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FEATURE STORY March 11, 2021

Learning from Megadisasters: A Decade of Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake

March 11, 2021
Tokyo, Japan

Authors: Shoko Takemoto,  Naho Shibuya, and Keiko Sakoda

Photo: Children from a local youth baseball team wave a big fishing flag to welcome the commemorative train near Otsuchi Station after the opening of the Sanriku Railway Rias Line. The JR Yamada Line between Miyako and Kamaishi, which had been closed due to the tsunami, was transferred to the Sanriku Railway, connecting all sections of the line that were closed in Iwate Prefecture after the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami. (Source: Kyoto News)

Today marks the ten-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE), a mega-disaster that marked Japan and the world with its unprecedented scale of destruction. This feature story commemorates the disaster by reflecting on what it has taught us over the past decade in regards to infrastructure resilience, risk identification, reduction, and preparedness, and disaster risk finance.  Since GEJE, the World Bank in partnership with the Government of Japan, especially through the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries has been working with Japanese and global partners to understand impact, response, and recovery from this megadisaster to identify larger lessons for disaster risk management (DRM).

Among the numerous lessons learned over the past decade of GEJE reconstruction and analysis, we highlight three common themes that have emerged repeatedly through the examples of good practices gathered across various sectors.  First is the importance of planning. Even though disasters will always be unexpected, if not unprecedented, planning for disasters has benefits both before and after they occur. Second is that resilience is strengthened when it is shared.  After a decade since GEJE, to strengthen the resilience of infrastructure, preparedness, and finance for the next disaster, throughout Japan national and local governments, infrastructure developers and operators, businesses and industries, communities and households are building back better systems by prearranging mechanisms for risk reduction, response and continuity through collaboration and mutual support.  Third is that resilience is an iterative process.  Many adaptations were made to the policy and regulatory frameworks after the GEJE. Many past disasters show that resilience is an interactive process that needs to be adjusted and sustained over time, especially before a disaster strikes.

As the world is increasingly tested to respond and rebuild from unexpected impacts of extreme weather events and the COVID-19 pandemic, we highlight some of these efforts that may have relevance for countries around the world seeking to improve their preparedness for disaster events.

Introduction: The Triple Disaster, Response and Recovery

On March 11th, 2011 a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, near the Tohoku region. The force of the earthquake sent a tsunami rushing towards the Tohoku coastline, a black wall of water which wiped away entire towns and villages. Sea walls were overrun. 20,000 lives were lost. The scale of destruction to housing, infrastructure, industry and agriculture was extreme in Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi prefectures. In addition to the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes, the earthquake and tsunami contributed to an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, requiring additional mass evacuations. The impacts not only shook Japan’s society and economy as a whole, but also had ripple effects in global supply chains. In the 21st century, a disaster of this scale is a global phenomenon.

The severity and complexity of the cascading disasters was not anticipated. The events during and following the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE) showed just how ruinous and complex a low-probability, high-impact disaster can be. However, although the impacts of the triple-disaster were devastating, Japan’s legacy of DRM likely reduced losses. Japan’s structural investments in warning systems and infrastructure were effective in many cases, and preparedness training helped many act and evacuate quickly. The large spatial impact of the disaster, and the region’s largely rural and elderly population, posed additional challenges for response and recovery.

Ten years after the megadisaster, the region is beginning to return to a sense of normalcy, even if many places look quite different. After years in rapidly-implemented temporary prefabricated housing, most people have moved into permanent homes, including 30,000 new units of public housing. Damaged infrastructure has been also restored or is nearing completion in the region, including rail lines, roads, and seawalls.

