Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

March 21, 2011

Learning lessons from Japan: Give priority to physiological needs before safety needs

Filed under: Catastrophes,Preparedness and Response — by Philip J. Palin on March 21, 2011

An impression: Delivery of water, food, and medicine to  survivors of the earthquake-and-tsunami has been reduced and delayed because the government has been more concerned with coordination and order than supplying their citizens.

I do not have the evidence needed to confidently make this assertion.  I am seeking evidence to either deny it or confirm it.

Some quotes:

“Takahiro Saito, 28, from the disaster-ravaged city of Sendai… said that government organized relief has been too  slow and private efforts to deliver supplies cannot succeed because the military has closed major roads and highways to all but emergency personnel.” (Washington Post)

“Petrol was diverted to the emergency relief effort. No fuel was made available to civilians. Only state vehicles could access the pumps.” (unattributed from the BBC)

The President of the largest, arguably most influential, Japanese business association: “Though companies are trying to send relief supplies, they cannot secure fuel for returning.” (Kyodo News Service)

“The expressways are practically empty, just SDF caravans and police.” (Private conversation regarding situation in Miyagi Prefecture)

“They (the government) are totally ignoring well-established private logistics and doing a horrible job of trying to replace it.” (Private conversation with colleague in Tokyo)

“Many relief supplies offered by food makers and other firms to areas struck by last week’s devastating earthquake in northeastern and eastern Japan have not yet been delivered… The situation was attributable to confusion in commodity distribution and difficulties in making arrangements between the government and quake-hit areas… Relief supplies are sent by the government through arrangements with the Self-Defense Forces and others after checking lists for such supplies and demand from quake-hit areas. Executives at manufacturers complained about the government’s sloppy responses to offers of their firms’ relief supplies to the quake-hit areas.” (Kyodo News Agency)

According to the March 21 OCHA Summary:

More than 350,000 evacuees continue to endure cold weather at shelters in 16 prefectures… 244,000 households remain without electricity
(601,000 people). Access to water is still a concern however and 1 million households (2.4 million people) remain without water across 11 Prefectures… To date, the Japan Self Defence Force has delivered approximately 379,928 meals, 1,370 kg of rice, and 52,146 canned foods, 19,889 litres of drinking water, 4,720 blankets and 46,580 litres of fuel. The Force has also provided bathing services to 5,424 persons.

Please consider the number of evacuees, the number of those sheltering-in-place, and the number of days since the quake.  Compare this level of demand to the reported supply.  This is not in any way a criticism of the effort and efficiency of the SDF.  I am asking a question of strategy, not of tactics.

There are certainly a range of causes contributing to slow and insufficient supplies: quake and tsunami damaged infrastructure, fear of radiation (one of the principal supply lines into the impact area runs through the radiation exclusion zone), reduced availability of fuel, and more.

But the anecdotal evidence is simply becoming too great to any longer under-play the potential role of perimeter-power.  My immediate concern is for the Japanese survivors. But I am also concerned about lessons-learned for the US and others.  Too often when government is unable to do much of anything else, it can impose a rigorous perimeter… so it does.

What are you seeing, hearing, and reading? If you have other evidence, please use the comment function.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

March 21, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

A friend’s son Jeffery Hall has an English language blog in Japan where he has been the last seven years and now a Doctoral candidate at Wasada Univeristy. The blog is called Japanprobe.com and has some material relevant and material to your request PHIL!
In war and disasters logistics, logistics, logistics is very important. Because FEMA was not founded as an operational organization but one that gave money and information out to the STATES and their subgrantees their Local Governments it was not until Hurricane Andrew in August 1992 that some in FEMA began to see that neither the STATES nor their Local governments would create logistical systems that required funding and personnel for whlat they considered low probability events. Thus the notion that the WALMARTS of the world and private supply chains might in fact have some of the answers. With prior emphasis logistical systems are difficult to gear up in catastrophic situations. IMO of course.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 21, 2011 @ 5:19 pm

Phil! Americans are pretty mobile normally even though the transportation dependent are growing rapidly in numbers. Are there statistics for the transportation dependent in the impacted areas? Could there be a large-scale evacution, or is there something in Japanese culture that restricts mobility and in particular largely rural areas along the coast?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 21, 2011 @ 5:48 pm

Bill, I’m not sure if I am following your question, but an attempted response: About 76 percent of all Japanese households own a private car. The ownership rate is much higher outside the urban area. I don’t know the specific rate of car ownership in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima prefectures, but I would be pretty confident it is 95 percent plus. Mobility in and out of the most affected area has been constrained by infrastructure damage, debris, reduced availability of gasoline, and perimeter-power.

