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.




Key Findings from the “Back to Normal” Project


Commission Grantee Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM)

Key Learnings from “Back to Normal” Research

The Back to Normal research and model funded by the Commission and produced by GEM and UCLA was described in an earlier Post. Here we review some of the key findings, based on a study of the 2014 South Napa earthquake. The Back to Normal study looked at what factors influenced recovery from earthquake damage. GEM listed eight key variables that influence rapid and effective recovery: These variables are listed below in order of importance, with the level of damage being the most significant factor.

  1. Level (or amount) of building damage
    b. Homeownership
    c. Percentage of households that have a male householder
    d. Presence of health insurance coverage
    e. Employment status
    f. Percentage of households that have any type of available income
    g. Percentage of buildings constructed after 1950 (a result of updated building codes; consequently, these structures suffer less damage during an earthquake)
  2. Percentage of English-speaking households

The percentage of homes insured for earthquake was low in Napa and, therefore, not a factor in this scenario, but access to financial resources clearly impacts recovery.

Based on their findings, the GEM team created several recommendations, many of them aimed at future research and improving the accuracy and effectiveness of the modeling effort. But some were specifically targeted at how to improve the recovery effort and speed the return to normal. On page 12 of the 85-page report, they recommend the following:

  1. “Facilitate access to assistance for vulnerable groups of the population, such as residents that do not speak English.
  2. Conduct further investigations into the relationships between the variables that correlate most positively with recovery (e.g., homeownership and health insurance) to determine the underlying causes.
  3. Conduct more extensive research on cost-benefit analysis of retrofitting buildings because the buildings not seismically designed in the city of Napa sustained significantly more damage compared to stronger structures.
  4. Improve access to financial mechanisms, such as earthquake insurance, to residents exposed to high earthquake risk, as well as investigate and promote alternative post-earthquake resources, such as grants, which will support residents in the rebuilding process.”

Many people do not realize that the typical homeowner’s policy does not cover earthquake loss. The California Earthquake Authority (CEA) is a not-for-profit organization that provides residential earthquake insurance for Californians, and the report recommends more people take advantage of their programs and policies.


“Back to Normal” – Earthquake Recovery Modeling Tool


Commission Grantee Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM)

GEM Team Develops “Back to Normal” Earthquake Recovery Modeling Tool


The prediction of earthquakes remains an unrealized goal of the scientific community, but we now have a tool that will help civic leaders and others better plan for successful recovery efforts. To better understand some of the main factors that influence earthquake recovery, the Alfred E. Alquist Seismic Safety Commission supported work by the Global Earthquake Model Foundation (GEM) and UCLA to develop a software tool to help estimate how long it would take to recover from an earthquake and what socio-economic factors might influence recovery.

The output of this Commission supported work is “Back to Normal” and the full report can be found on the Commission’s website. Building on over $20 million in funding that has been used the develop the Open Quake software package and supporting datasets, Back to Normal used data from the 2014 M6 South Napa Earthquake and the City of Napa to create this real-world case study and report. It estimates how long it will take an affected area to recover from a similar earthquake and what socio-economic conditions impact the recovery time and trajectory.

While not all earthquakes are the same, this tool will help civic leaders plan and direct resources where most needed to help the community recover.



A Network for Multi-hazard Monitoring and Warning

Commission Grantee UCSD/SIO HPWREN

Leveraging a Network for Multi-hazard Monitoring and Warning


In 2000 the National Science Foundation funded the Supercomputer Center at UCSD to deploy HPWREN, the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network. This network provides network support for cameras and sensors in the field on a wireless system spanning San Diego County and beyond, enabling seismic, acoustic, weather, and fire monitoring via a mix of sensors and cameras. Video and weather from the network is available in near real time at and seismic data is available at The network currently covers most of San Diego County and much of Imperial County and has extensions into Riverside County. It has wireless backbone speeds up to 200+ megabits per second, fast enough for high-definition 4K video.

This mix of seismic, weather, and fire monitoring technologies mirrors that provided by the Seismology Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), ( and researchers from UNR and UCSD/SIO have partnered for years on improving technologies that can help save lives. In fact, the UNR system in Lake Tahoe and Nevada has been credited with the early detection of more than 300 fires in the region over the past two years.

These two teams have pioneered the use of robust radio networks for multi-hazard monitoring.  Leveraging the high fixed cost of the towers and radio equipment to support earthquake, fire, and other risks lowers the cost for each of the different warning systems and enables larger, and more resilient, systems to be deployed. Given the recent wildfires in California and our investment in separate seismic and fire warning systems, it is a good model to consider for the State.


High Tech Cameras Used for Early Fire Detection

Commission Grantee UCSD ALERT

Looking Out to Protect California’s Citizens


In November of 2017 the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and the Seismology Lab at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR), unveiled the new Alert SDG&E Cameras. These 15 high-definition cameras will improve public safety by livestreaming images from some of San Diego’s most fire-prone areas. This new system provides firefighters and the public with a virtual fire lookout tower equipped with real-time and on-demand time-lapse imagery up to 12 hours in the past to spot the first signs of fire ignition. Based on the UCSD/Scripps Institute of Oceanography (SIO) High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), which also includes seismic monitoring for earthquake early warning and has been supported by the Commission, these new mountaintop cameras enable early detection of fires in some of the most remote locations in Southern California.

Alert SDG&E (originally named AlertSoCal but renamed after generous support from San Diego Gas and Electric.

was developed by SIO and UNR and expands Southern California’s state-of-the-art earthquake and weather monitoring system to better detect fires in real time before they spread. The HPWREN network currently includes more than 64 fixed mountaintop cameras positioned in 16 remote locations across San Diego, Riverside, and Imperial counties to support public safety operations. New Alert SDG&E 4K high-definition, pan-tilt-zoom cameras, built on a design by UNR, will augment the existing HPWREN cameras.

“This technology brings us one step closer to providing public safety officials with an integrated hazards network to revolutionize how we detect and fight wildfire and other natural hazards in the United States,” said SIO research geophysicist Frank Vernon, the lead researcher of the HPWREN network.

The Seismic Safety Commission Works to Reduce Earthquake Damage to Small Business


Commission Grantee – California Small Business Development Centers

Helping Small Business Prepare for Earthquakes


According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), there are more than 700,000 small businesses in California that employ almost 50% of the employees in the State. They are the primary drivers of exports from California (over 90%), thus critical to the people and the economy of California.

In order to improve awareness of disaster preparedness amongst the State’s small businesses, the California Seismic Safety Commission contracted with California’s Small Business Development Centers (CASBDC) network to assess and help improve disaster preparedness among California small businesses in the event of a natural disaster.

The Commission-funded effort had two parts:

  1. To conduct a survey of California small businesses and their disaster preparedness.
  2. To create of the California Small Business Disaster Resource Guide, which can be found here.

The Guide includes a disaster preparedness checklist, information on government disaster assistance, and details on how to prepare, respond to, and recover from a disaster.

The project found that the State’s small business owners are focused on keeping their businesses growing and thriving. Preparing for a disaster is not always a priority for small business owners, and less than half had business interruption insurance.

This and similar findings lead to the second part of the effort. To help rollout the resource guide, the Commission contracted with the CASBDC to host a series of educational workshops targeting small business owners in California. The purpose of the educational sessions is to provide businesses with information they need to be prepared for disruption caused by earthquakes and other natural disasters. These workshops assist small business owners plan for business continuity during and after earthquakes. Training workshops were conducted in 2017 across the State.