Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 13, 2011

Japan at the 48 hour threshold

Filed under: Catastrophes — by Philip J. Palin on March 13, 2011

Today —  Sunday afternoon in Japan — the crisis will pass through the much discussed 48 hour mark.

There have been more than 250 aftershocks, including 29 exceeding 6.0 on the Richter scale.  The original earthquake has now been recalculated at 9.0 on the Richter.

The death toll is still unclear, but over 10,000 has emerged as a consensus estimate.  According to Nikkei, “”We have no choice but to deal with the situation on the premise that it (the death toll) will undoubtedly be numbered in the ten thousands,” Naoto Takeuchi, head of the Miyagi prefectural police.”

The 350,000-450,000 evacuees (reports disagree on the number) generated by the earthquake and tsunami have been joined by at least 180,000 displaced by the threat of nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima plants. NHK has learned that over 313,000 people were taking refuge at around 1,850 evacuation centers as of 8 PM Sunday.  Last night the temperature was below freezing across northeastern Japan, similar night-time temperatures are forecast for the remainder of the week.  A new cool front with rain, sometimes heavy, and snow showers is also forecast for tonight.

According to Yomiuri on Sunday, “the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said that water supply was cut off in at least 1.4 million households in 16 prefectures.”

According to TEPCO, “about 270,000 households in the Ibaraki, Tochigi and Chiba areas were without power on Sunday, down from some 4 million immediately after the quake.”  Other reports indicate that as of Sunday morning (Japan time) 1.4 million households nationwide are without electricity.

According to some estimates electric power generation capacity in Honshu (the principal Japanese island) is about 60 percent of normal. Planned brown-outs for a wide area — including Tokyo — are being announced for Monday, in an effort to avoid a more serious uncontrolled blackout.  According to NHK, “Trade and industry minister Banri Kaieda says TEPCO’s current capacity is 31 million kilowatts per day, which is 10 million kilowatts short of the (typical) daily demand of 41 million kilowatts.”

Communications outages include 475,400 fiber-optic lines, 879,500 subscribed phone lines, and  11,400 cell towers and other base stations.  In some cases the outage totals are climbing as telecoms get a better handle on the situation.

Fuel capacity has been cut by at least 20 percent.  Several refineries have been closed or have cut-back on operations.  For example, according to Reuters, “JX Holdings has declared force majeure on its refined product supplies as its stocks were depleted and distributions were disrupted. The company said it was working to boost output at its refineries that were still operating and diverting products to domestic use instead of exports to meet a supply shortfall.”  Demand for fuel oil — especially Low Sulfur Fuel Oil (LSFO), used by power plants — is expected to surge to replace power capacity lost because of nuclear power shutdowns.  Most East Asian LSFO is sourced from Brazil’s Petrobras, but some additional capacity may be possible from Indonesia.

Transportation into the impact zone continues to be seriously complicated by the earthquake/tsunami destruction of roads, bridges, ports ,and air fields.

Several news reports indicate surging demand for bottled water, food, and other essential supplies even in Tokyo and other cities outside the principal impact zone.   Some of this reflects anxiety related to possible after-shocks and thereby on supply chain disruptions (see one story from the Wall Street Journal). This hoarding effect is disrupting some local supply capabilities.  But so far food shortages are anecdotal and no systemic impact on capacity is anticipated.  In an especially promising sign, late Sunday a large supermarket in Sendai, closest to the epicenter, reopened.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake all Japanese ports were closed to assess damage and mitigate consequences.  Reports are mixed on when port operations will resume and at what capacity.  According to the Wall Street Journal, “In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, some manufacturers and analysts have worried about the short-term drying up of orders from Japan as it wrestles with failed communications networks and the scope of the catastrophe. As plants across Japan slowed or shuttered operations, worry over supply-chain disruptions have also mounted. In the longer term, orders could increase as Japan ramps up imports related to rebuilding efforts.”

