Archive for the 'IRDR missions and projects' Category

UCL IRDR Research Trip to Fukushima, Japan 2018

By Rebekah Yore, on 8 February 2018

Blog post written by Hui Zhang, Cate Howes and Peter Dodd

A group of students from the IRDR once again joined the Fukushima research trip, conducting fieldwork in the triple disaster affected area in Japan for a week in January this year. We collected information on how the Fukushima Prefecture and local communities are trying to recover from the disaster and rebuild a new life in the nuclear contaminated area. Here is a summary of our week:

Monday 15th January

On arrival in Fukushima, we were met by a lead engineering team and given a briefing on the events that had taken place in 2011, and the remaining effects on local prefectures such as the neighboring prefecture of Futaba and the residents that used to live there. Then we visited Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant – a sight that we feel privileged to have experienced and were impressed by the resilience and appetite to recover from the disaster, and to learn so as to effectively move forward in the regeneration process. This was followed by an in-depth discussion and question and answer session between the team and two respective representatives of TEPCO, to help stimulate our appetites for our individual areas for research.

Tuesday 16th January

Visiting the High School

Our first stop was at the Robotic Limb Factory – an innovation company, originally focusing on the creation of mobile phone components, now pushing the boundaries on physical movement assistance after disasters. Here we learnt that since the disaster, employee numbers had been slow to return, however they were working hard to push Fukushima as a place for testing new and vital technologies, and above all a desire to work in the region. Then we went to one of the hardest-hit areas named Futaba-gun. Our first stop was a graveyard, home to the remnants of the previous residents of the unfortunate village, completely wiped out by the Tsunami. Here we were also taken to the waterfront by the local port, recently repaired and home to a very small 20-strong fishing fleet, to reflect on the damage caused.

Our final visit of the day was to a previous high school, now re-utilised by the prefecture as a museum for visitors. Here we were greeted by a local storyteller, who reminisced with us as we sat in the junior student chairs, of how the local area had been effected and how she had been scared for the safety of her grandson after the disasters.

Wednesday 17th January

National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology

On Wednesday we were privileged to spend time visiting some incredible members of the local area, who work tirelessly to rebuild and strengthen their communities. We started the day hearing from Aoki-san, a local storyteller who talked to us about the evacuation of her town after the nuclear accident. We travelled to the J-Village and spoke with Chef Nishi, who set up a restaurant to help the workers travelling to assist in the stablisation and cleanup of Fukushima Daiichi. We ended the day as guests at the Futaba Mirai Gakuen High School. We were treated to a presentation from the students on their views of the situation in Fukushima. We then heard poignant speeches from two students, regarding their personal experiences since March 2011. The whole group were deeply moved by this testimony, and inspired by the positivity and kindness of the students.

Thursday 18th January

Press coverage: Fukushima Minpo paper

We spent a fascinating morning at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Koriyama City. We were given a full tour of the facility, and were very impressed with the innovative research into renewable energy that the centre is undertaking. Later, we took part in a thought-provoking workshop with government officials and students from Fukushima University and High School, discussing the future of the prefecture. That evening, we were invited to a reception welcoming us to the city. We very much enjoyed speaking further with students and officials from the earlier workshop, and to hear their thoughts and plans for the future of Fukushima.

Friday 19th January

Press coverage: Fukushima Minpo paper

On the last day, we visited the electric power station that conducts binary generation using the heat from the Tsuchiyu hot spring located in the upstream of Arakawa river. It is an example of local efforts to create new energy alternatives to nuclear power. We then went to the Environmental Regeneration Plaza in Fukushima City, where we were told about the progress of environmental recovery in Fukushima, about radiation and about environmental regeneration such as interim storage sites.

After the site visit, we met with the Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, Mr Masao Uchibori. The Governor expressed his thanks for our visit and listened to our impressions of the recovery in Fukushima. We then had a lecture on disaster prevention in the Crisis management Centre of Fukushima Prefecture.

We concluded our 5-day trip to Fukushima on 20th February and returned to London. It was an amazing experience and insight into post-disaster recovery and Japanese culture, and we will continue to pay attention to the reconstruction of Fukushima into the future.


Migration and Health Workshop in Italy

By Rebekah Yore, on 3 December 2017

Article by Peter Sammonds

This November, I joined a residential workshop for the Lancet Commission on Migration and Health at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy.

