Evidence-Based Analysis of Search and Rescue Operations Following the Great East Japan Earthquake
Fire and Disaster Management Agency (FDMA), Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication, 2-1-2 Kasumigaseki, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8927, Japan
The March 11, 2011 earthquake off Japan’s northeast (Tohoku) Pacific coast and the resulting gigantic tsunamis took the lives of nearly 18,000 people in the devastated coastal communities. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, now called Great East Japan Earthquake, search and rescue (SAR) for those who were trapped in tsunami waters and debris and who were missing was the top priority in the integrated emergency response. Eventually, SAR operations were performed on an unprecedented scale and complexity. This being the case, a strong interest in the details of these activities has surfaced and frequent enquiries have often been made both from within Japan and from overseas. Still, few studies have been conducted to-date on how SAR operations were performed and what lessons have been learned as a result. By analyzing the experiences of fire service rescue workers, this paper identifies challenges and gaps that the SAR system – institutions, policy frameworks and instruments, skills and techniques, equipment, etc. – could not fully deal with. This paper also looks at the lessons learned to examine the reasons behind them and to explore ways forward that may enable us to be better prepared for future disasters of a similar kind.
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