What we can do toward a disaster reconstruction
-Response to the Great East Japan Earthquake in Tohoku Institute of Technology

First of all, I would like to express my deepest sympathies to all those who have suffered from the Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011.
In this column, I describe about (1) the Great East Japan Earthquake and the status of damage in TOHTECH, (2) response to disaster in TOHTECH, (3) issues and points to look back on measures against disaster and (4) what we can do toward post-disaster reconstruction.

1. The Great East Japan Earthquake and the status of damage in TOHTECH

The Great East Japan Earthquake occurred on March 11, 2011, as you know, was a megathrust earthquake with a magnitude 9.0 whose seismic center was on the seabed, the biggest one ever to have hit Japan. It also triggered Mega-tsunami. In addition to that, the tsunamis caused a grave nuclear accident at the Fukushima No.1 Nuclear Power Plant. Owing to these disasters, about 15,000 persons were killed, 6,000 injured and 3,000 missing.
Also in TOHTECH, 5 students and 1 expected entrant were unfortunately killed by tsunami when they went home for spring vacation.
About the building and equipment damage, a few landslides and depression occurred in the campus, many cracks formed in both sides of the wall, a number of lighting equipment fell down from the ceiling in gymnasium, various pipes and air-conditioners broke down, and almost all of the furniture and bookcases were overturned.
The amount of these damages was more than 600 million yen, including articles of consumption.
Also an infrastructure was hit directly by the earthquake. After the earthquake occurred at 14:46, the supply of electricity, water and gas was successively cut off. But, electricity and network system were recovered on March 14, 3 days after the earthquake. Water supply was recovered on March 26. Recovery of the gas supply was furthermore delayed.

2. Response of TOHTECH to the disaster

First, the disaster prevention measures before March 11 must be explained. In TOHTECH, earthquake inspection had been done. Buildings had been reinforced to earthquake-proof construction with steel frames & dampers, pillars with fiber rolling developed by TOHTECH’s professors, and furniture in every room fixed. Even so, furniture and bookcases were overturned, but, as a result of earthquake-proof construction, buildings were not affected by earthquake.
And then, we, students and faculty members included, had been raised awareness of crisis by training and classes in disaster prevention. Also, Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) system by the Meteorological Agency had been installed in the campus.
When the earthquake occurred, we were caught in a strong shock such as we have never experienced before. After several shocks settled down, students and faculty members took refuge in the courtyard appointed with a shelter, where roll call and identification were carried out. There were comparatively a small number of students, 450, luckily for spring vacation. About 200 persons who could not return home were permitted to stay in the campus.
At first, we confirmed those who were left and closed in the campus. Next, we established two emergency response headquarters, that is, president team and secretariat team. President team confirmed safety and responded to students and their parents. Secretariat team responded to refugees, secured articles and understood the situations.
Physical and mental care of 200 persons who had difficulty in returning home, and of 100 neighbors was carried out. It was necessary to provide meals, lighting and heating. Secretariat team got through difficulties by emergency foods, electrical generator with diesel engine and oil heaters scraped up from around the campus.
Next, diagnosis and estimate of damage to facilities and equipment were carried out by a contractor and faculty members. According to that, we could enter to buildings by March 13.
On March 14, electricity was recovered. Power supply to every building started, paying attention to short-circuit or fire. Also, network server and portal site of TOHTECH were recovered.
Among the measures taken immediately after the disaster, confirmation of student’s safety was the most serious task. It began 2 days after the disaster, by means of mobile phone, public telephone, e-mail and reporting face to face, because of electric power failure. Since there was no computer available at first, by writing on paper or whiteboard the names of students whose safety was confirmed, we identified them. Looking back now, these old-fashioned works were most reliable method.
After the recovery of electricity, we set up a temporary homepage in Google and restarted to use Gmail, in which more than 2,000 confirmations were sent. We achieved 99% of confirmation in two weeks.
On March 15, we determined to cancel the graduation ceremony and also the entrance ceremony scheduled for April 4. On March 25, two weeks after the earthquake, we determined to delay the beginning of classes for one month and decrease the number of classes. Then we determined the exemption or reduction of school expenses. These measures were applied to the students who have difficulty paying school expenses for the disaster.
We also implemented the extra educational programs to make up for classes. In each Department, a faculty member responded individually the students who were highly motivated to study or to work as volunteer. I strongly believe that the university, as educational institution, should consider such educational programs like this as most important in case of emergency.

