Lessons Learned By Broadcasters During and After The Earthquake and Tsunami March 11 2011

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  • Lessons Learned By Broadcasters During And After The March 11, 2011 Earthquake And Tsunami


  • Kunio Numabe, Fuji Television
  • Yosuke Funahashi, Tomo-Digi Coporation


  • Kinji Matsumura, NHK (Japan Broadcasting Corporation)


Natural disasters - earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, volcanic eruptions, etc — can wreak havoc on communities. Timely and reliable communication during this period is key to survival, and so the role of core broadcasters during and after disasters in Japan is to provide broadcasting content that helps prevent and/or mitigate loss of life.

This document presents the four phases in the disaster management cycle from a broadcaster perspective as they relate to the activities carried out during and after the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami. Specifically, it includes broadcaster activities related to web technologies and contains statistics about media used during and after the disaster. This note also documents lessons learned from the response phase of the disaster.

The purpose of the document is to present how broadcasters function during and after devastating disasters in Japan. It is also meant to provide a brief introduction to disaster management, and to encourage the development of use cases followed by gap analysis of existing broadcasting and web standards.

Goal of This Document

  • The goal of this document is to catalogue the actions of Japanese broadcasters taken to disseminate emergency, survival and recovery information during and after the earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.
  • Although the March 11 disaster included the Fukushima nuclear power plant incident, the editors have chosen not to deal with this aspect of the disaster in this document because natural disasters and nuclear power plant incidents are intrinsically orthogonal factors. Examination of the nuclear incident can be done separately, with possible integration of the nuclear aspect and other aspects of the disaster later.
  • The editors have limited the scope of this document to topics related to our theme "Web and Broadcasting."
  • The BG believes that the combination of Web and Broadcasting has the potential to contribute greatly to the development of a society more resilient to large-scale (natural) disasters, based on experience gained during and after the Great East Japan Earthquake. The BG also thinks this document is a good starting point for that work.

Natural Disasters in Japan

Japan is particularly vulnerable to natural disasters because of its climate and topography, and it has experienced countless earthquakes, typhoons, volcanic eruptions, and other types of disasters.

A number of factors contribute to the high incidence of natural disasters in Japan. First, the country is subject to extreme climatic variations, such as seasonal rain fronts and typhoons, as well as heavy snowfall on the Sea of Japan side of the archipelago. Second, Japan's topography is rugged and there are many faults and steep inclines. Third, Japan is located in the Pacific earthquake belt and is frequently struck by earthquakes, while its complex coastline is vulnerable to tsunamis. And fourth, Japan is located in the circum-Pacific zone, in which almost all the volcanoes of the world are concentrated, and has 83 active volcanoes-one-tenth of the world total.

Laws Related To Natural Disasters and Broadcasting in Japan

  • Broadcasters are required to take appropriate actions as set forth in the 2010 revisions to the legal guidelines.
    • Basic Act on Disaster Control Measures
    • Radio Law
    • Telecommunications Business Law
    • Broadcast Law
      • "In case of disasters such as storms, heavy rains, floods, quakes, large fires, or in case that such disasters are anticipated, core broadcasters must provide broadcasting content that helps prevent and/or mitigate aftermath."
  • The legal requirements for broadcasters are abstract. Broadcasters are permitted to create their own guidelines to achieve better results. It is not uncommon for broadcasters to share parts of their guidelines with each other.

Cycle of Disaster Management

The Four Major Phases in Disaster Management

  • Mitigation
    • Mitigation is the effort to reduce loss of life and property by lessening the impact of disasters. Mitigation is taking action now to reduce human and financial consequences later by analyzing, reducing and insuring against risk.
  • Preparedness
    • Preparedness is the long-term phase which consists of a cycle of planning, exercising, evaluating and adjusting emergency management and incident response activities to ensure coordination during times of crisis.
    • For the purposes of this note, the editors have limited preparedness to consist only of a management cycle without any risk assessment, which is covered in mitigation. The editors prefer to keep these phases distinct.
  • Response
    • Response is the phase in which the focus is on fulfilling basic humanitarian needs of the affected population, and may commence with search and rescue. This assistance is mostly provided by national or international agencies and organisations.
  • Recovery
    • Recovery starts after the immediate threat to human life has subsided and sufficient information and resources are available to begin rebuilding, using lessons learned to improve mitigation and preparedness.

