2013/02/17

Project311- Comments from Mr. Suzuki from Kesennuma

One of the commentators for Project311 workshop was Mr. Hidemitsu Suzuki from Kesennuma City. He was working at city of Kesennuma Crisis Management division, so when the earthquake happened  he was in charge of coping with it. I visited Kesennuma last year and wrote a post about it here. You can see the video of Kesennuma right after the crisis here. The city was hit by earthquake, tsunami and was caught on fire.



You are able to watch his comments in English with the subtitle on this video.



After hearing all the presentations, he shows a video clip of tsunami attacking his city. He says he was impressed by the analysis, he thinks it is helpful to cope with future disasters.

While coping with the crisis, he felt the importance of information provided by government agencies, but in reality the government lacked people who can work on it. At the workshop, he felt encouraged by hearing people talk about the possibility of citizens to help the government publish data.

In Kesennuma, the power outage took two months to fix. It took three months to fully restore the water supply. Missing persons were announced with paper notices in the city hall lobby. That is reality. It wasn't digital.

Traffic jam happened, and the roads were stuck in all directions. Not only were people trying to escape to hills, some were trying to get back to the dangerous city worrying about their families. (According to the survey by the Ministry Internal Affairs and Communications, 27% of the people who got on the cars replied they got on the car in hope to rescue their families.) People were trying to move in all directions and the roads were stuck everywhere. If these people were able to get the information about their families' safety, maybe they wouldn't have gotten back to the city.

There were power outages. Maybe, researches presented in the workshop may not function with power outages. We should be prepared for that, too.

How should people respond to a tweet that simply reads "Help me"? Should you go look for that person?

Here is an example. The central public hall of Kesennuma was hit by tsunami, and citizens who evacuated there were surrounded by fire. There was a mother getting ready to suffocate her own child so that the child wouldn't burn to death. Fortunately they were rescued, thanks to the power of social media. The principal of a kindergarten sent an email via her mobile phone to her son in London. "I'm in the public hall, surrounded by fire. I may not make it, but I will do my best." He asked to spread that information on Twitter and Tokyo's vice governor Naoki Inose saw it. The next day, Inose sent helicopters and rescue units from Tokyo's fire department and rescued them.  This example demonstrated the potential of social media during disaster.

Mr. Suzuki closed his comments hoping that the researchers here will be "intellectuals with wilderness who is able to cope with issues even with power outages".

東日本大震災ビッグデータワークショップ

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Let me add some more details about the example described above. It is actually called "the miracle of Kesennuma".

Naoko Utsumi, principal of a school for disabled children was surrounded by tsunami water and fire. She writes an email to her son, Naohito, who live in London: "I'm in the public hall, surrounded by fire. I may not make it, but I will do my best." Her mobile phone was almost out of battery.


Naohito tried to call the fire department but the call didn't get through, so he tweeted:
Please retweet: My mother is the principal of a school for disabled children and she is left on the 3rd floor of the central public hall of Kesennuma City, Miyagi prefecture with dozens of children. The surroundings and the lower floor of the building is drained in water due to tsunami and there is no way to get close to them from the ground. If there is any way to get close to them from the sky, please help at least the children there."
Information spread, and Shuichi Suzuki who lives in Tokyo tweeted it to Naoki Inose, vice governor of Tokyo. He of course did not know Inose in person.




Inose replied "I printed this out and gave it to the executives of Tokyo Disaster Control Center."




The fire department in Kesennuma itself was hit by the disaster and there was no request from the local fire department asking for help. "There never was a case like this, but I want you to go" told Inose, to the manager of Disaster Center. "During the crisis, it is important to clear up the flow of information, to connect the information between the people on the grounds and the people who needs those information. In a critical situation, leaders should tell the team that they will take responsibility and push people to take action." says Inose.

The next morning helicopter arrived in to the city hall. "Great news! The children are saved!" tweeted Inose.




Due to a single tweet from London, the lives of 446 people were saved- including an elderly over 90 years old, newly born baby and an expecting mother (in 10 days), and many children.

Why did this happen? There were lots of tweets, Twitter was flood of information, and Inose gets lots of replies- why was he able to distinguish this tweet? There were lots of false tweets like this. Why did this tweet get in to Inose's eyes, why did he trust it and why was he able to act upon it?

The point, according to Inose was that the tweet was very logical, calm and trustworthy. It had details, it had 5W1H, the sentence was structured well which made him believe that it was true.

In fact, "It took me 1 hour to write that 140 characters. One single sentence can become facts or lies" recalls Naohito.




It is also important to use tools in everyday life, since you just can't suddenly start using tools you're not used to when disaster hits. "I think they sent me this tweet because they knew I was using Twitter regularly" says Inose. If he wasn't using it regularly, there is no way people can expect Inose would take action based on a Tweet.

The other important thing is to write trustworthy posts regularly. When determining whether a tweet is true or false, people will read other tweets by that person, to determine the trustworthiness. Social media is not just about single post- it is accumulation of your posts, trustworthiness and behaviour.


Several articles on miracle in Kesennuma.
NHK Report: "Information lifeline that saved people's lives" [ja]
NikkeiBP: "Miracle in Kesennuma, information source was from London" [ja]
"What you should prioritize during crisis" [ja]
Naoki Inose Blog: "Kesennuma City Hall Twitter rescue- principal of the school visits" [ja]
"Interview with Naoki Inose about the miracle in Kesennuma" [ja]
Video of the interview [ja]

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not reflect those of my employer. -Fumi Yamazaki
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