In 2014, three years after GEJE, The World Bank published Learning from Megadisasters: Lessons from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Edited by Federica Ranghieri and Mikio Ishiwatari, the volume brought together dozens of experts ranging from seismic engineers to urban planners, who analyzed what happened on March 11, 2011 and the following days, months, and years; compiling lessons for other countries in 36 comprehensive Knowledge Notes. This extensive research effort identified a number of key learnings in multiple sectors, and emphasized the importance of both structural and non-structural measures, as well as identifying effective strategies both pre- and post-disaster. The report highlighted four central lessons after this intensive study of the GEJE disaster, response, and initial recovery:

1) A holistic, rather than single-sector approach to DRM improves preparedness for complex disasters;
2) Investing in prevention is important, but is not a substitute for preparedness;
3) Each disaster is an opportunity to learn and adapt;
4) Effective DRM requires bringing together diverse stakeholders, including various levels of government, community and nonprofit actors, and the private sector.

Although these lessons are learned specifically from the GEJE, the report also focuses on learnings with broader applicability.

Over recent years, the Japan-World Bank Program on Mainstreaming DRM in Developing Countries has furthered the work of the Learning from Megadisasters report, continuing to gather, analyze and share the knowledge and lessons learned from GEJE, together with past disaster experiences, to enhance the resilience of next generation development investments around the world. Ten years on from the GEJE, we take a moment to revisit the lessons gathered, and reflect on how they may continue to be relevant in the next decade, in a world faced with both seismic disasters and other emergent hazards such as pandemics and climate change.

Through synthesizing a decade of research on the GEJE and accumulation of the lessons from the past disaster experience, this story highlights three key strategies which recurred across many of the cases we studied. They are:

1) the importance of planning for disasters before they strike,
2) DRM cannot be addressed by either the public or private sector alone but enabled only when it is shared among many stakeholders
3) institutionalize the culture of continuous enhancement of the resilience.

For example, business continuity plans, or BCPs, can help both public and private organizations minimize damages and disruptions. BCPs are documents prepared in advance which provide guidance on how to respond to a disruption and resume the delivery of products and services. Additionally, the creation of pre-arranged agreements among independent public and/or private organizations can help share essential responsibilities and information both before and after a disaster. This might include agreements with private firms to repair public infrastructures, among private firms to share the costs of mitigation infrastructure, or among municipalities to share rapid response teams and other resources. These three approaches recur throughout the more specific lessons and strategies identified in the following section, which is organized along the three areas of disaster risk management: resilient infrastructure; risk identification, reduction and preparedness; and disaster risk finance and insurance.

Lessons from the Megadisaster

Resilient Infrastructure

The GEJE had severe impacts on critical ‘lifelines’—infrastructures and facilities that provide essential services such as transportation, communication, sanitation, education, and medical care. Impacts of megadisasters include not only damages to assets (direct impacts), but also disruptions of key services, and the resulting social and economic effects (indirect impacts). For example, the GEJE caused a water supply disruption for up to 500,000 people in Sendai city, as well as completely submerging the city’s water treatment plant.[i] Lack of access to water and sanitation had a ripple effect on public health and other emergency services, impacting response and recovery. Smart investment in infrastructure resilience can help minimize both direct and indirect impacts, reducing lifeline disruptions. The 2019 report Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity found through a global study that every dollar invested in the resilience of lifelines had a $4 benefit in the long run.

In the case of water infrastructure, the World Bank report Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services: The Case of Japan documents how Sendai City learned from the disaster to improve the resilience of these infrastructures.[ii] Steps included retrofitting existing systems with seismic resilience upgrades, enhancing business continuity planning for sanitation systems, and creating a geographic information system (GIS)-based asset management system that allows for quick identification and repair of damaged pipes and other assets. During the GEJE, damages and disruptions to water delivery services were minimized through existing programs, including mutual aid agreements with other water supply utility operators. Through these agreements, the Sendai City Waterworks Bureau received support from more than 60 water utilities to provide emergency water supplies. Policies which promote structural resilience strategies were also essential to preserving water and sanitation services. After the 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji Earthquake (GHAE), Japanese utilities invested in earthquake resistant piping in water supply and sanitation systems. The commonly used earthquake-resistant ductile iron pipe (ERDIP) has not shown any damage from major earthquakes including the 2011 GEJE and the 2016 Kumamoto earthquake.[iii] Changes were also made to internal policies after the GEJE based on the challenges faced, such as decentralizing emergency decision-making and providing training for local communities to set up emergency water supplies without utility workers with the goal of speeding up recovery efforts.[iv]

