Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 17, 2011

Tohoku Quake: Five stages of grief initially observed

Filed under: Catastrophes,Strategy — by Philip J. Palin on March 17, 2011

Stage 1 Hazard: 9.0 earthquake.

Vulnerability: Collapse of structures and infrastructures, killing and injuring the inhabitants and complicating recovery.

Consequence in Tohoku Quake: Remarkable physical resilience as a result of mitigation strategy (zoning, building codes, construction practices, public education, and public exercises).  Most structures and infrastructures survived at least long-enough for inhabitants to relocate.

Stage 2 Hazard (caused by stage 1): tsunami.

Vulnerability: Drowning, further destruction of structures and infrastructures.

Consequence in Tohoku Quake: Extraordinarily successful self-evacuation in roughly 25 minutes immediately following quake.  According to  an analysis completed yesterday by the European Commission-Joint Research Center, over 1.4 million were residing in the area inundated by the tsunami.  While the 10,000 plus dead expected is a horrific toll, the fact that so many escaped in such a short period of time is testimony to the culture of preparedness cultivated in the communities at risk of tsunami.

Stage 3 Hazard (caused by stages 1 and 2): Failure of critical infrastructures and key supply chains.

Vulnerability: Reduced access to water, food, pharmaceuticals, medical care, shelter, power, fuel and other human essentials.

Consequence in the Tohoku Quake: Ongoing.  The nuclear emergency is a very dramatic example.  But over the last six days an even more direct influence has been the reduced supplies of gasoline due to quake-induced fires at large oil refineries and the absence — or precarious condition — of the electrical grid.  Six refineries were shut down after the quake. Two are expected to resume operations within a few days, and another is scheduled to restart by the end of the month.  The loss of roughly 25 percent of electric capacity — including that at the Fukushima plants — will be difficult to restore in the near-term. Further, while the highway and other transportation systems by-in-large did not collapse, they did suffer enough damage to seriously complicate resupply efforts.  As a result, in the Tohoku region most impacted by stages 1 and 2 at least 500,000 evacuees and up to six million survivors have been left largely to whatever happened to be at hand.  One example, as of Wednesday night the Prime Minister’s office was reporting that 483,550 meals have been delivered to the affected areas.  Compare that supply to demand.  At least 1.6 million households are without water. (See related Wall Street Journal report.)

Stage 4 Hazard (complicated but, in my opinion, not entirely caused by Stages 1-3): Inability to surge support and supplies.

Vulnerability: See Stage 3.  Immediate related factors include a significant cold-front that extends from Tokyo north, further straining the electric grid.  Late Thursday in Japan the Prime Minister essentially asked the residents of Tokyo to turn off their heat to avoid a spontaneous black-out.

Consequence in the Tohoku Quake: At this date and from this distance I do not want to claim premature confidence in what I am perceiving. But from what I am being told by people on the ground the strategic capacity for significant additional supplies exist.  But in addition to the quake-and-tsunami related complications, at least three other possible culprits have emerged:

1.  Tuesday the Japanese Department of Social Services actually ordered a “pause” in resupply to the Northeast because the DSS was not sure the supply was going to the right places and it did not have “precise information” or a “holistic picture.”  (I might curse, but have forgotten the nihongo curse words I once knew.)  As a US colleague remarked, “leadership craving better situational awareness is the universal problem.”

2.  For two days I have been hearing rumors that trucks have been held back from going into Tohoku because they don’t have reasonable assurance of being refueled to get out.  While not a trivial problem, there are practical work-arounds available.  Thursday morning the President of the largest Japanese business association is quoted as saying, “Though companies are trying to send relief supplies, they cannot secure fuel for returning,” Yonekura said, stressing that gasoline stations along expressways and supply roads are in need of swift supplies of gasoline.”

3.  Credentialing and perimeter control are, of course, causing problems.  From this distance I don’t know if the credentialing is especially egregious or just standard (if often stupid).  But I do perceive that in a reasonable effort to avoid prospective harm, real harm is being done. The capabilities of suppliers, truckers, and private citizens to contribute to supply and support are being actively suppressed. There are contexts when strategies of command, control, and containment are self-defeating (an assertion needing much more support, perhaps tomorrow).

As a result, millions are thirsty, hungry, and cold. Millions more are increasingly uncertain regarding their own near-term prospects.

Stage 5 Hazard (caused by Stage 4): Shadow evacuation

Vulnerability: Relocation of hundreds-of-thousands — perhaps millions — who might have been supplied at or near their homes is a further threat to critical infrastructure and key supply-chains, essentially extending the geographic scope of Stages 3 and 4.

Consequence in the Tohoku Quake: The nuclear emergency has added at least 180,000 to the evacuee population needing support.   What is now beginning to happen across Fukushima Prefecture and the Kanto region (Metropolitan Tokyo) is an emerging exodus southwest.  The fear of radiation, lack of essential supplies, and doubt that conditions will improve anytime soon is unfolding farther and deeper… physically, socially, psychologically.

Even as we do as much as possible to help the Japanese, I hope we will also be self-critical in learning what we can from this extraordinary event.  In my judgment the Japanese were/are much better prepared than the United States for an event of this magnitude.   In a similar event here, I perceive most of the Japanese problems would be magnified.  While the US would also apply some unique strengths, we have more than our share of unique weaknesses.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2011 @ 3:25 pm

Terrific post. At least in Japan there is not a residuum of resorting to personal weaponary to garner resources as might occur in the USA.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 17, 2011 @ 7:17 pm

I am sensing that the US is getting frustrated with information filtered through Japanese government as pass through for TEMP? Any one else have this feeling? Some indications of US bypassing for direct information gathering? U-2?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 18, 2011 @ 6:08 am

Bill, both a U2 and a drone have been/will be used to gather information. This information is being shared bilaterally. Frustration is a perpetual characteristic of US-Japan relations, even in the best of times. A fundamental Japanese strength is a patient persistent building of consensus for sustained action. A fundamental American strength is a creative, urgent openness and response to change. (These stereotypes have clear limitations but are also grounded in some clear realities.) The intersection of these differences can complement each, but even with care and the best intent on each side collisions also occur.

Comment by US Policy, Japan & the World

March 18, 2011 @ 7:42 am

The US has no business publicly circumventing the Japanese government for it is the people of Japan who look too their leadership at this time of desperation and We need not make any public comments or disagree in any way with their government making any such comments/perceptions available to the press – We have an utterly inexperienced WH and the same with the press corps who combined have never experienced much grief in their own lives, never mind being subjected to such devastation!

Until we get our own house in order on both sides of the aisle, keep tight lips and do whatever we can to help the god people of Japan, however keep in mind, we are a bankrupt nation and it is time to take a hard look at the monies we are sending everywhere including financial aid we send to China – We are sending monies to China like so many other countries who go out of their way to interfere w/our interests and We give aid to China, China who we are so indebted to? Question, while the Marxists and Rev Wright et al seek to give a nod of approval to the “Brutes of Tehran” and depict such anti-sem, who is running this nation ? This Goldman Sachs administration and this partisanship on the Congressional floor must cease – We cannot even afford to keep our government functioning with threat of closing down….Wake up!

Help the Japanese as much as possible, however at $100 million and printing the same every month to sustain our own bankruptcy as a result of ineptness in every way, careful – it may be us soon who will be standing in the soup lines eating noodles and not because of Mother Nature’s wrath, but by our own hand !

God Bless the people of Haiti, Japan and all of us –

Christopher Tingus


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