Securing Communication Channels in Severe Disaster Situations – Lessons from a Japanese Earthquake

Mihoko Sakurai, Richard T. Watson


Information delivery and sharing are vital for survival during and following a disaster. Information and communication technology (ICT) is supposed to support these processes effectively. To promote information delivery and sharing, the primary actors in charge of conducting a disaster relief operation at all levels of government have invested in developing a supposedly disaster-proof communication channel to be used exclusively when catastrophes hit. In 2011, the biggest earthquake on record hit Japan. ICT services were suspended because of a huge tsunami. This made it impossible for officials to respond as per the existing disaster management plan. The plan turned out not to be useful in response to such an unexpected event. This paper shows how municipal governments responded to the disaster and leads us to propose that unpredictable, large-scale disasters need communication systems that are founded in familiar contexts rather than technological complexity.

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