Redundancy is another structural strategy that contributed to resilience during and after GEJE. In Sendai City, redundancy and seismic reinforcement in water supply infrastructure allowed the utility to continue to operate pipelines that were not physically damaged in the earthquake.[v] The Lifelines report describes how in the context of telecommunications infrastructure, the redundancy created through a diversity of routes in Japan’s submarine internet cable system  limited disruptions to national connectivity during the megadisaster.[vi] However, the report emphasizes that redundancy must be calibrated to the needs and resources of a particular context. For private firms, redundancy and backups for critical infrastructure can be achieved through collaboration; after the GEJE, firms are increasingly collaborating to defray the costs of these investments.[vii]

The GEJE also illustrated the importance of planning for transportation resilience. A Japan Case Study Report on Road Geohazard Risk Management shows the role that both national policy and public-private agreements can play. In response to the GEJE, Japan’s central disaster legislation, the DCBA (Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act) was amended in 2012, with particular focus on the need to reopen roads for emergency response. Quick road repairs were made possible after the GEJE in part due to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT)’s emergency action plans, the swift action of the rapid response agency Technical Emergency Control Force (TEC-FORCE), and prearranged agreements with private construction companies for emergency recovery work.[viii] During the GEJE, roads were used as evacuation sites and were shown effective in controlling the spread of floods. After the disaster, public-private partnerships (PPPs) were also made to accommodate the use of expressway embankments as tsunami evacuation sites. As research on Resilient Infrastructure PPPs highlights, clear definitions of roles and responsibilities are essential to effective arrangements between the government and private companies. In Japan, lessons from the GEJE and other earthquakes have led to a refinement of disaster definitions, such as numerical standards for triggering force majeure provisions of infrastructure PPP contracts. In Sendai City, clarifying the post-disaster responsibilities of public and private actors across various sectors sped up the response process.[ix] This experience was built upon after the disaster, when Miyagi prefecture conferred operation of the Sendai International Airport  to a private consortium through a concession scheme which included refined force majeure definitions. In the context of a hazard-prone region, the agreement clearly defines disaster-related roles and responsibilities as well as relevant triggering events.[x]

Partnerships for creating backup systems that have value in non-disaster times have also proved effective in the aftermath of the GEJE. As described in Resilient Industries in Japan, Toyota’s automotive plant in Ohira village, Miyagi Prefecture lost power for two weeks following GEJE. To avoid such losses in the future, companies in the industrial park sought to secure energy during power outages and shortages by building the F-Grid, their own mini-grid system with a comprehensive energy management system. The F-Grid project is a collaboration of 10 companies and organizations in the Ohira Industrial Park. As a system used exclusively for backup energy would be costly, the system is also used to improve energy efficiency in the park during normal times. The project was supported by funding from Japan’s “Smart Communities'' program.[xi] In 2016, F-grid achieved a 24 percent increase in energy efficiency and a 31 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to similarly sized parks.[xii]

Photo: Students at Kanawaho Kichi Gakuen, Saitama Prefecture hiding under their desks during disaster drills. Source: Kyodo News Images.

Schools are also critical infrastructures, for their education and community roles, and also because they are commonly used as evacuation centers. Japan has updated seismic resilience standards for schools over time, integrating measures against different risks and vulnerabilities revealed after each disaster, as documented in the report Making Schools Resilient at Scale. After the 2011 GEJE, there was very little earthquake-related damage; rather, most damage was caused by the tsunami. However, in some cases damages to nonstructural elements like suspending ceilings in school gymnasiums limited the possibility of using these spaces after the disaster. After the disaster, a major update was made to the policies on the safety of nonstructural elements in schools, given the need for higher resilience standards for their function as post-disaster evacuation centers[xiii].

