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.




Mother Nature Delays Tsunami Test in Northern California


In October 2017 The National Weather Service and the Redwood Coast Tsunami Work Group in Humboldt County (RCTWG) planned to have a tsunami test.  The test exercises the ability to successfully alert the public to a tsunami risk and, when there is enough time, for coordinated evacuation activities. When a tsunami comes from far away, like Alaska or Japan there can be is enough time to plan for and execute a safe evacuation.

The first time there was a tsunami communications test in Humboldt County was in March 2008, exercising the response system as if a real tsunami had occurred including the Emergency Alert System (EAS). The community worked hard to make sure that everyone was aware of the test, especially people at high risk to not hearing or understanding the alert, the hearing impaired and non-English speakers. The 2008 test only included Humboldt but over time it expanded to Del Norte and Mendocino Counties. The test has been run each year since 2008 except 2011, when there a real tsunami from a Japanese earthquake generated a real alert.

This year the RCTWG decided to change the timing of the 2017 test exercise to October, to coincide with the Great ShakeOut earthquake exercise, the same as communities in coastal Oregon and Washington.  But a successful tsunami test depends on the citizens understanding what to do when the alert sirens sound and they receive evacuation notices.  This requires education on what to do, and to insure people know it will be a test, and only a test.  The fires in northern California made it hard to do a test, not only because many of the emergency personnel were actively fighting fires, but also because the citizens might think that sirens sounding and the EAS system going off meant a real disaster was about to hit.

The communities still took part in the Great ShakeOut on Thursday Oct. 19 and practiced DROP, COVER and HOLD ON.  Everyone living or traveling in coastal California should know what to do in the case of a tsunami, they can come suddenly and often without warning, especially when triggered by a local earthquake. You can find earthquake and tsunami preparedness information in “Living on Shaky Ground: How to Survive Earthquakes and Tsunamis in Northern California” available here along with other preparedness information.

It pays to be prepared, as the people of the north coast know well, Mother Nature will always surprise.


This post is based in part on a story filed in the Eureka Times Standard by Professor Lori Dengler, a Commission Partner and emeritus professor of geology at Humboldt State University. Professor Dengler is the co-author of “The Extraordinary Voyage of Kamome,” a tsunami education book sponsored under a Seismic Safety Commission grant.

Educating Children to the Tsunami Risk

Disaster preparedness is important, and it is hard to get the message out and to motivate people to act. Research has shown, however, that teaching children can help educate their parents. In an effort to help raise awareness of earthquake and tsunami risk in the North Coast region, the Commission partnered with Humboldt State University for a project to deliver preparedness information to elementary school students and their families.

The project design includes the development of a web-based interactive earthquake and tsunami education program, which includes curriculum and preparedness information that will fit into the current state teaching framework and address the priority needs in the State for earthquake and tsunami outreach. Professor Lori Dengler, one of the lead researchers on the project, was recently recognized for her exceptional leadership as a scientist, writer, educator, and advocate of tsunami research and preparedness with the 2017 Frank Press Public Service Award by the Seismological Society of America (SSA).

School districts in both Humboldt and Del Norte counties are using the children’s book, The Extraordinary Voyage of the Kanome, written by Professor Dengler, for a web-based interactive earthquake and tsunami education program, to deliver earthquake and tsunami preparedness information to elementary school-aged students and their families. The book has been reprinted in English as well as Spanish. An update of this project was presented to the SSC at the January 2017 SSC meeting and the project is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018.