake was in the largest class of disasters that occur only once in a millennium. It is very difficult for local governments to prepare a system that will be able to prepare for a disaster that could occur at anytime. Therefore the Government should take the responsibility of preparing and providing it. The system s effectiveness can be regularly verified; local governments can train their officials to make them familiar with the system by actually using the system. These trained officials can be sent to an area affected by a disaster easily to support the local government and launch their support activities efficiently. Although we do not know in what direction the ISN s activities will go, I would like to provide opportunities like this conference to share information on recovering from disasters. Lastly, I agree with other lecturers when they say that we could not reach this stage without the support that all of you extended to us. I would like to take this occasion to express my deepest appreciation to you all and ask for your continued support in helping the disaster-stricken areas to recover, even though it could take us several decades. Thank you

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