Similarly, for building regulations, standards and professional training modules were updated taking the lessons learned from GEJE. The Converting Disaster Experience into a Safer Built Environment: The Case of Japan report highlights that, legal framework like, The Building Standard Law/Seismic Retrofitting Promotion Law, was amended further enhance the structural resilience of the built environment, including strengthening structural integrity, improving the efficiency of design review process, as well as mandating seismic diagnosis of large public buildings. Since the establishment of the legal and regulatory framework for building safety in early 1900, Japan continued incremental effort to create enabling environment for owners, designers, builders and building officials to make the built environment safer together.

Cultural heritage also plays an important role in creating healthy communities, and the loss or damage of these items can scar the cohesion and identity of a community. The report Resilient Cultural Heritage: Learning from the Japanese Experience shows how the GEJE highlighted the importance of investing in the resilience of cultural properties, such as through restoration budgets and response teams, which enabled the relocation of at-risk items and restoration of properties during and after the GEJE. After the megadisaster, the volunteer organization Shiryō-Net was formed to help rescue and preserve heritage properties, and this network has now spread across Japan.[xiv] Engaging both volunteer and government organizations in heritage preservation can allow for a more wide-ranging response. Cultural properties can play a role in healing communities wrought by disasters: in Ishinomaki City, the restoration of a historic storehouse served as a symbol of reconstruction[xv], while elsewhere repair of cultural heritage sites and the celebration of cultural festivals served a stimulant for recovery.[xvi] Cultural heritage also played a preventative role during and after the disaster by embedding the experience of prior disasters in the built environment. Stone monuments which marked the extent of historic tsunamis served as guides for some residents, who fled uphill past the stones and escaped the dangerous waters.[xvii] This suggests a potential role for cultural heritage in instructing future generations about historic hazards.

These examples of lessons from the GEJE highlight how investing in resilient infrastructure is essential, but must also be done smartly, with emphasis on planning, design, and maintenance. Focusing on both minimizing disaster impacts and putting processes in place to facilitate speedy infrastructure restoration can reduce both direct and indirect impacts of megadisasters.  Over the decade since GEJE, many examples and experiences on how to better invest in resilient infrastructure, plan for service continuity and quick response, and catalyze strategic partnerships across diverse groups are emerging from Japan.

Risk Identification, Reduction, and Preparedness

Ten years after the GEJE, a number of lessons have emerged as important in identifying, reducing, and preparing for disaster risks. Given the unprecedented nature of the GEJE, it is important to be prepared for both known and uncertain risks. Information and communication technology (ICT) can play a role in improving risk identification and making evidence-based decisions for disaster risk reduction and preparedness. Communicating these risks to communities, in a way people can take appropriate mitigation action, is a key. These processes also need to be inclusive, involving diverse stakeholders--including women, elders, and the private sector--that need to be engaged and empowered to understand, reduce, and prepare for disasters. Finally, resilience is never complete. Rather, as the adaptations made by Japan after the GEJE and many past disasters show, resilience is a continuous process that needs to be adjusted and sustained over time, especially in times before a disaster strikes.

Although DRM is central in Japan, the scale of the 2011 triple disaster dramatically exceeded expectations. After the GEJE, as Chapter 32 of Learning From Megadisasters highlights, the potential of low-probability, high-impact events led Japan to focus on both structural and nonstructural disaster risk management measures.[xviii] Mitigation and preparedness strategies can be designed to be effective for both predicted and uncertain risks. Planning for a multihazard context, rather than only individual hazards, can help countries act quickly even when the unimaginable occurs. Identifying, preparing for, and reducing disaster risks all play a role in this process.

