Great Quake Tsunami: Japanese Property Managers Turn to Mobile Technology and Social Media during a Crisis

Article excerpt

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.


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.


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. …