March 28, 2018

Expert shares hard lessons learned in Japan's Kumamoto earthquakes

International consortium of researchers examines natural disasters and how their impact could be mitigated

At least 180 people were killed, another 183,000 people evacuated, and thousands of buildings and roads heavily damaged in 2016 when a series of earthquakes rocked Kumamoto in Japan.

In the fallout, experts asked: How can earthquake-prone Japan prepare for natural disasters more effectively?

The lessons learned were shared with an audience on March 14 at a keynote speech and panel discussion, hosted by University of Calgary International, aimed at raising awareness of the global need for disaster preparedness. Yukiko Takeuchi, an associate professor from Kumamoto University in Japan, discussed three important lessons learned from the devastating loss. Takeuchi’s major field of studies includes disaster prevention education, risk communication, and geography.

Three important lessons learned from Kumamoto earthquake

“We need to be better prepared in dealing with the management of evacuees, and consider who is in charge in these situations if government officials aren’t able to get to an evacuation centre,” Takeuchi explained. “We also need to give more thought to how we’re counting evacuees, how we know who has evacuated, and what to do about pets during disasters.”

Although Kumamoto is vulnerable to many natural disasters including flooding, sediment disasters, and storm surges, Takeuchi said they were not prepared to deal with the 2016 earthquake despite there being a similarly large earthquake in 1889. Takeuchi discussed Japan’s unique position as a country under constant threat of natural disaster, and how both the government and the community need to work together to better prepare for disasters.

“We don’t know exactly how nature will behave, but we need to look to science to try to understand nature more seriously,” said Takeuchi. “We have to educate future generations of past disasters so we can learn from these in the future and figure out how to prepare and communicate before and during a crisis.”

Keynote speaker Yukiko Takeuchi from Kumamoto University in Japan discussed three important lessons learned from the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake.

Keynote speaker Yukiko Takeuchi offered three important lessons learned from the Kumamoto earthquake

University of Calgary International

Panel discussion provides insights on disaster preparedness at a local level

Following the lecture, a panel discussion moderated by Lina Kattan, civil engineering professor, with panel members Lauren Harris, planner - continuity and risk reduction, Calgary Emergency Management Agency, and Jithamala Caldera, civil engineering PhD student, discussed how the lessons that Takeuchi presented can relate to Calgary on a more local level.

“During a disaster, there are a whole new set of unique challenges,” explained Lauren Harris during the discussion. “We’ll have people who want to see what the disaster looks like, or not want to leave their homes, putting first responders at risk. We really have found every event to be different and we need to try to be as adaptable as possible.”

The speech and panel discussion were held to help celebrate the 90th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Canada diplomatic relations as well as to build on UCalgary’s partnership with Kumamoto University.

“We’re so happy to have Professor Takeuchi here to speak on this subject that impacts so many around the world,” said Consul General Tanabe, consulate-general of Japan in Calgary. “As a result of our country being all too familiar with natural disasters, we need to really highlight the importance of disaster preparedness so we can reduce the loss of lives all over the world.”

The event was a direct link to UCalgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World Research Strategy, specifically around the Smart Cities category, as UCalgary and Kumamoto University are both part of the International Institute for Infrastructure Resilience and Reconstruction. This multi-university international consortium has been formed to research natural disasters and how their impact could be mitigated. Over 70 individuals from the University of Calgary and broader community were in attendance to learn more about natural disasters and Japanese culture.