The GEJE highlighted the important role ICT can play in both understanding risk and making evidence-based decisions for risk identification, reduction, and preparedness. As documented in the World Bank report Information and Communication Technology for Disaster Risk Management in Japan, at the time of the GEJE, Japan had implemented various ICT systems for disaster response and recovery, and the disaster tested the effectiveness of these systems. During the GEJE, Japan’s “Earthquake Early Warning System” (EEWS) issued a series of warnings. Through the detection of initial seismic waves, EEWS can provide a warning of a few seconds or minutes, allowing quick action by individuals and organizations. Japan Railways’ “Urgent Earthquake Detection and Alarm System” (UrEDAS) automatically activated emergency brakes of 27 Shinkansen train lines, successfully bringing all trains to a safe stop. After the disaster, Japan expanded emergency alert delivery systems.[xix]

Photo: Disaster drill conducted assuming Kyushu Shinkansen made an emergency stop through earthquake early warning system. Source: Kyodo News Images.
ICT can also help gather and share risk information for evidence-based planning and decision-making for preparedness and response. The Resilient Industries in Japan report highlights an example of how RESAS, or the Regional Economy Society Analyzing System, was created by a partnership between the Japanese government and private system design partners. The system, which visualizes big data including population movement and regional economic drivers, has been used by local governments to make evidence-based regional development plans, including those in areas affected by GEJE.  The system continues to be updated and expanded, as illustrated by the launch of V-RESAS in 2020, which visualizes near-real-time consumer behavior data. This information is being used to inform planning and decision-making for COVID-19 business recovery at the firm and government levels.

The World Bank’s study on Preparedness Maps shows how seismic preparedness maps are used in Japan to communicate location specific primary and secondary hazards from earthquakes, promoting preparedness at the community and household level. Preparedness maps are regularly updated after disaster events, and since 2011 Japan has promoted risk reduction activities to prepare for the projected maximum likely tsunami[xx].

Effective engagement of various stakeholders is also important to preparedness mapping and other disaster preparedness activities. This means engaging and empowering diverse groups including women, the elderly, children, and the private sector. Elders are a particularly important demographic in the context of the GEJE, as the report Elders Leading the Way to Resilience illustrates. Tohoku is an aging region, and two-thirds of lives lost from the GEJE were over 60 years old. Research shows that building trust and social ties can reduce disaster impacts- after GEJE, a study found that communities with high social capital lost fewer residents to the tsunami.[xxi] Following the megadisaster, elders in Ofunato formed the Ibasho Cafe, a community space for strengthening social capital among older people. The World Bank has explored the potential of the Ibasho model for other contexts, highlighting how fueling social capital and engaging elders in strengthening their community can have benefits for both normal times and improve resilience when a disaster does strike.

Conducting simulation drills regularly provide another way of engaging stakeholders in preparedness. As described in Learning from Disaster Simulation Drills in Japan,[xxii] after the 1995 GHAE the first Comprehensive Disaster Management Drill Framework was developed as a guide for the execution of a comprehensive system of disaster response drills and establishing links between various disaster management agencies. The Comprehensive Disaster Management Drill Framework is updated annually by the Central Disaster Management Council. The GEJE led to new and improved drill protocols in the impacted region and in Japan as a whole. For example, the 35th Joint Disaster simulation Drill was held in the Tokyo metropolitan region in 2015 to respond to issues identified during the GEJE, such as improving mutual support systems among residents, governments, and organizations; verifying disaster management plans; and improving disaster response capabilities of government agencies. In addition to regularly scheduled disaster simulation drills, GEJE memorial events are held in Japan annually to memorialize victims and keep disaster preparedness in the public consciousness.