If you are surprised there has not been a spontaneous mass evacuation from the region I will offer three inputs: 1) In the case of the tsunami zone many survivors followed instructions to walk to high ground or a high building. Their vehicles were washed away. 2) In the case of the wider earthquake zone, most are continuing to reside in their (cold and dark, but their own) homes and are uncomfortable but not in immediate danger. 3) When Americans are surveyed regarding their own evacuation plans they indicate a strong preference for remaining within 20-to-50 miles from home. I expect this sentiment would be even stronger among most Japanese.

As noted in a couple of posts, last week there appeared to be a growing threat of a significant shadow evacuation of the Tokyo region. But by Friday/Saturday this trend — at least temporarily — had stepped back. What happened: The emperor’s speech? Perceived progress on the nuclear emergency? Success in stopping the threatened spontaneous blackout? I don’t know.

Comment by William R. Cumming

March 21, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

Thanks Phil! Very helpful!

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 22, 2011 @ 9:31 am

From the March 22 OCHA Situation Report 11:

“Local media says people who are living in their homes are not receiving relief items as distribution of relief items has been prioritized for the evacuation centres. People who are still able to live in their homes still require assistance as they have no access to food, water and basic supplies.”

“About 90 percent of the national highways that had been damaged by the earthquake and tsunami are now open to the public. Bus companies are also operating again. Roads are no longer restricted to emergency vehicles only, and trucks, buses and taxis will be able to use them from the 22 March. The improvement in connectivity has enabled commercial shipping companies to resume services in Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata.”

No mention of Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima implies commercial shipping continues to be excluded from the most affected zone.

Comment by Dan O'Connor

March 22, 2011 @ 10:20 am

I have often made the argument in presentations and discussions that effective emergency management or approaches to crisis should follow Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. Phil’s accompanying illustration is just that. My argument has been to invert Maslow….and have practitioners, emergency planners self actualize by providing those in need with their physiological needs; air, water, and food are metabolic necessities mandated by our being for survival. In addition as we cascade up the continuum, clothing, shelter and removal from elements continues as part of the self actualization. It is a necessity for both physiological and mental health to complete these tasks.

From there we could address and provide the safety sought after a crisis; in growing concentric circles, personal safety and security, familial and tribal safety and security, and than physical security. As some predictable order is restored, so than will predictable behavior be restored.

I would make the case that this is the essence of resilience and should be the backbone of planning and response.

The National Preparedness Leadership Initiative, a joint venture a Joint Program of the Harvard School of Public Health and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University discusses this necessity in their META leadership model (http://tinyurl.com/4qjgktq) .

In their META LEADERSHIP model there is great emphasis place on emotional intelligence and the necessity to actuate self awareness and self-regulation. So there in some sense a necessity for successful response to be linked to actualizing and then again linked to the inverted Maslow hierarchy I previously mentioned.

The capacity to confront fear, which they call the emotional “basement”, is in essence, our most primitive needs and fears immediately realized.

Meta-leaders lead themselves and others out of the “basement” to higher levels of thinking and functioning. So is this then a meta leadership/actualization relationship?

From another perspective; my wife and students from the high school she works at has been around the world doing a variety of humanitarian assistance work. Their teams methodology is simple and overlaps elegantly over the same precept discussed here.

In order to help people, one must meet their physical needs first before addressing their spiritual/other needs. “THEY” cannot hear your words over the roar of their stomachs and fear of continuing danger.