In an unprecedented step, 100,000 members of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces have joined the rescue effort.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 13, 2011 @ 7:56 am

Damage assessment is a highly technical discipline including the related economic modeling. FEMA was heavily criticized in Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and again in Hurricane Katrina in 2005 for faulty damage assessment. All economic modeling capability in FEMA was ended in the Reagan Administration.
We are about to see what happens when the world’s 2nd or 3rd largest economy is knocked off status for response and recovery for some period of time. So far the US is pretending that this situation will be fixed fast by the competence of the Japanese government. In fact given limited mass care–food,shelter,energy, medical that is available on HONSHU Island itself this event will require IMO the full resources of Japan to recover from for the next two years. The contamination and other environmental threats already make this one of the world’s largest envrionmental disasters. So far the US leadership has shown almost no ability to understand the implications of this event for the US much less for Japan.
Again I guess the Haiti earthquake was prologue and that was only 700 miles offshore not 7,000 miles across the Pacific.
The US will be helping some but not to the extent Japan has needs. Focus on military/civil cooperation and collaboration which was not great in the KOBE earthquake for how it plays out.

Unlike the Nuclear Regulatory Commission which assumes that there will be a nuclear accident [the so-called Rasmussen Report better known as WASH-1100 repudiated as to probability but not consequences] Japan has operated under no such regulatory guidance. NUREG-0654 the joint off-site plannng guidance utilized by both FEMA and NRC is premised on an accident occuring. Well, it did not take the 10,000 years of the Rasmussen report to document another core melt accident.
It always will fascinate me that the spectacular tradgedy at the WTC in 1993 and 2001 could have had different implications if that targeting had been a nuclear facility. The planes in 2001 both flew over the Indian Point Nuclear Power Station in Westchester County.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 13, 2011 @ 9:23 am

Hoping this blog which has shown an interest in “resilience” as well as DHS observers focus heavily on the impacts on resilience of a tightly coupled economy and culture as Japan works its way through the turmoil of the Tsunami and earthquake. Now a large after shock seems reasonable to expect in next few days.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

March 13, 2011 @ 12:48 pm

Thanks Phil and excellent augmentation Bill.

This is a tremendous learning opportunity for us. Capturing yesterday’s comments and today’s as they unfold should remind us how fragile and at the same time how resilient we can be.

With some scattered reporting of a second nuclear event unfolding we are witnessing one of our worst case scenarios.

If Bill is accurate in his assessment, as I believe him to be, that “we are about to see what happens when the world’s 2nd or 3rd largest economy is knocked off status for response and recovery for some period of time” and that we are pretending it will all get better is as reckless a disposition as we’ve witnessed.

Should terrorism be the primary threat to and focus of homeland security?

The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the third largest earthquake in recorded history caused a huge tsunami with a cost in lives of at least 229,000 people. The 2005 Kashmir earthquake, cost 79,000 lives in Pakistan.

The May 12, 2008 Sichuan earthquake in Sichuan Province, China had a death toll that was over 61,150.

The 2010 Haiti earthquake had the Haitian government report that an estimated 316,000 people had died, 300,000 had been injured and 1,000,000 made homeless.

Floods in Pakistan, earthquakes in Iran, cyclones in the far east…these are only a few of the world wide incidents that continue to demonstrate nature trumps our desires to tame it.

Phil was right yesterday. We can mitigate some of this carnage by embracing all we’ve learned about prevention, mitigiation, risk management etc.

Millions of people are dying due to natures fury. How many had to is our opportunity to build resilience.

We’ll also see the global impact of the interruption of an economy and a supply chain.

It would seem to me that the lack of surge capacity, both in terms of economic capability and supply side logistics could prove very challenging to overcome.

We must learn and adapt. This is an opportunity to once again learn at the unfortunate expense of others. If we do not, our time will come and all the opportunities we’ve had to shape and develop our resilience will be for naught.

Comment by william R. Cumming

March 13, 2011 @ 4:18 pm

Claire B. Rubin, who runs the Recovery Diva blog will be interviewed at 6 AM Monday EST on damage assessment and economic impacts during the recovery phase.

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