Detailed Response Phase

  • First 72 Hours
    Seventy-two hours is considered the limit for victims in the worst possible situation to survive.
    • Zero Hour
      • During an emergency, alert and warning officials need to provide the public with life-saving information quickly. Especially at the time of devastating natural disasters, central and/or local governments issue evacuation recommendations or orders to each disaster affected area and these are delivered to citizens via various means, including public address systems and TV and radio channels.
    • Immediate Aftermath
      • This is the period when the overall situation is unknown because no information about the severity of the disaster is immediately available. Following this, as information trickles in, stakeholders begin to build an understanding of what happened.
  • First Week
    • In the first seven days, some vital lifelines have partially recovered and more detailed information about the situation, including formal and informal evacuation centers and the status of these centers, has been gathered. The activities of volunteers from unaffected areas are implemented and evacuation centers become logistical hubs, receiving support items and delivering them to survivors.

Disaster Management Activities By Broadcasters Within The Four-Phase Cycle

  • Prior to the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan experienced two strong earthquakes (see below) over the preceding two decades. These two quakes brought about valuable lessons and triggered new disaster management cycles for Japanese broadcasters. In this note, Cycle 1 (C1) began with The Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995 and overlapped the mitigation and preparedness phases of Cycle 2 (C2), which began with the 2004 Chuetsu earthquake.
  1. The Great Hanshin earthquake, Tuesday, January 17, 1995, 05:46 JST, Hyogo Prefecture, magnitude 6.8.
  2. The Chuetsu earthquake, Saturday, October 23, 2004, 17:56 JST, Niigata Prefecture, magnitude 6.8.


  • Broadcasters reduced the risk of core broadcasting system failure by eliminating all SPOFs, Single Points Of Failure.
  • As for ICT systems other than core broadcasting systems, broadcaster's ICT systems have average availability. This is partly because the attention to business continuity is becoming more prevalent in the private sector and as a result the average availability has become higher.
  • Since broadcasters are responsible for delivering disaster-related information, they have implemented a human resource management system that keeps a sufficient number of people working at all times during disasters.
  • Broadcasters installed power generators in all broadcasting centers to ensure broadcast continuity during short and long-term blackouts. Some broadcasters contracted oil companies to supply them with sufficient fuel following a natural disaster regardless of the conditions.
  • Some broadcasters made agreements with affiliates in other regions to use one anothers' system as a backup in case one of their systems is destroyed. [Adopted in C1]
  • Some broadcasters made agreements with other broadcasters in the same region to assist one another by sharing resources during disasters.


  • Most broadcasters made agreements with central and local governments to receive from them emergency recommendations and orders and to deliver these messages to the public.
  • Some broadcasters made agreements with private sector organizations, such as cab companies, to use employees as on-location reporters in the aftermath of natural disasters. [Introduced and adopted in C1]
  • Some broadcasters made agreements with other media sources such as newspapers to work collaboratively during natural disasters.
  • Broadcasters made contracts with telcos for access to privileged telephone lines.
  • Some broadcasters implemented a proprietary nation-wide EWS, or Emergency Warning System.
  • Some broadcasters paired their EWS with the publicly-funded EEWS, or Earthquake Early Warning System. [Introduced in C1 and adopted in C2]
  • Some broadcasters paired their EWS with JMA, Japan Meteorological Agency. [Introduced and adopted in C1]
  • Some broadcasters connected their data broadcasting (DTV app) system to private companies for transportation data on road traffic and conditions, railway and airport operations, etc. [Introduced and adopted in C2]
  • Some broadcasters entered into an agreement to receive information about the condition of utility systems from utility companies.
  • Some broadcasters entered into an agreement to receive information from "Public Information Commons" systems, which are gateways to public information contributed by small local communities. [Introduced in C1 and widely adopted in C2]


  • While mitigation and preparedness are very important in dealing with the disaster, it is the response phase that provides the key lessons to be learned, especially as it relates to an infrastructure in disarray. Within this phase, it is highly likely we can identify new use cases and/or requirements.

Zero Hour

In Reaction To The Quake

Details and Lessons Learned
  • All broadcasters transmitted warnings/alerts for the earthquake using Emergency Warning Systems (EWS), 2-15 seconds before the most powerful shockwave shook Miyagi prefecture in Tohoku.
  • Approximately 40% of residents in the affected Tohoku areas received advanced warning of the impending quake. (Iwate 45%, Miyagi 32%, Fukushima 43%)
    • Lesson Learned:
      • Increasing the number of people who receive advanced warnings is important.
  • The following list is from research done to determine devices used by those people who received a warning about the impending earthquake. Respondents were allowed to provide multiple answers.
    • At home
      • TV and/or radio 85%
      • Mobile phones 52%
      • Third-party mobile phones 20%
      • Dedicated EEWS terminals 7%
    • Outside the home
      • Mobile phones 40%
      • Third-party mobile phones 30%
      • TV and/or radio 20%
      • Building (offices, department stores, etc) announcements 5%
    • Lessons Learned:
      • Mobile phones have become the primary devices people use to receive EWS warnings outside the home, while TV and radio remain the primary devices inside the home.
  • Approximately 40% of people did not react to the warning.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • Better public education and participating in community drills is important to achieve better mitigation through EWS and EEWS.

