Officials, at all levels, are admitting that they did not think they would ever be dealing with a 9.0 quake, then tsunami, and now nuclear disasters.
Officials at the national level didn’t expect a triple whammy of disasters, and based on the majority of past disasters, thought the local governments could handle it.
The local governments never prepared for a 9.0 quake, followed by a massive tsunami. Their 10 meter high sea wall barriers failed. The planned emergency safe places for tsunamis proved to be death traps, as the tsunami was far higher than what was expected. There are reports of people rushing to schools, and other buildings that were designated as safe places for tsunamis, then being killed by a wave that was taller than the building. Many local officials say they never thought this could happen.
Another problem; local officials thought that if a disaster was worse than they planned for, they could rely on the national government, which has proven to be another faulty assumption.
Officials relied on disaster planners when making their plans. Disaster planners have admitted they didn’t see the post-disaster problems coming. One fault of disaster planners is they assumed that, some how, everyone in a disaster zone would make it to designated emergency shelters. Relief supplies were to be sent to the shelters only, because of that assumption. They are amazed at how many people are not able to get to designated emergency shelters. Also, some emergency shelters were destroyed.
As far as getting supplies in, the utter destruction in the worst hit areas makes it impossible to use roads or rails. Even helicopters had trouble finding places to land. Add to that the lack of fuel.
Other problems that are affecting all of Japan’s industries include lack of fuel, lack of electricity, lack of employees. The result is that many companies are shut down, or have cut back on production. Also, banks are having trouble making transaction, like cashing payroll checks, and ATM problems.
This is all exacerbated by the ongoing nuclear disaster.
Volunteers groups made up of individuals, and local businesses, are proving to be the best hope for Japan. They have been working to help those in the hardest hit areas. Many are bringing supplies into the disaster areas. In one case one man is trying to help the hospitals with their drug shortage problem. He has called all the hospitals in the hardest hit areas. At least 20% of the hospitals are not responding to his calls, so he is working his way to each hospital to find out their situation. The volunteer says what he notices is that there are no emergency “base camps” set up in the disaster areas. There are no emergency medical teams in place. It appears that hospital/medical issues were not considered in disaster planning.
Medical officials say the problem they see is there are no established priorities, there is no standardized emergency system in place in Japan. This lack of priorities and standardization is also having a bad effect on donated supplies that are arriving in Japan. Apparently there isn’t a plan in place to address material donations.
At the beginning the Japanese military was involved in search and rescue/recovery only. This was due in part to the faulty assumptions on the national level. Now, after it became clear that more needed to be done, they are working to clear access to the hardest hit areas, and help with supply efforts (they are also being involved in fighting the nuclear disaster).
Lessons: Officials made too many assumptions about what other levels of government would do. No priorities established. No standardized emergency response system established. Major aspects of the community were ignored, like what happens if the hospitals and emergency shelters are destroyed? What happens if all modes of transportation are shut down? The biggest problem is that most people made the universal assumption that a catastrophic disaster could never happen to them. After all, isn’t that what preparing for the worst case is all about?