Business continuity planning (BCP) is another key strategy that shows how ongoing attention to resilience is also essential for both public and private sector organizations. As Resilient Industries in Japan demonstrates, after the GEJE, BCPs helped firms reduce disaster losses and recover quickly, benefiting employees, supply chains, and the economy at large. BCP is supported by many national policies in Japan, and after the GEJE, firms that had BCPs in place had reduced impacts on their financial soundness compared to firms that did not.[xxiii] The GEJE also led to the update and refinement of BCPs across Japan. Akemi industrial park in Aichi prefecture, began business continuity planning at the scale of the industrial park three years before the GEJE. After the GEJE, the park revised their plan, expanding focus on the safety of workers. National policies in Japan promote the development of BCPs, including the 2013 Basic Act for National Resilience, which was developed after the GEJE and emphasizes resilience as a shared goal across multiple sectors.[xxiv] Japan also supports BCP development for public sector organizations including subnational governments and infrastructure operators. By 2019, all of Japan’s prefectural governments, and nearly 90% of municipal governments had developed BCPs.[xxv] The role of financial institutions in incentivizing BCPs is further addressed in the following section.

The ongoing nature of these preparedness actions highlights that resilience is a continuous process. Risk management strategies must be adapted and sustained over time, especially during times without disasters. This principle is central to Japan’s disaster resilience policies. In late 2011, based on a report documenting the GEJE from the Expert Committee on Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster Management, Japan amended the DCBA (Disaster Countermeasures Basic Act) to enhance its multi-hazard countermeasures, adding a chapter on tsunami countermeasures.[xxvi]

Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance

Disasters can have a large financial impact, not only in the areas where they strike, but also at the large scale of supply chains and national economy. For example, the GEJE led to the shutdown of nuclear power plants across Japan, resulting in a 50% decrease in energy production and causing national supply disruptions. The GEJE has illustrated the importance of disaster risk finance and insurance (DRFI) such as understanding and clarifying contingent liabilities and allocating contingency budgets, putting in place financial protection measures for critical lifeline infrastructure assets and services, and developing mechanisms for vulnerable businesses and households to quickly access financial support. DRFI mechanisms can help people, firms, and critical infrastructure avoid or minimize disruptions, continue operations, and recover quickly after a disaster.

Pre-arranged agreements, including public-private partnerships, are key strategies for the financial protection of critical infrastructure. The report Financial Protection of Critical Infrastructure Services (forthcoming)[xxvii] shows how pre-arranged agreements between the public sector and private sector for post-disaster response can facilitate rapid infrastructure recovery after disasters, reducing the direct and indirect impacts of infrastructure disruptions, including economic impacts. GEJE caused devastating impacts to the transportation network across Japan. Approximately 2,300 km of expressways were closed, representing 65 percent of expressways managed by NEXCO East Japan, resulting in major supply chain disruptions[xxviii].  However, with the activation of pre-arranged agreements between governments and local construction companies for road clearance and recovery work, allowing damaged major motorways to be repaired within one week of the earthquake. This quick response allowed critical access for other emergency services to further relief and recovery operations.

The GEJE illustrated the importance of clearly defining post-disaster financial roles and responsibilities among public and private actors in order to restore critical infrastructure rapidly. World Bank research on Catastrophe Insurance Programs for Public Assets highlights how the Japan Railway Construction, Transport and Technology Agency  (JRTT) uses insurance to reduce the contingent liabilities of critical infrastructure to ease impacts to government budgets in the event of a megadisaster. Advance agreements between the government, infrastructure owners and operators, and insurance companies clearly outline how financial responsibilities will be shared in the event of a disaster. In the event of a megadisaster like GEJE, the government pays a large share of recovery costs, which enables the Shinkansen bullet train service to be restored more rapidly.[xxix]

