Private sector's key emergency role in Japan

Aerial photograph from Kokusai Kogyo Group of one of the damaged cities from the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami
 
By Dizery Salim

GENEVA, 27 March 2012 - Kokusai Kogyo is one of several Japanese companies bound to the government by a bond called saigai kyotei, a service agreement activated by the occurrence of an emergency.

The company's core business lies in collecting and selling geo-spatial information -- aerial imagery of Japan's terrain.

Sandra Wu, President and Chief Executive Officer - and member of the UNISDR private sector advisory group - recalls the day of the 11 March earthquake and tsunami.

"Right after the earthquake, in the afternoon, we received a fax and phone call from the government giving us the instruction where to go and what to do," Ms. Wu said. "We immediately sent back a reply to the government saying we will take the order. The morning after, we put airplanes in the air."

Kokusai Kogyo surveyors took high-resolution aerial photographs that the company combined with property tax databases to determine the level of damage to each residential home in the tsunami-affected region.

"We later sent personnel to the local government offices to man windows to issue disaster loss certificates because the government was washed away and state offices were dysfunctional," added Ms. Wu.

Under the rubric of saigai kyotei, the Association of Precise Survey and Applied Technology, a national business association of survey companies, keeps a shortlist of companies that can perform immediate, post-disaster damage assessments from the air. Guidelines ensure that all members of the association know how to respond down to the smallest detail, including how single-page forms can be filled out by hand during emergencies, to delivering information between parties.

Vital services in the tsunami-affected region was restored quickly due to the government's emergency agreements with private companies. While about 2.6 million households were left without electricity after the disaster, 96 percent coverage was achieved within about two weeks, according to a 28 March 2011 report by the Japanese government. Rates of recovery of household gas supply stood at 86 percent, liquified petroleum at 95 percent and water at 98 percent, according to the same report.

The area registered a 7 per cent growth in GDP in the third quarter of 2011, reflecting a speedy recovery in the region's economic supply chain.

To raise the country's level of preparedness, the Asian Surveying and Mapping journal says Japan is pursuing a real-time warning system for tsunamis using observation satellites linked to sensor buoys on the ocean. The new system is designed to deliver quicker forecasts.

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