Workshop attendees

The Lancet Commission is investigating migration as the frequently overlooked core determinant of health and well-being, as it is neglected as a global health priority. It is led by Professor Ibrahim Abubakar, Director, UCL Institute for Global Health. The commissioners are from all over the world and from health, law, economics, migration, disaster sectors. The commission’s 30,000 word report will be published in the Lancet in 2017.

As well as participating in the commission workshop, the Humanitarian Institute and IRDR also joined the Institute for Global Health in organising a scenario workshop on the forced migration of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The scenario workshop addressed a health crises (measles) and natural hazard (cyclone with flooding and landslides). The scenario workshop will feed into the Lancet Commission and a report will be produced.

Research Update: Localising Emergency Management in Nigeria

By Rebekah Yore, on 7 November 2017

Article by Emmanuel Agbo

The recent devastating effects of natural hazards globally, such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, erosion, tsunamis, and landslides, in spite of the many predictive, defensive and reduction measures, call for great concern. Though this situation is often largely attributable to climate change, population growth and urbanisation, its catastrophic effect to humans and the environment, shows to a greater extend the limitations of science and technology and the many disasters risk reduction measures in disaster management. It also highlights a potential need for more proactive measures towards disaster risk reduction.

6d28a69f5c648644e434b02cf9824450Nonetheless, government commitment and willingness to undertake disaster risk reduction measures proves to be a veritable tool for effectiveness in disaster management. While the viability of this tool is undoubtably clear, its implementation often becomes distorted in most developing nations. This is so, as the shared responsibility between the state, the federal and the local government, in a top-down disaster operational approach as practice by most developed economies and adopted by many developing nations, suffers lots of implementation flaws. This occurs frequently within federated nations, where each government level is viewed as a sovereign state. This approach of emergency management places the civil protection measures at the mercy of politicians, who often prefer the provision of relief material to disaster victims in a bid to secure cheap political points rather than engaging in activities that will better prepare the vulnerable towards disaster incidents.


In recognition of these challenges, and in the quest to better prepare for disasters, my research supposes that locally institutionalising an emergency management culture within developing nations, serves to quell inconsistencies in its emergency operational framework. As all disasters, regardless of scale, happen first in communities, the local people are always the first to address its occurrences. To achieve greater preparedness, the level of information and awareness of hazards, as well as the potential mitigation strategies at the local level, needs be enhanced. To this end my research, through the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction research fund assistance, recently involved undertaking a field assessment of community perceptions of flood hazards, preparedness, and response within a number of flood vulnerable communities in Nigeria. Its preliminary findings point to poor preparedness and weak knowledge of flood emergency response, weak mitigation measures and poor defense mechanism. Also of notable finding is the gap in communication between the civil protection agencies and the rural vulnerable communities during and after disaster incidents. While most of these factors exist, and continually require review in most developing nations, there is a need for demonstrating complete structures to improve on these challenges. This is the focus of my research. 

On the Provost’s visit to Japan

By Peter R Sammonds, on 5 October 2017

I joined the visit to Japan by the UCL Provost, senior UCL academics and staff from the UCL Global Engagement Office, Alumni Relations and the Grand Challenges for a week in September/October 2017. We visited the Fukushima Prefecture (location of the Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011 after the tsunami), Tohoku University, Kyoto University, a major corporation interested in collaborating with UCL and attended a reception at the British Embassy for UCL Alumni. It was something of a whirlwind tour but provided good opportunities to discuss plans for future collaboration with the Fukushima Prefecture, the International Research Institute for Disaster Science (IRIDeS) at Tohoku and the Disaster Prevention Research Institute (DPRI) at Kyoto.


Visiting Kyoto

Since the earthquake and nuclear disaster in March 2011, the IRDR has been involved in on-going research in the region through EEFIT and IRDR missions to Tohoku. I have visited the affected areas, included the stricken Fukushima nuclear reactor, immediately after the disaster and contributed to field reports. Besides research, UCL has hosted annual symposia for 40 school children from the region, co-organised by the IRDR. Uniquely, UCL has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Fukushima Prefecture signed in 2015 (UCL’s only MoU with a provincial government).

Continuing the relationship, there will be a return visit by UCL students and UCL Academy students in February/March next year. There will be more opportunities for research this coming visit. The advertising and selection process will start soon. Several IRDR PhD and masters students joined the trip in 2015, led by David Alexander and Shin-ichi Ohnuma (UCL Japan Ambassador). There will be an announcement shortly.