So, to Phil’s point; it is counter intuitive, logically, spiritually, and physiologically to attempt to create order when people are thirsty, hungry, cold, and unprotected. And from a purely “no brainer” point of view- There’s no way to restore order if these pre existing conditions exist. In my view, just the opposite happens; civil disorder, disharmony, and finally cooperation disappear.
I think this is why the model must change. The Governments need to restore order is a self appointed construct requirement, not an immediately necessary one. It is also a primary/secondary issue. This is the “72” hour self reliant window as well. When a complex system is disrupted, discovery of the disconnects will not be obvious.

At best, order and needs restoration can be a near simultaneous one, but the complexity that has evolved in a just in the time logistics world and highly bureaucratized and overly constructed sub optimized governmental apparatus has a direct impact on both desires.

Too big to fail means big almost always fails… Within the last 18 months we’ve had significant catastrophic events. What have we learned from Haiti and currently Japan? What will we capture, in terms of preparation, resilience, and response to make our inevitable catastrophe a little less painful and a little more effective?

Comment by America: Its Tsunami -- "The Doomed Kingdom of Belshazaar"

March 22, 2011 @ 10:29 am

I shudder to think what would take place here on Main Street USA if fellow Americans were subjected to not only the elements, but to the inconvenience of an actual earthquake or tsunami of such devastating proportions simply because we have seen even with a few hours w/o electricity from a local thunderstorm rolling through or a wind-whipped nor’easter…such frustration…such impatience.

Well, once again, it is time for more community shelters filled with supplies (MRE’s and other) as we are being challenged at the moment at what may be more than an earthquake and/or tsunami — We will see whether we are truly resilient, whether we can be awakened by the reality of economics and politics as our imminent tsunami stirring many within especially here on Main Street USA!

This morning, watching CNN and Fox News, reading and talking about this “earthquake” and questions being posed about its affects on the global economy….

….seeing the French and Brit’s participation in present military strategic ops in Northern Africa so close to the shores of Europe, with these forces mustering togteher at the request of UN resolution, I am reminded of the recent reflection in statement made by German Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg when he referred to “security has global dimensions” and in his “globalist” approach emphasizing that the new forging of German and Nato forces in this time of financial and economic crisis will “help nations build greater security with fewer resources but more coordination and coherence” so as to “avoid the financial crisis from becoming a security crisis.”

We also see that NATO Chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen at the recent Munich Security Conference concurred by stating that “old certainties no longer hoold, tetonic plates are shifting…”At stake is not just the world economy, but the world order.” He then said, “I particularly wish to commend Minister zu Guttenberg and the German government for undertaking the refirm of the Bundeswehr, to make it leaner and more agile” as he also pointed to this new merging of British and French force capabilities “as a real turning point” and in the panel discussion entitled, “Implications of the Financial Crisis on Global Stability and Security” the EU elitists and their visions of having the exchange rates controlled by Germany which would assure that Germany would sell its manufactured goods and increase Germany’s wealth at the expense of the other regional economies, thus the erurozne crisis —

I bring this up in this “earthquake discussion” for what I see is a western media looking to show viewers the sensational when in fact, the affects of the Japanese tsunami is far less than the tsunami about to roll over the US as we see not the odds of the volcanic landslide off the Canary Islands producing a tsunami wave of 100 feet or more causing devastation to the eastern seaboard of the US, but betting that Germany once again and the elitists throughout Europe – the Deutsche Borse – seek to control with the NYSE Euronext, an earthquake and tsunami which we here in the US even into our heartland will never endure for this “pan-European exchange organization” and the integration of financial markets as the stock exchanges of Amsterdam, Paris, Lisbon, Frankfurt and nine other European nations will all fall under the control of Germany and this devastating earthquake and Tsunami affect to US global interests taking place presently and a media so ignorant as it is far more senational than any rescue of human Life in Japan or in Haiti, for the Deutsche Borse will inevitably gain control of the former Euronext derivatives unit Liffe and combined with its units, domination over global derivatives will be in the area of some “$1.28+ quadrillion notional value” according to the Bank of International Settlements – this is the tsunami and earthquake which media and every American should be concerned about and the closed door behind the scenes meetings taking place with elitists –

We are dubbed by these elistis as the “doomed kingdom of Belshazzar” – read your history….Read Daniel, verse 5, “You are wighed in the balances, and are found wanting….”

