Post Earthquake Business Recovery: Learning from Japan’s Experience

Tsunami Evacuation Structure


Commission Grantee – San Jose State University

Learning from Japan – Post Earthquake Business Recovery: Learning from Japan’s Experience


At the January 2018 Seismic Safety Commission meeting, Professor Guna Selvaduray of San Jose State University presented the results of his work on what California business can learn from Japan’s experience before, during and post earthquakes. His presentation covered the post-earthquake economic recovery measures implemented by the Japanese national and local governments.

This report focused on the 2012 creation and activities of the Reconstruction Agency, which was established after the M9.0 Great East Japan Earthquake on March 11, 2011, and the resulting tsunami. More than 19,700 people died, 3,591 from the earthquake and the rest from the impacts of the tsunami. More than 100,000 buildings were totally destroyed and another million partially destroyed or damaged, with a total estimated economic loss of over $169 billion.

The Reconstruction Agency, which is supposed to operate for 10 years, has more than 1,000 personnel and provides a range of assistance to citizens and businesses, including housing assistance, rebuilding communities with improved disaster resilience, rebuilding homes, and health care including mental health. This is similar to what is done in the US, but Japan also has programs specifically targeted to businesses with an approach in line with Japanese business culture. Businesses with a focus on small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that are interdependent on each other can form a “group” and apply for funding to enable/accelerate their recovery.

The local government works with the group to prepare their application to the national government, which funds 50% (the group must provide a 12.5% match), and the grants have a $30 million maximum. Other requirements include that the group must be essential for regional recovery or the national economic supply chain. The groups can also be essential for rebuilding the regional community, such as shopping areas, or the groups can have a mutual inter-dependence and need to be supported together. Single businesses are not eligible.

As of last August, almost 700 groups representing more than 7,000 businesses had been funded and received $5 billion in support. This group approach is credited with being instrumental in accelerating economic recovery after the earthquake and tsunami and was presented by Professor Selvaduray as a model that California and the US can learn from.




Seismic Safety Commission Participates in a public-private partnership to test six story building


Commission Grantee UC San Diego

Seismic Safety Commission Partners with Government and Private Industry to Keep Us Safe


Cold formed steel (CFS) framed buildings are easier and faster to build and increasingly being used in urban areas for apartments, hospitals, medical buildings and schools. They are less expensive to build and maintain compared with other systems, are lightweight, and manufactured from recycled materials. But, due to limited understanding of their performance under earthquake conditions design engineers and contractors are precluded from constructing mid-rise CFS-framed. Also, the post-earthquake fire performance of CFS-framed buildings above 3-4 stories is unknown, and more information is needed to support code acceptance of such buildings in earthquake-prone areas.

Knowing how these structures respond to seismic events and withstand fire damage is important to the safety of the people who occupy them, and to the economics of those who fund, build and insure these structures. Computer simulations work well when the event response characteristics of the structure are well known, however these materials and designs are relatively new. So, the best way to test is to build one and shake it, burn it and then shake it again.

But this can be expensive, much more so than any single organization would want to or be able to fund.  The Seismic Safety Commission helped fund an effort to build, shake, burn and then shake again a six -story CSF building at UCSD’s massive outdoor shake table.  But it did so working with the Federal Government (HUD) and engaging 16 private sector partners, from manufacturers of the steel, to contracting firms, to insurance companies.  And in addition to UCSD, which has deep experience in earthquake testing of structures the project included senior researchers from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Massachusetts who are experts in the response of structures to fires.

How did the test building do?  It withstood the shaking and fire, and the structure did not collapse.  A good end to a very rigorous test, and supported by a robust private-public partnership.


Drones Help with Post Disaster Damage Inspection


Commission Grantee UC San Diego

UCSD researchers using drones to detect earthquake damage to buildings


A team of researchers at UC San Diego is developing a new approach for detecting earthquake damage to buildings with funding provided in part by the California Seismic Safety Commission.  This work will permit more rapid damage assessment of structures after a seismic event and may lead to the ability to identify which buildings are safe to enter much more quickly and using less expert resource than is currently needed. Use of this technology will help speed post-disaster recovery.

The research team is using techniques that were earlier used on a 6 story building on the UCSD shake table, the largest outdoor test facility of its kind in the world, where the Commission had provided funding for the shake test and drone building mapping.  Then working together with laser mapping experts from Scripps Institute of Oceanography they mapped the iconic UCSD Geisel Library, making a digital record of the structure.