Tohoku University

Press coverage: Fukushima Minpo paper

UCL has an institutional MoU with Tohoku, signed in 2013. The IRDR is a key component in this relationship alongside our friends in IRIDeS of Tohoku University. At the signing of the MoU we held a joint symposium at UCL on Disaster Science. There have since been exchanges of staff and students and joint research projects and publications. The IRDR will be joining the World Bosai Forum in November organised by IRIDeS.

Kyoto University

The IRDR is a member of Global Alliance Disaster Research Institutes (GADRI). Kyoto University’s DPRI runs the secretariat and the IRDR membership certificate was presented to me. Future collaboration between DPRI and IRDR will be built around capacity building in developing countries and exchange of staff and students.

Five members of the IRDR visit Amatrice as part of the EEFIT mission

By Zoe Mildon, on 21 October 2016

View along the main street of Amatrice

View along the main street of Amatrice

Six weeks after the earthquake that struck Amatrice, central Italy, EEFIT (Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team) deployed a team to the region to investigate the damages. The team involved five members of the IRDR; Prof. David Alexander, Dr Joanna Faure Walker, Dr Carmine Galasso and PhD students Zoe Mildon and Serena Tagliacozzo.

Zoe taking measurements along the surface rupture, Mt Vettore

Zoe measuring the surface rupture

Joanna and Zoe’s main aim of the trip was to map the surface ruptures from the earthquake. Slip at depth along the fault plane that generated the earthquake came to the surface, and could be seen as offset soils and open cracks along the slope of Mt Vettore. By measuring the orientation and offset of the rupture, they hope to gain a better understanding of the earthquake process. In addition, they worked together with Domenico Lombardi (Uni. Manchester) to look at the environmental effects of the earthquake, such as landslides, rock falls and ground cracks. They were using the Environmental Seismic Intensity Scale (ESI 2007) which aims to provide a measure of the intensity of shaking during an earthquake, similar to the Modified Mercalli Scale, but from only considering effects to the environment.

Carmine’s primary interest was to investigate strong ground motion signals recorded at various seismic stations around the epicentral area. Areas of particular interest included the three stations closest to the earthquake that recorded the highest PGA (Peak Ground Acceleration). One of these was close to the Umbrian town of Norcia that recorded among the highest ground motion measurement, yet the town was relatively undamaged. Three stations ~50km north-west of the epicentre also recorded unusually strong ground motions and these were visited as well to determine if there were any site specific effects that may explain these high measurements. He also worked with other members of the EEFIT team to do rapid surveys of building damage.

Interview for Italian news, Carmine is front left.

Interview for Italian news, Carmine is on the left of the reporter, Serena is to the right

David and Serena were interested in investigating the social effects of the disaster and how local communities were responding to it. They started by interviewing relief workers from various agencies, including the Civil Protection and Red Cross (Croce Rossa). They also visited L’Aquila, 40km to the south-east of the Amatrice epicentral area, as the city experienced a similar magnitude earthquake in 2009 and they were interested in the progress of reconstruction and the availability of the services to displaced communities.

All members also visited the town of Amatrice and surrounding villages to observe the damage. We would like to thank the Civil Protection Authorities and Vigil del Fuoco for their help and assistance during this trip.

Further detail about other members of the EEFIT trip and activities can be found at the mission blog. An EEFIT report will be released in the near future and there will be a presentation organised for late November to present the initial findings.

Interview with Rebekah Yore, PhD Candidate at IRDR and Research Associate at Rescue Global

By Serena Tagliacozzo, on 23 August 2016

Rebekah Yore is a second year PhD Candidate in the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction. She is carrying out a PhD co-sponsored by Rescue Global, an international organisation specialised in disaster risk reduction and response. In her PhD, she explores how local and international intervention following the initiar-yorel aftermath and transitional period of disasters affects the continuing vulnerability of individuals, households and communities. 

We interviewed her to know more about the upcoming projects and fieldworks in Afghanistan and Tajikistan which she will be visiting in September along with the Rescue Global team.

-Rebekah, what does your job at Rescue Global involve?

As Rescue Global’s first co-sponsored PhD student, my broader academic work aims to contribute theoretical and practical knowledge to practitioner policy at operational, tactical and strategic levels. My focus is on the transitional phase to disaster recovery, and as Rescue Global work around the entire disaster cycle, I hope to be able to directly inform their evolving practice. On a day-to-day level, I have the chance to write online copy, critically appraise theory and practice in Disaster Risk Reduction and Response (DRR&R) trends, deliver analyses of academic and industry reports, and attend and present at national and international conferences.