In Reaction To The Tsunami

Details and Lessons Learned
  • All broadcasters and Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) started transmitting warnings/alerts for the tsunami approximately three minutes after the quake began, and the first wave of the tsunami arrived at various points along the coast 12 - 140 minutes later.
  • The following list is from research done to determine on which device people in the affected area first learned of the tsunami. Respondents were allowed to provide a single answer.
    • Tower-mounted public address systems 50.9%
    • Radio 24.1% (commercial broadcasters 16.7%, NHK 7.4%)
    • TV 11.9% (commercial broadcasters 6.5%, NHK 5.4%)
    • Dedicated EEWS terminals 11.0%
  • NHK provided multiple language services through TV sub audio and radio channels.
  • Research shows there were three major reasons why some people did not evacuate immediately when told to do so. The first is psychological, the second is social and the last is physical. The psychological hurdle consisted of three major factors, normalcy bias, inexperience and ignorance, and past experience. Research shows that the way in which the warnings were delivered affected this psychological hurdle, as some cities used a much more imperative way of telling citizens to immediately evacuate and as a result saved lives.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • Some broadcasters have altered their language-use guidelines to improve communication in a crisis by allowing announcements to contain and announcers to use imperative and emphatic expressions. (Some local governments have also rewritten their guidelines.)
      • Research shows that getting warnings from multiple media sources helped some people take immediate action. Improving collaboration between media sources will stimulate people into action more quickly.
  • The initial JMA warnings about wave heights were inaccurate due to damage to sensor equipment caused by the earlier earthquake, and delayed the immediate evacuation of some people.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • Media need to take into account the fact that warnings from authorities can be inaccurate due to damage to sensor equipment caused by the initial earthquake.

