Haiti and Kobe, Japan

Haiti and Japan

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake. The irony that I am in Kobe accepting the Motohiro Kisoi Award for Academic Contributions to rescue engineering instead of in Haiti does not escape me. There is always a gap between possibility and reality, but gaps about high definition TVs seem trivial compared to gaps in life saving and recovery.

Yesterday Ms. Ikuko Tanimura from the International Rescue Systems institute took me to the Hyogo Perfectural Emergency Management and Training Center and the full-scale earthquake testing facility at the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention. Suffice it to say that the Japanese have the technology to shake entire 6 story buildings and bridges in three dimensions and understand collapses. Recently, they shook to pieces a wooden house and let the IRS researchers apply their technologies (I am so envious!) Dr. Akiko Yoshimura, an architect, designed a clever facility where teams can practice victim management in wet, confined spaces designed to tax the ergonomic constraints of responders. As I travel the world, I see so much good science, good ideas, good inventions!

The Japanese researchers from IRS are sanguine about progress and the time it takes to go from research to the field. IRS director Prof. Satoshi Tadokoro started what became IRS in 1995 in response to the Kobe earthquake and the loss of Motohiro Kisoi, a promising graduate student in his department. I also started in 1995, motivated by the Oklahoma City Bombing. The research directions Satoshi and I initiated back in those days are a little embarrassing in retrospect- we didn’t understand disasters and there was little data or experience base. Now as we’ve profited from being engaged in exercises and actual responses, being able to apply cognitive work analysis methods, and collect performance data on machines and people, the community is beginning to isolate and address more meaningful issues that will lead to truly useful technology that will be easy to use and maintain.

But as we discussed last night at the reception, good science isn’t sufficient to help a disaster like Haiti. We need industry to (cheaply) manufacture the devices, agencies and NGOs to accelerate adoption.

But what we really need are early adopters and caches all over the world, so that even it doesn’t take 3 days for response teams to bring in the sensors and robots (and comms and power), that the local responders can make the most of the critical 72 hours.