  -You are going to Afghanistan and Tajikistan in September. How long will you stay there for? Which areas will you be visiting?

Yes. Rescue Global has partnered with the EU Border Management Northern Afghanistan Project (EU-BOMNAF), an EU-funded project administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to deliver Disaster Risk Management (DRM) training to border communities and border security forces along the northern border of Afghanistan. The project, known as “Operation Resilient Borders” at Rescue Global, will last for two weeks and is one of a series of missions. There is a gender diversity emphasis this time, and Tajik and Afghan women will also be involved from the areas of Khumrogi, Eshkashem and Ishkashim. For more details of the project so far, see:

-What are the objectives that this field operation seeks to achieve?

11705260_10155821821120015_4791213970532712511_nThe border area between Tajikistan and Afghanistan is very vulnerable to both natural and manmade hazards. Weather conditions, the mountainous landscape and the proximity to a seismic fault all expose the area to regular geophysical and hydro-meteorological disasters. This mission seeks to support the continued development and delivery of the DRM training curriculum, this time including groups of local women as vital caregivers, first responders and conduits of life-saving knowledge.

– How DRR awareness is going to be developed and nurtured at long term?

The training sessions are delivered through both classroom instruction and interactive working groups so that the students then lead practical application exercises to reinforce their learning. Sessions are held in both Tajikistan and Afghanistan, and follow an ‘exchange’ method where border forces are trained together, and in their opposite colleagues’ location. By training all forces as colleagues through several sessions over a longer period of time, and by including local community leaders in the training events, reinforced DRM awareness is spread among men and women along the entire border community.

Interview with Gianluca Pescaroli, founder of the Cascading Disasters Research Group at IRDR

By Serena Tagliacozzo, on 29 July 2016

Gianluca Pescaroli is a third year PhD student in the IRDR and one of the founders of the CascGianlucaading Disasters Research Group ( The group aims to understand, assess, and mitigate the escalation of crises in the global interconnected system.

– Gianluca, how did you come up with the idea of creating a research groups on cascading disasters?

The idea was the natural consequence of a cross-disciplinary dialogue started with Dr. Robert Wicks and Prof. David Alexander (both based in the IRDR) on extreme space weather events. We recognised the potential to do something different, challenging our approaches and evolving them together into something new. This was supported by other discussions with Dr. Ilan Kelman on climate change and disaster diplomacy, as well as by the interest of engineering colleagues working on floods and earthquake early warning systems. The Knowledge Exchange Grant Award was the perfect chance to translate a vision into reality, and make it happen.

 -What is the Knowledge Exchange Grant? How did you win it?

The Knowledge Exchange Grant is a UCL-based grant to promote knowledge transfer between UCL and small and medium-sized enterprises. In other words, it helps to create a bridge between academia and the end users, and turning theoretical knowledge into practical solutions. The KE Grant is supporting us in the development of activities related to cascading disasters, including a website ( and various workshops.

– You recently organised a closed-door workshop on cascading disasters and extreme space weather. Can you tell us more about the outcomes of this workshop?

We are producing two guideline documents on cascading disasters and extreme space weather events, which we are going to release by early August. We will explain the key issues for a non-academic audience in the form of bullet points and graphics. I hope there will be the chance to disseminate them through websites such as PreventionWeb ( or with a self-standing event.

– What goals would you like to achieve in the near and far future?

In the short term, I wish to publish my work on cascading disasters, extreme space weather
20160523_104642 copyand cybersecurity that applies our general theory to scenario building. The second step would be to have a special issue on cascading disasters for a peer-reviewed journal, which will be not easy!  In the medium term, after finishing my doctorate, my goal is to have the resources for developing the idea of vulnerability paths and scaling up of emergencies, producing some practical outputs that could make the difference in crises.

– Which stakeholders do you plan to involve in the projects that will be developed by this research group?

We are already working a project with major stakeholders from the public and private sector, but this is just one of the early steps. It will be very interesting to work more on the intersection between physical and social vulnerabilities that is in the interest of governments, service providers and society. The evolution of the research group needs be driven by dialogue, and I think that many of the possible ways to cooperate haven’t been considered yet… I am sure they will become natural when it is the right moment.

– Will be room for other academic partners to join the research group?

