Rising from the Rubble: In the Wake of Recent Natural Disasters, Four IABC Members Describe the Events and Their Aftermath

Article excerpt

The early part of this year was marked by a torrent of natural disasters in the Asia/ Pacific region: floods in Queensland, Australia; a devastating earthquake in New Zealand; and a massive earthquake and tsunami followed by nuclear crisis in Japan. Four IABC members lived through those disasters, and they share their experiences and the lessons they learned.

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How did the crisis affect you personally?

Kaz Amemiya, IABC/Japan: Since Tokyo is located 200 miles away from the epicenter and 150 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the city escaped the physical devastation of the 11 March earthquake. Yet the enormous jolt left me in shock for a long while. Right after the earthquake, all public transportation went down. It took me more than five hours on foot to get to my office. All the streets were jammed with vehicles.

In the month following, every basic necessity that we had taken for granted--from water, power and logistics to transportation--fell short, threatening our sense of security and safety. Moreover, the aftermath of the earthquake has impacted business--in my case, some projects got canceled or postponed--and I have been very concerned that this overall sentiment of self-restraint in business could slow down the economy.

Gerald Raymond, IABC/South Island, New Zealand: The 22 February earthquake caused major damage to buildings and infrastructure around Christchurch. Power and water were out for days, public transport stopped for several days, roads and bridges were severely damaged, and the phone and cellphone network was either out or unreliable.

When the earthquake struck, I was sitting at my desk on the top floor of a three-story office building. All I remember is that I was suddenly thrown from side to side, my computer monitor fell over, and I dived under my desk. When the shaking ended--around 25 seconds later--the floor monitor yelled for everyone to evacuate the building immediately.

Our home was damaged. We did what we could to clean up, but after a couple of days with no power, water or toilets, we went to stay with friends on the other side of the city. Power was restored after about a week, and water after about two weeks. It took a month before essential repairs were completed and we were able to move back in.

Stress was an issue for many people following the earthquake. Ongoing aftershocks affected sleep, as did uncertainty over homes and jobs, and the realization that it could be months or years before life would return to normal.

Was your company affected? If so, what was its response?

Hirofumi Shimodaira, IABC/Japan: Kao Corp., where I work, a toiletry products manufacturer, supplies a variety of daily necessities. The earthquake had an effect on our production and distribution activities, but we hurried to recover those functions and made it the top priority to fulfill our responsibility to supply products to the tsunami-hit region and neighboring areas. We have been carrying out measures in accordance with our business contingency plan. In addition, we have made donations and offered products that the disaster-stricken areas need via government agencies and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations].

Gerald Raymond: Environment Canterbury Regional Council's office buildings in Christchurch were evacuated at the time of the earthquake and have been off-limits ever since, apart from two brief, supervised recovery missions. Employees had only what they took with them when they evacuated the buildings.

Council directors realized quickly that our buildings would be out of action for at least several months and began looking for new offices. They moved quickly and found viable options within a week, and began planning the huge logistical and IT work program to rehouse employees across five or six locations.

Essential services for Environment Canterbury were run from offices outside of Christchurch, while a number of employees were able to work remotely. …