Within The First 72 Hours

Details and Lessons Learned

  • Radio stations based in the affected areas broadcast survivor names, hometowns, and evacuation locations 24 hours a day for five consecutive days, from March 11. Additionally, listeners seeking family members or friends were encouraged to use the radio stations to help make contact with them.
    • Lessons learned:
      • Radio stations continue to provide immediate and vital services to survivors in the affected areas.
      • Radio stations provide a lifeline between survivors and near and distant family members.
      • Battery operated radios are essential to receive local information.
      • The service of radio stations raises the morale of those affected by the disaster.
      • Despite the importance of radio at the time of disaster, the number of listeners and radio receivers in the market is constantly declining in Japan. TV broadcasters should therefore develop new local interactive information services using Web and TV technologies as a future potential substitute for radio services.
  • Research concluded that analog media such as TV and radio, word-of-mouth communications, traditional newspapers, remains highly effective in disseminating information.
    • Battery operated radios were common.
    • Evacuation centers often used TV and/or radio to share information.
    • Lessons learned:
      • Smart technologies and services used in devices such as smartphones and tablets are poor substitutes for analog media in the time of disaster.
  • The following list is from research done to determine the media first used by people in the affected area to receive information immediately following the earthquake. Respondents were allowed to provide a single answer.
    • TV 67.1%
    • Radio 6.7%
    • One-seg TV 5.2%
    • Web pages via PC 4.5%
    • Web pages on WWW and/or within telco walled spaces via mobile phones 2.7%
    • SNS 1.2%
    • Emails on mobile phones 0.7%
    • Lessons learned:
      • While people commonly use smartphones repeatedly throughout the day, when a disaster strikes they turn to analog media to which they can immediately give 100% of their attention and ignore complex smart devices.
  • The following list is from research done to determine which media people in the affected area used to successfully receive information they sought after finding safety. Respondents were allowed to provide multiple answers.
    • TV 96.0%
    • Newspapers 50.7%
    • Web pages via PC 26.0%
    • Radio 20.5%
    • Emails on mobile phones 15.8%
    • Conversations with neighbors 10.9%
    • One-seg TV 9.2%
    • SNS 5.4%
    • Public address system 3.0%
    • Web pages on WWW and/or within telco walled spaces via mobile phones 1.8%
    • Lessons learned:
      • High rates of TV and newspapers consumption shows good curation, reliability and trustworthiness are essential characteristics for people in the affected areas. Additionally, the high rate of TV consumption indicates the importance of real-time content that meets the information demands of viewers.
      • In contrast to the figures concerning media use immediately following the disaster, there is a significant increase of Web, SNS, and other content consumption. This indicates that people who have already entered the recovery phase have started to use web-based media.
  • Some people were unable to watch TV in certain locations such as offices without TV sets, and blackout areas, while other people lacked smartphones with one-seg, or resided overseas. To reach such audiences, most major broadcasters leveraged the informal personal relationships of staff to begin simulcasting their broadcast streams on UStream, Nico-Nico Live and/or YouTube Live on March 11.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • The success of simulcasting during the disaster suggest broadcasters should continue implementing it in the time of future disasters.
      • Formalising the relationships with VOD providers will ensure simulcasting is immediately implemented in the time of future disasters.
        • While doing these agreements, informal personal relationships among staff should be encouraged to help implement new solutions and services in the mayhem following devastating disasters.
      • TV simulcasting can quickly dominate the bandwidth of backbone networks and slow other communications. Broadcasters and VOD providers should take this potential issue into account, even in Japan where the network bandwidth is highly advanced.
      • Certain CE manufactures produce smartphones that lack the ability to access TV broadcast signals and/or suffer from short battery life. The wider adoption and access to broadcasting reception capabilities and improved battery life is essential for people to deal with disasters.
  • Most major radio broadcasters, mainly in the Kanto (Tokyo), Chukyo (Nagoya), Kansai (Osaka) and Tohoku areas, unlocked self-imposed regional restrictions on internet simulcast radio services, one of which is "radiko", to make their live feed available across the country. This enabled the radio broadcasters to reach audiences who lacked radio receivers, and resolved their declining listenership caused by a continual decrease in radio receiver sales. Radio streams from the Tohoku area enabled listeners in other regions to access up-to-the-minute community-oriented news, which is one of the strengths of radio content over TV content.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • The success of simulcasting during the disaster suggest broadcasters should continue implementing it in the time of future disasters.
      • Depending on the magnitude of a disaster, radio broadcasters in affected areas need to continue simulcasting well after the disaster to provide people in other regions, including those who have evacuated from the affected areas, with community-oriented news.
      • Certain CE manufactures produce smartphones that lack the ability to access radio broadcast signals and/or suffer from short battery life. The wider adoption and access to broadcasting reception capabilities and improved battery life is essential for people to deal with disasters.
  • Most parts of broadcaster ICT systems maintained their high availability during the disasters. However, the magnitude of the disasters revealed new risks that need mitigation. One such risk is the increasing use of intersystem communication using low-cost dedicated lines. Some of these lines were down for the first few days of the disaster and some broadcasters had to resort to workarounds such as sending intersystem communication data by email attachments.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • It was proven that the Internet can be stronger than low-cost dedicated lines in spite of the magnitude of the disasters. With sufficient security considerations, adopting the Internet as a back-up for dedicated lines is an option to achieve high availability of distributed systems.
Editor's Note
  • News crews issues need additional research, such as how to get the information at that time.
  • Data from the Hanshin earthquake is needed to figure out new devices and media.

Within The First Week

Details and Lessons Learned

  • Most major broadcasters provided apps that run on digital TV sets to deliver localised and searchable information. One app, for example, provided online search services for the names of survivors five days after the earthquake, while another app delivered information from TEPCO about electricity blackout schedules six days later, and still another delivered map-based graphical information about official evacuation areas less than two weeks later.
    • Lessons Learned:
      • The success of localised and searchable information delivery during the disaster suggest broadcasters should continue implementing it in the time of future disasters.
      • Broadcasters need to develop these apps prior to disasters and start delivering information through them immediately after disasters.


  • The recovery phase of a disaster of this magnitude requires a very long-term effort. The editors would like to focus on broadcaster activity during the initial stage over the first two months following the disaster.

Helping people in their recovery phase

  • Several broadcasters started sharing video messages from survivors on March 23.
  • Most major broadcasters started delivering information on how to reduce electricity consumption on March 25.
  • Several broadcasters started delivering information on how to donate to the Red Cross and other aid organisations on March 25.
  • NHK along with several CE manufacturers supplied one TV set and one radio receiver to approximately 750 evacuation centers.

Recovery of broadcasters based in affected areas

  • The power to approximately 120 TV and two radio broadcast antennas was cut off by the earthquake. All these antennas except one in Miyagi prefecture were up and running by June 1.

Editor's Note


  • TBW

Editor's Note


  • NHK Broadcasting Culture Research Institute, The Great East Japan Earthquake: What Was Reported by Television on March 11th, 2011
  • Mitsuru Fukuda, 大震災とメディア―東日本大震災の教訓, 2012
  • Miho Ohara, Kimiro Meguro and Atsushi Tanaka, Comparative Study on Prople's Awareness of Earthquake Early Warning before and after the 2011 off the Pacific coast of Tohoku Earthquake, 2011
  • "FEMA.gov"