We are so foolish as a people, so trusting and so deceived by those we “entrust” to lead us and you truly believe that our government officials who have had no energy policy despite the obvious for decades, that our government so muddled by such deceit, such self-agenda, such ineptness, so foolhearty in its ways would be prepared in such a manner as the Japanese government to even do what the Japanese government has tried t do in light of such massive devastation to its northern rural communities…give us a break here on Main Street USA, wake up western media to the events unflding which will subject us to a wrenching economy for so many here and an earthquake and tsunami rolling across America as we speak….forcing us to wondr about security of Life here in America, security for our broken local, state and natinal econmies where this administration continues to print along with its co-conspiriatorm, the Federal Reserve Bank, ya know the guys whoo misplaced, no supposed lost the initial $750 million in surplus funding, certainly a tsunami in my book, and hoodwinked America…

My front porch flag is turned upside down depicting the “distress” our beloved Republic faces and when we talk about psychological needs over safety needs and the relationship to earthquake and tsunami, I ask how much the Goldman Sachs’ federal budget deficit increased just in the few minutes while I commented on this blog….

….for the chaos soon to envelope our own streets, never mind witnessing the Vatican and Islamic extremists fighting sword to sword in their neighborhoods in the name of Jerusalem which will never be conqured or controlled by either, the perception that America is very much like “the doomed kingdom of Belshazaar” by the European elitists of which I am sure Mrs. Obama visited in Spain is very real…the tsunami is rolling past us here on Main Street USA as a result of what I refer to as not just simple corruption, but an executive WH and Congress which has no rebuttal to its mask which is so transparent to many here who already feel the affects of the tsunami and suffer anxiety as to our own safety….

Like the earthquake which swayed the buildings of Tokyo, the swayings of our political and financial markets, the real sensational stories of the day unreported by a media so uneducated, so unaware, so unenlightened, so pathetic not to see the detrimental “tsunami affect” which is taking any spare “change from our pockets” as a result of the “change” Barry Obama, Deval Patrick, and so many promise enroute to their Martha’s Vineyard vacation homes and the good ‘ol Goldman Sachs fellas —

The Japanese people, their culture, the lack of looting, their patience waiting in line for a cup of soup is so contrary to our mode of living and that of Congressional members so abusive arrogant in their ways, so condescending and a President who is with his marxist views, a President whose narrow perspectives and so easily influenced will not only continue to fail to resurrect our economy, but will assure the erosion of America’s once prominence of the “beacon of hope to so many..the oppressed” – it is We now who have been overwhelmed and hood winked by the tsunami affect which jeopardizes our safety.

In closing, we do have much to learn from Japan, yet we will Not heed the need for preparedness as we see our government talk of shutdown, our values crumble and led by an executive branch which is “without natural affection” (2 Timothy 3:3) willingly supportive of the deliberate slaughter of babies in the womb and on 16th of Janauary, Chinese President Hu Jintao stating, “The current international currency system is the product of the past” with the well educated and well versed Hu stating that this ongoing $100 million monthly printing of fiat federal reserve notes does not bode well for the near term and future global reserve currency.

Hu is perfectly correct in his evaluation and even in the midst of japan’s devastation to the north, Naoto Kan is articulating a place in the global ecomony by suggesting that his nation overhauls social security, raising taxes to off set national debt and proposing joining the nine-nation Trans-pacific partnership free zone.

Yes, we have much to learn from Japan even when it is faced with utter devastation to its northern more rural areas, however maybe the $6 million I am trying to raise to place national advertising on television to educate fellow Americans just why we need the Fair Tax Plan and HR 25 sponsored by over 55 members of Congres to date. The monies legally being hidden by the bankers, the corporations will come home and we will have the monies to fund the “preparedness” we deserve against earthquake, tsunami, political and economic blackmail — We need HR 25 now if we are to turn the tide of America, the land our forefathers gave us and forewarned us of those with dastardly deed in seeking our demise both internally and to those in distant shore — the outright “treason” being committed from within should be dealt with accordingly….