Definitively, this will be vital for the future. The more we discuss and the more we cooperate, then the more we will be able to understand cascading events. The complexity of this world is too great to solve it on our own so we need the efforts and ideas of other practitioners. From my experience, some interesting collaborations can come from the most unexpected areas and in the most unexpected circumstances, such as a walk at the Flood Barriers or a beer after work. The important thing is keeping an open mind and following our intuition.

A group of six IRDR members visit the Fukushima Prefecture

By Serena Tagliacozzo, on 6 April 2016

From the 8th to the 15th March 2016, a group of students and researchers from UCL and the UCL Academy visited the area affected by the Fukushima- Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in the Fukushima Prefecture, Japan. The group included six members of the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction: four PhD students – Nurmala Nurdin, Omar Velazquez, Serena Tagliacozzo and Zoë Mildon – one Masters Five membersstudent – Sandra Camacho Otero – and Professor David Alexander. The visit occurred on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the Great Tohoku earthquake and of the resulting tsunami and nuclear accident.

The visit was aimed at investigating the current state of rebuilding in the Fukushima Prefecture and highlighting the positive and negative aspects of the reconstruction process. During the course of the stay, we had the chance to see numerous places, being informed about strategies put in place to ensure food security and listen to how survivors coped with the disaster. On the 12th of March a group was allowed to access to the power plant itself while others visited some temporary housing sites in the prefecture.


“Visiting Fukushima was an incredible experience. I think all of us were impressed by the efforts made by the community and the government in order to recover from the disaster. Personally, I was amazed by the reconstruction works carried out in the power plant and the current situation of its facilities”, Omar Velazquez, IRDR PhD student.


Broadly speaking, the Fukushima Prefecture and Japanese Government rUntitled1esponded well to the disaster: the areas we had the chance to visit were entirely reconstructed in a culturally appropriate manner and information was released to the residents about radiation levels. As additional positive elements, temporary houses were constructed close to or within existing towns and efforts were made to ensure that residents could be both integrated into the new community and maintain relationships with the original one. Much work has been done to ensure control over the safety of the fishery and agricultural goods.


“Visiting the Fukushima Prefecture gave me the chance not only visit the nuclear plant itself and see the technical efforts to decontaminate the area, but also gave me the opportunity to talk to people and know the local effort to revitalize the place, sell their products and build resilience in situ.” Sandra Camacho Otero, IRDR Master student.


However it should be noted that little chance was given to us to explore the pitfalls of this fast-paced reconstruction. Fukushima prefecture is trying hard to rebuild its reputation as a safe place and to revitalise economic sectors like agriculture and tourism while also investing on robotics and sustainable energy sources. As disaster researchers, it’s crucial for us to highlight both best practices and areas of improvement in order to support decision makers in the hard task of rebuilding after such major disasters. Acknowledging challenges is the first step towards a recovery that attempts to reduce vulnerabilities rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.

Masters student, Sandra Camacho Otero, wrote an article (in Spanish) for The Mexican Times on the field trip in Fukushima. Read more here:

Two NGOs set up by the young people of Rikuzentakata, Iwate, Japan

By Joanna P Faure Walker, on 7 June 2013

Dr Joanna Faure Walker visited Rikuzentakata, one of the worst affected towns in the Iwate Prefecture, as part of the Great East Japan Earthquake EEFIT return mission. While there, she and her associates met with two NGOs: ‘Save Takata’ and ‘Sakura Line’ that were set up following the disaster.

Okamoto Shoma  and his mother Keiko Shoma in the Save Takata office

Okamoto Shoma and his
mother Keiko Shoma in the
Save Takata office,

In March 2011, Okamoto Shoma was a twenty-year-old architecture student in Tokyo who had grown up in Rikuzentakata. Following the tsunami, Okamoto and some class mates from Tokyo spent one and a half days driving to Rikuzentakata with recovery supplies and gasoline.  Communications were down so Okamoto could not contact his mother, Keiko, whose house in Rikuzentakata had been destroyed by the tsunami. Fortunately he found her in an evacuation centre.