3. Issues and points to look back on measures against disaster

One issue is about the establishment of emergency response headquarters. It is clarified that the “role” of disaster manual is not useful. We should establish an organization not with “role” but with “function” necessary at that moment.
Another issue is about the manner of confirming safety. From now on, we should consider following measures:
・Installation of another server in other areas on the presumption that school server would be damaged
・Making use of Cloud Computing
・Making full use of SNS (Social Networking Service) such as Twitter or Facebook and all
Also, as a matter of course, it is clarified that securing the fuel, securing the water and securing the lavatory are very important. Especially, though gasoline was indispensable to transportation and transfer, it was hard to obtain, because of supply failure in gas station. We had to wait in long line for hour after hour.

4. What we can do toward the reconstruction

The duty of the universities is to investigate the following points:
・What ought to be the crisis management in case of disaster
・What technology is capable of doing to save lives and communities from a disaster
・How to educate those who will be able to deal with the crisis
I would like to introduce some practical approaches and efforts in TOHTECH to the problems.
First, the Joint research projects for regional reconstruction are introduced. Immediately after the earthquake, the Center of New Technology Creation and Research in TOHTECH invited the faculty to carry out research, and then 17 supporting projects for reconstruction were adopted. 10 million yen in total was put funds into this project. They are divided into 4 fields: regenerating cities, promoting industrial development, survey and analysis and revitalizing communities.
Next practical approach is the establishment of “Fukkou-Daigaku”.
Supported by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, it is based on Gakuto-Sendai-Consortium to which belong all the universities in Miyagi Prefecture, and it has performed promotion services on “Development of human resources for reconstruction” and “Technological support for reconstruction”; TOHTECH acts as its organizer.
Another effort in TOHTECH is the foundation of “International Center of Disaster Engineering (ICDE)”. In April 2012, aiming at “how technology saves lives and communities from a disaster”, an international center was established for foreign students, including graduate students of TOHTECH in order that they could learn general knowledge of disaster engineering.
Under the cooperative management by 3 specialties (Architecture, civil engineering and industrial design) within the graduate school of TOHTECH, “Professional course for disaster-resistant city planning” was installed. It is aimed at educating a broad knowledge of disaster engineering, and at training the future leaders in Asia who will be able to cope with disasters that would occur everywhere in the future. It prepares 4 programs: (1) Planner Program, (2) Reconstruction Coordinator Program, (3) Structural Engineer Program, (4) Environmental Engineer Program.

5. Conclusions

In conclusion, I’d like to summarize this column in four points.
(1) Faced with this disaster, on the one hand we were fully rewarded for our endeavors that we had always made such as making the buildings earthquake-resistant; but on the other, the lack of endeavors-especially that of preparations for tsunami-caused extensive damage.
(2) Also in TOHTECH, there were some problems left about the measures taken immediately after the Earthquake. We need to confirm more promptly the students’ safety, improve steadily the awareness of crisis and organize a crisis management system.
(3) TOHTECH is located near a residential area, so it is necessary to form an organization for disaster prevention in cooperation with the local residents.
(4) As an educational and research institution, the most important thing is to train those who are able to deal with the crisis, and to investigate what technology is capable of doing to save lives and communities from a disaster.

MIYAGI Mitsunobu



Vice President, Professor
Doctor of Engineering, Tohoku University (1985)
Department of Architecture, Tohoku University (1971)
Registered Architect of the First Class in Japan (1979)
Architectural Environment Engineering
[Specialized Fields]
Indoor Thermal Environment, Indoor Air Quality and Energy Conservation
The Technical Fellow, The Society of Heating, Air-Conditioning and Sanitary Engineers of Japan (SHASE), 2005
Awards for Contribution, Tohoku Branch, Architectural Institute of Japan, 2014
JSEE Award, Japanese Society for Engineering Education, 2014
Special Member, The Society of Heating, Air-Conditioning and Sanitary Engineers of Japan, 2016