God Bless our Republic!

Christopher Tingus
PO Box 1612
Harwich, MA 02645 USA

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 22, 2011 @ 12:15 pm

Dan, Thanks for the further analysis and shout-out for meta-leadership. Several of my colleagues in the medical sector have begun to reference this as a real paradigm-shifter for them. I am intrigued to hear more about, “The government’s need to restore order is a self appointed construct requirement, not an immediately necessary one.” It sounds like you and I agree that perimeter-power is not always helpful. I am concerned it has not been especially unhelpful in Japan. Sounds like you have examples elsewhere? In the United States?

Comment by danoc5803@aol.com

March 22, 2011 @ 8:24 pm


The cynic in me with observation derives that. It is the appearance of order that in my opinion, drives activity, not solutions. Call it Security Theater, call it Crisis Theater, just don’t call it success. And within the context of complexity; the very pursuit of order creates disorder…the law of unintended consequences, so to speak. The very pursuit of attaining order in a novel situation shows a focus of effort on appearance…extending the apparatus of a plan vice planning.

It is in the appearance of help that delay happens. There is such a push to create the demonstration of prowess. The assumption of the return to normal in and of itself further delays, in my opinion.

From an academic point of view, I’d point to how institutions and organizations are gaming exercises, the artificiality of success, and not having the courage to point these things out and how at each level of government, the construct and constraint is created to prohibit discovery and growth.

From an execution point of view, I think there are many, many examples; from the large incidents like Katrina to the smaller ones like simply getting snow out of streets in NY.

I think that’s what should drive much of the community awareness and preparation. Keep things as simple as possible, but no simpler.

I take for granted that I am or choose to be a bit naïve and idealistic. I also have my biased point of view. That said, there appears to be much more reasonable answers to getting that harmony between Maslow and Maslow inverted… I still come back to my distributed ops model discussed earlier last year.

Vertical envelopment has been dropping soldiers and supplies off in the middle of jungles for 60 years. Close air support, logistics for 50 years. Resilience models like the Ho Chi Minh trail logistics train and resupply at Khe Sanh show what can be accomplished. They’re both the extremes of overcoming geography, topography, warfare, and weather.

The cost benefit models and ROI models need to be examined carefully. I believe the waste in assets and funding creates huge gaps and surplus. And we continue to that sub optimized model because of politics not proficiency. It is a reality that can be changed, but how and who initiate remains to be seen.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 23, 2011 @ 1:23 pm

On March 22 the WSJ is reporting: Main obstacle stalling aid: A severe shortage of fuel. The article also references “traffic jams for delivery vehicles.” See:

Pingback by Homeland Security Watch » Learning from Japan: Sources of resilience

March 25, 2011 @ 5:58 pm

[…] to jump-start a non-engineered system by imposing control is usually a bad idea.  There is compelling evidence —  but not yet conclusive — that during the first ten days (and perhaps still) an […]

Comment by Philip J. Palin

March 26, 2011 @ 3:05 am

On March 25 OCHA reports:”, the Tohoku Expressway, which was closed following the disaster, is now open
to ordinary traffic. The Government hopes this will accelerate assistance, recovery and reconstruction

It appears to me that by March 23 or 24 the “disaster supply chain” (very different from the preexisting supply chain) was beginning to deliver sufficient food and water to the most affected region. Medicine and fuel remain more problematic. Fuel is a sourcing problem. Medicine is a distribution problem.

In Fukushima prefecture, outside the nuclear exclusion zone, further evacuations may be required because truckers are not making deliveries. See Nikkei: http://e.nikkei.com/e/fr/tnks/Nni20110324D24JF877.htm

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April 2, 2011 @ 5:45 am

[…] network, the communications network, and — especially — availability of fuel.  (I continue to seek more information on the role of perimeter power in curtailing distribution capaci….)  Hoarding hurt, but did not break supply […]

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