The Great Quake-Tsunami--referring to the 9.0 magnitude earthquake/tsunami twin disaster that ravaged the Pacific coastal areas of northeastern and eastern Japan on March 11, 2011--left thousands dead, equally as many missing and millions of dollars of damages in its wake. In the midst of the chaos, Japanese property managers were able to use mobile technology to stay in touch with each other and their tenants/owners when typical means of communication were shut down.
IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE EARTHQUAKE, THE MOST COMMON SERVICE REQUESTS WE RECEIVED FROM TENANTS INCLUDED: 1) Restoration of natural gas service, which got turned off following the earthquake by a fail-safe device; 2) restoration of elevator services; and 3) repair of leaks in the water supply and drainage system caused by shears. However, due to public transportation shut-downs accompanied by major traffic jams, lack of gasoline and degradation of communication between our staff, tenants and owners, we were limited in our ability to provide a typical level of service to tenants.
SAVED BY SMARTPHONES AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Because of overloaded telephone circuits, cell phone calling capabilities were limited for the first few days after the earthquake. As a result, emergency communication methods using Smartphone applications and social media sites became all the more important. For example, we were able to share information among our employees using Twitter immediately after the earthquake, enabling us to follow up with our tenants and owners quickly. We had never appreciated the vast usability of technology before; indeed, Internet usage from mobile devices has proven to be a superior communication vehicle for emergency situations. Our company provides Smartphones to all employees and makes registration for Viber and Skype mandatory. We also download disaster-related applications such as "RadioJ P," which was quite helpful in getting information at the time of disaster; "The Quake is Coming," an earthquake flash report; "Blackout Search," which pinpoints planned outages; and "Family Medical Dictionary," which references first-aid treatment methods.
With our elderly tenants and owners who do not use the Internet, we had no choice but to physically visit them until landline phone service was restored to normal (which actually took less time than cell phone service). Fortunately, multiple vehicles with office capabilities and ASP property data management systems made it easier for us to swiftly assess and respond to property damages in our area.
ASSESSING THE AFTERSHOCKS
Even though I work in the Tokyo/Yokohama area--about 400 km (or 250 miles) from the Northeastern region of Japan closest to the epicenter--the earthquake still registered an intensity of six (seven being the strongest) on the so-called Shindo scale. Established by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the Shindo scale measures the intensity of shaking at any given location, rather than the strength of the earthquake at its epicenter, like the Richter scale.
As a result of the quake, our area suffered fires at petrochemical complexes, peeling external wall tiles, cracked external walls on condominiums, split foundations on wooden houses, falling ceiling panels, broken glass and the collapse of the parking structure in one of our large commercial facilities (which houses Costco). Tokyo Disneyland, which is built along the filled land of Tokyo Bay, experienced tilted buildings and telephone poles as well as broken street and parking lot pavement due to liquefaction of the ground.
Relatively speaking, however, visible damages were surprisingly small--even structures built with quake-resistant standards put in place before 1981 did not get significantly damaged. Buildings in the Northwestern region of Japan had limited damages, which resulted from the tsunami rather than the earthquake. According to specialists, despite the intensity of the quake, its seismic wave cycle was relatively short, minimizing damages caused by the sympathetic vibrations of the buildings.
RECONSTRUCTION ON THE HORIZON
Following the record-breaking Kobe earthquake 16 years ago, officials said it would take at least ten years for reconstruction; however, after only six years, visible repairs were made to the priority areas surrounding train stations. The Great Quake-Tsunami, compared to Kobe, was compounded by the tsunami and the accident at the nuclear power plant, both of which will likely increase reconstruction times for areas surrounding the Fuku-shima nuclear plant and the Northeastern shoreline.
Looking ahead, our main concern is the amount of time it will take to reconstruct buildings in the Northwest that either completely collapsed or were significantly damaged as a result of the tsunami and earthquake. Under normal circumstances, houses in Japan, which are usually two-story wooden structures, take three months to complete, while high-rise buildings and condominiums typically take one to three years to construct. Reconstruction after a major catastrophe is a more complicated and time-consuming process that must factor in damaged factories and industrial complexes, sporadic blackouts due to defunct power plants and a general shortage of all resources, including construction materials, equipment and manpower. Before we begin to rebuild other properties, our priority is to reconstruct vital systems--such as water, sewage, natural gas, electric, road and rail systems--that suffered structural damages.
Since the Tokyo/Yokohama area did not suffer as much damage, our daily work has now returned to business as usual. March is the end of the fiscal year in Japan and it is usually the busiest month out of the year for property managers due to the fact that every few years, Japanese companies typically relocate their employees. However, this year, many are postponing these standard moves because of our unclear economic future, as well as the fact that many companies have temporarily opted to move their offices west, which is affecting the residential market. As can be expected, there is also an increased demand for better earthquake-resistant residences.
When it comes to predicting how the population will respond to this disaster, there are two possibilities: 1) The population in eastern Japan might shift to other areas due to the fear of the effects of the radioactive leak from the Fukushima nuclear plant on food, water and soil; and/or 2) reconstruction work might spur a surge in economic activity, which could in turn drive population growth in those very areas people are currently moving from.
Fortunately, despite the seriousness of the situation, people are staying calm and, depending on how the situation recovers, those who made the move away from eastern Japan might eventually return to their hometowns, which is an important cultural aspect of Japanese society.
RELATED ARTICLE: A note from Kiyoshi Inomata, CPM March 29, 2011
Many Japanese, including myself, were touched by President Obama's speech, filled with love and courage, when he announced that the United States would send military personnel as part of "Operation Tomodachi" to assist Japan immediately after the earthquake. Both Japan and the United States, along with the rest of the world, are troubled with many problems. However, as he mentioned, the differences between our countries are very small when compared to issues of humanity. I look forward to the two countries, the world and colleagues of IREM holding hands with bright hope for the future throughout this long journey of reconstruction.
I would like to thank IREM Members as well as the government and the citizens of the United States for their assistance and encouragement in response to this disaster.…