Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS - 2011, Hull, UK, Proceedings of the 55th Annual Meeting of the ISSS

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The Great East Japan Earthquake

Colin Harrison


The frequency of natural disasters has increased sharply in the last 50 years and their impact - in terms of societies disrupted, the destruction of the productive capacity of land and waters and of public and private property, and beyond - grows faster with increasing densification and globalization of our societies. The Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011 exemplifies all of these problems. How do we put society back together after an event of this kind in the age of information and globalization? Japan’s culture strongly emphasizes inclusiveness, debate, and consensus and today we see the nation moving onward from disaster response and restoration and toward the planning of the reconstruction.
This work is based on personal experience, beginning on March 11, 2011, of the opinions, challenges and approaches across Japanese society, which are compounded by a long period of economic stagnation. The paper will describe and illustrate the major impacts of the March 11th event and the methods employed during the response and restoration phases to secure the refugees and later to move them to more stable environments. Japan is now beginning a long and complex debate from the level of villages up to the central government about how to reconstruct the society and indeed what kind of society to reconstruct. Opinions vary from “re-build it as it was” to “a chance to re-invent Japan”. Cities and citizens are beginning the deliberative dialogues and the complexity of the decision-making begins to appear.
The March 11th earthquake and tsunami heavily damaged a region that takes part in both global industrial and food supply chains and the event serves to underline the global inclusiveness that will be an increasing characteristic of major disasters. From radiation hazards, to food safety and GDP impacts, nations around the world feel that they are stakeholders in this event. We also see that information technologies can serve to increase the resilience of society but also introduce new risks. The notion of “Design for Resilience” emerges. Perhaps too we need some supra-national processes – akin to the roles played by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in stabilizing the global financial systems – to stabilize public safety, health, and industry.

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