The Resilient Industries in Japan  report highlights how diverse and comprehensive disaster risk financing methods are also important to promoting a resilient industry sector. After the GEJE, 90% of bankruptcies linked to the disaster were due to indirect impacts such as supply chain disruptions. This means that industries located elsewhere are also vulnerable: a study found that six years after GEJE, a greater proportion of bankruptcy declarations were located in Tokyo than Tohoku.[xxx] Further, firms without disaster risk financing in place had much higher increases in debt levels than firms with preexisting risk financing mechanisms in place.[xxxi] Disaster risk financing can play a role pre-disaster, through mechanisms such as low-interest loans, guarantees, insurance, or grants which incentivize the creation of BCPs and other mitigation and preparedness measures.  When a disaster strikes, financial mechanisms that support impacted businesses, especially small or medium enterprises and women-owned businesses, can help promote equitable recovery and help businesses survive. For financial institutions, simply keeping banks open after a major disaster can support response and recovery. After the GEJE, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) and local banks leveraged pre-arranged agreements to maintain liquidity, opening the first weekend after the disaster to help minimize economic disruptions.[xxxii] These strategies highlight the important role of finance in considering economic needs before a disaster strikes, and having systems in place to act quickly to limit both economic and infrastructure service impacts of disasters.

Looking to the Future

Ten years after the GEJE, these lessons in the realms of resilient infrastructure, risk identification, reduction and preparedness, and DRFI are significant not only for parts of the world preparing for tsunamis and other seismic hazards, but also for many of the other types of hazards faced around the globe in 2021. In Japan, many of the lessons of the GEJE are being applied to the projected Nankai Trough and Tokyo Inland earthquakes, for example through modelling risks and mapping evacuation routes, implementing scenario planning exercises and evacuation drills, or even prearranging a post-disaster reconstruction vision and plans. These resilience measures are taken not only individually but also through innovative partnerships for collaboration across regions, sectors, and organizations including public-private agreements to share resources and expertise in the event of a major disaster.

The ten-year anniversary of the GEJE finds the world in the midst of the multiple emergencies of the global COVID-19 pandemic, environmental and technological hazards, and climate change. Beyond seismic hazards, the global pandemic has highlighted, for example, the risks of supply chain disruption due to biological emergencies. Climate change is also increasing hazard exposure in Japan and around the globe. Climate change is a growing concern for its potential to contribute to hydrometeorological hazards such as flooding and hurricanes, and for its potential to play a role in secondary or cascading hazards such as fire. In the era of climate change, disasters will increasingly be ‘unprecedented’, and so GEJE offers important lessons on preparing for low-probability high-impact disasters and planning under uncertain conditions in general.

Over the last decade, the World Bank has drawn upon the GEJE megadisaster experience to learn how to better prepare for and recover from low-probability high-impact disasters. While we have identified a number of diverse strategies here, ranging from technological and structural innovations to improving the engagement of diverse stakeholders, three themes recur throughout infrastructure resilience, risk preparedness, and disaster finance. First, planning in advance for how organizations will prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters is essential, i.e. through the creation of BCPs by both public and private organizations. Second, pre-arranged agreements amongst organizations for sharing resources, knowledge, and financing in order to mitigate, prepare, respond and recover together from disasters and other unforeseen events are highly beneficial. Third, only with continuous reflection, learning and update on what worked and what didn’t work after each disasters can develop the adaptive capacities needed to manage ever increasing and unexpected risks. Preparedness is an incremental and interactive process.

These lessons from the GEJE on the importance of BCPs and pre-arranged agreements both emphasize larger principles that can be brought to bear in the context of emergent climate and public health crises. Both involve planning for the potential of disaster before it strikes. BCPs and pre-arranged agreements are both made under blue-sky conditions, which allow frameworks to be put in place for advanced mitigation and preparedness, and rapid post-disaster response and recovery. While it is impossible to know exactly what future crises a locale will face, these processes often have benefits that make places and organizations better able to act in the face of unlikely or unpredicted events. The lessons above regarding BCPs and pre-arranged agreements also highlight that neither the government nor the private sector alone have all the tools to prepare for and respond to disasters. Rather, the GEJE shows the importance of both public and private organizations adopting BCPs, and the value of creating pre-arranged agreements among and across public and private groups. By making disaster preparedness a key consideration for all organizations, and bringing diverse stakeholders together to make plans for when a crisis strikes, these strengthened networks and planning capacities have the potential to bear benefits not only in an emergency but in the everyday operations of organizations and countries.