“We are using this culturally significant building on campus as a reference model to help detect structural changes over time,” said Falko Kuester, a professor of structural engineering who serves as director of the Jacob’s School Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative (CHEI) and DroneLab and a Commission grantee.


World’s Largest Outdoor Shake Table Tests How Buildings will Perform During Earthquakes


Commission Grantee UC San Diego

UC San Diego Uses Largest Outdoor Shake Table to Test Steel Frame Construction


Earthquakes cause shaking motions than can, if intense enough and of sufficient duration, damage buildings and other structures. But buildings and earthquakes have a complicated interaction, and understanding how different structures will respond to different kinds of earthquakes requires testing. And if the building is large enough a big shake table to test it is required.

The largest outdoor shake table in the world is in San Diego. Operated by the UCSD school of Engineering, it is big enough to support a six-story building and shake it with the same force as the Northridge Earthquake, burn part of it, and then shake it again.

This kind of research supported by the California Seismic Safety Commission insures that the buildings we construct will be safe to occupy, saving lives and property in the event of an earthquake (demonstrated here in numerous videos).

Learning Post Earthquake Economic Recovery Lessons from Japan


Commission Grantee – San Jose State University

Learning from Japan – Improving post-earthquake economic recovery


Japan is, like California, located along the “Ring of Fire” and subject to frequent earthquakes.  Japan was one of the first nations to build an earthquake early warning system (EEWS) and it is used and trusted.  In the past decade Japan has experienced numerous earthquakes, but the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 and the Great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake of 1995 had devastating impacts on the people and industry that experienced strong shaking.

Since the Tohoku Earthquake experience, the Japanese national and local governments implemented numerous measures to help drive the recovery, and growth, of affected businesses.  This provides an opportunity to learn from the experience of the Japanese to identify post-earthquake economic recovery measures that could apply to California.

The Seismic Safety Commission has partnered with San Jose State University to work with Japan affiliated California businesses to learn from the experiences of their Japanese parent firms and partners, in an effort to accelerate California’s post-earthquake economic recovery. This project consists of a survey of the recovery measures implemented by the Japanese governments, and if available, learn how effective these measures have been.  It will also include surveying California firms with Japanese affiliations to determine their perceived needs for earthquake recovery assistance.

This project also includes seminars for Japanese companies in northern and southern California to educate them on the earthquake threat in the State. These seminars will also cover the regulations designed to accelerate economic recovery and information on US federal, state and local programs that can assist their businesses.

Together with other programs the Commission has sponsored, such as that with the California Small Business Development Commission, this work will help inform the development of a broad business/economic recovery strategy for the State of California.



The Tall Buildings Initiative

Commission Grantee – Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER)

Tall Building Initiative – Insuring New Building Technologies Are Safe


Compare photos of the skylines of San Francisco or Los Angeles from the 1970s with photos today and you will notice that buildings are taller, a lot taller. Many of the newer tall buildings are mixed use, including residential units. We take for granted that these are safe in case of earthquake, but are they? The materials and construction techniques used today are new and we hope improved, but we are putting new stresses on the buildings as they rise and the land they are built upon.

The Seismic Safety Commission, together with other funders, has sponsored work on Tall Buildings by the Pacific Earthquake Engineering Research Center (PEER), which has recently released some of its recommendations. Peer is a cooperative research center with researchers from over 20 universities and private sector firms working together to improve building safety and promote appropriate public policy.

In the early stages of the Tall Building Initiative, PEER conducted research into perceptions by key stakeholders (governments, owners, builders, etc.) and found the following:

  • “Stakeholders were surprised by, and not necessarily accepting of, current code performance expectations for normal buildings.
  • Stakeholders strongly advocate disclosure of risks and anticipated performance, including serviceability and fire risks.
  • Most believed that a higher standard should be required for tall buildings.”

Based on this input and its extensive background and experience, PEER developed a set of recommendations which are included in PEER Report No. 2017/06 titled: “Guidelines for Performance-Based Seismic Design of Tall Buildings V 2.03.” This new version of the PEER Guidelines addresses lessons learned since the earlier version, based on updates from “many projects and the conditions, knowledge, and state-of-practice that presently exist.” Not necessarily an easy read for the general public, this report contains valuable information for those responsible for building safety.