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Additional Resources

Program Overview

Reports and Case Studies Featuring Lessons from GEJE



Audiovisual Resources on GEJE and its Reconstruction Processes in English


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[i] Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services report, p.63

[ii] Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services report, p.63

[iii] Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services report, p.8

[iv] Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services report, p.71

[v] Resilient Water Supply and Sanitation Services report, p.63

[vi] Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity report, p.115

[vii]Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity report, p.133

[viii] Japan Case Study Report on Road Geohazard Risk Management report, p.30

[ix] Resilient Infrastructure PPPs report, p.8-9

[x] Resilient Infrastructure PPPs report, p.39-40

[xi] Resilient Industries in Japan report, p.153.

[xii] Lifelines: The Resilient Infrastructure Opportunity report, p. 132

[xiii] Making Schools Resilient at Scale report, p.24

[xiv] Resilient Cultural Heritage report, p.62

[xv] Learning from Megadisasters report, p.326

[xvi] Resilient Cultural Heritage report, p.69

[xvii] Learning from Megadisasters report, p.100

[xviii]Learning from Megadisasters report, p.297.

[xix] J-ALERT, Japan’s nationwide early warning system, had 46% implementation at GEJE, and in communities where it was implemented earthquake early warnings were successfully received. Following GEJE, GOJ invested heavily in J-ALERT adoption (JPY 14B), bearing 50% of implementation costs. In 2013 GOJ spent JPY 773M to implement J-ALERT in municipalities that could not afford the expense. In 2014 MIC heavily promoted the L-ALERT system (formerly “Public Information Commons”), achieving 100% adoption across municipalities. Since GEJE, Japan has updated the EEWS to include a hybrid method of earthquake prediction, improving the accuracy of predictions and warnings.

[xx] Related resources: NHK, “#1 TSUNAMI BOSAI: Science that Can Save Your Life” ; NHK “BOSAI: Be Prepared - Hazard Maps”

[xxi] Aldrich, Daniel P., and Yasuyuki Sawada. "The physical and social determinants of mortality in the 3.11 tsunami." Social Science & Medicine 124 (2015): 66-75.

[xxii] Learning from Disaster Simulation Drills in Japan Report, p. 14

[xxiii] Matsushita and Hideshima. 2014. “Influence over Financial Statement of Listed Manufacturing Companies by the GEJE, the Effect of BCP and Risk Financing.” [In Japanese.] Journal of Japan Society of Civil Engineering 70 (1): 33–43.

[xxiv] Resilient Industries in Japan report, p. 56

[xxv] MIC (Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications). 2019. “Survey Results of Business Continuity Plan Development Status in Local Governments.” [In Japanese.] Press release, MIC, Tokyo.

[xxvi] Japan Case Study Report on Road Geohazard Risk Management report, p.17.

[xxvii] The World Bank. 2021. “Financial Protection of Critical Infrastructure Services.” Technical Report – Contribution to 2020 APEC Finance Ministers Meeting.

[xxviii] Resilient Industries in Japan report, p. 119

[xxix] Tokio Marine Holdings, Inc. 2019. “The Role of Insurance Industry to Strengthen Resilience of Infrastructure—Experience in Japan.” APEC seminar on Disaster Risk Finance.

[xxx] TDB (Teikoku DataBank). 2018. “Trends in Bankruptcies 6 Years after the Great East Japan Earthquake.” [In Japanese.] TDB, Tokyo.

[xxxi] Matsushita and Hideshima. 2014. “Influence over Financial Statement of Listed Manufacturing Companies by the GEJE, the Effect of BCP and Risk Financing.” [In Japanese.] Journal of Japan Society of Civil Engineering 70 (1): 33–43.

[xxxii] Resilient Industries in Japan report, p. 145


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