During the first month after the disaster, there were many requests from those outside the region about the residents’ safety and to make donations. Okamoto and his classmates formed Save Takata to help with coordination of the relief work; public services provided large-scale food and services, but additional help was needed to get smaller donations and reach small groups that needed assistance. It currently has a number of activities to help Rikuzentakata and its residents:

  1. Acting as a conduit and passive coordinator for people in Tokyo who want to donate money and expertise (examples include teaching and entertainment such as dance shows).
  2. Making up-to-date maps of Rikuzentakata permanent and temporary structures showing shop locations and distributing them to residents.  (Initially conditions were changing rapidly so maps were updated every two months, going forward they will be updated every six months.)
  3. Promoting Rikuzentakata products and selling them in Tokyo and other big cities. (In 2011, 200,000 volunteers went to Rikuzentakata and in 2012 there were 130,000; Save Takata hopes to use this network)
  4. Providing internet services and I.T. training for small businesses.
  5. Informing residents and businesses about which relevant schemes are available to help them from around the country. (A particularly popular donation – especially amongst the elderly population – were small Buddha statues for people’s temporary homes.)
  6. Coordinating entertainment events such as festivals for children.  (Keiko explained that although two years after the event the housing situation has become stable, people are bored and need community activities.)
  7. Renting a house for visiting volunteers; this house also acts as a meeting place and hub for activities for young people.

The Prefectural Government has made arrangements to employ people and dispatch them into jobs in NGOs; three of Save Takata’s eight full-time staff are with this scheme. Save Takata also has 2 part-time staff and 30 volunteer members. All staff originally volunteered their time, but now some salaries are being paid.  In the early stages they relied on donations from private companies, however now they need to apply for support from both the private and public sectors.  The organization is trying to transform from being a voluntary organization to having an increased amount of self-funding from the activities it organizes.

Save Takata’s future plans include producing a manual comprising the lessons learnt from setting up and running a NGO in a post disaster situation and being a NGO coordinator in potential future disasters as they recognize in a large disaster it is important to have good communication, coordination and organization between the different parties in the recovery process.

Okamoto is now also helping Sakura Line  – the NGO that shares an office with Save Takata in a one-year-old temporary shopping centre – that was started by Hashizume Takumi.

Temporary shopping centre housing Save Takata and Sakura Line

Temporary shopping centre housing
the offices of
Save Takata and Sakura Line

Hashizume, who acted as a volunteer fireman helping people evacuate and closing the tsunami gate, escaped to high ground with only a few minutes to spare before the tsunami arrived.  The disaster killed over fifty of his family and friends. Hashizume saw on television that historical tsunami had reached sacred places within cities in the region; he was angered when he saw there was a stone in Hinota marking where a historical tsunami had reached with a message instructing not to build houses lower than it. Hashizume feels it is his duty to pass on the message to future generations so decided to start Sakura Line, a project to create a continuous line of trees marking the border of the 2011 tsunami inundation.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.  The local government is currently raising the ground level to 12m above sea level  before reconstructing the town.

One of the first cherry trees to be planted as part
of the Sakura Line programme. Behind the tree is
where downtown Rikuzentakata used to be.
The local government is currently raising the
ground level to 12m above sea level before
reconstructing the town.

The first trees were planted near the Judo Temple and other sites around Rikuzentakata. So far they have planted 520 trees.   If completed, the line will extend beyond the city to become 170km long comprising 17,000 cherry trees. It is anticipated that it will take many years to finish. These trees live for about 100yrs so it is hoped that future generations will care for the trees and keep the line going. I hope his project receives the support it needs and acts as a successful reminder to future generations to help reduce the risk from future tsunami.



For more information on these projects see and

Dr Joanna Faure Walker was funded by EPSRC through EEFIT ( A new EEFIT report about observations made on the most recent trip in June 2013 will be available soon. The IRDR Special Report 2013-01 provides details about the observed damage and recovery of the Great East Japan Earthquake at and Tsunami in October 2012 ( and the EEFIT Report provides observations from May-June 2011 (

Tohoku University Research Visit and Japan Field Mission: March 2013

By Amy L Chadderton, on 26 April 2013

In March 2011, a Mw 9.0 earthquake occurred off the coast of Tohoku in northeast Japan. This earthquake triggered one of the largest tsunamis Japan has ever seen and devastated much of the coast. Three months after this historic event, EEFIT (the Earthquake Engineering Field Investigation Team) began their Tohoku field mission. On the anniversary of this disastrous event, exactly 2 years after the fateful earthquake, BIS (UK Department for Business Innovation and Skills) funded myself and fellow PhD student Melodie Vanderpuye to undertake a brief follow-up mission to preliminarily scope the progress that has been made in rebuilding devastated areas. The week-long mission to Japan involved strengthening UK-Japan links via participation in the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project, and the undertaking of a 2-day field mission to tsunami-impacted areas.

Our week in Japan began with a fascinating 3 days at the 10th International Workshop on Water Dynamics and the ICDP Japan Beyond Brittle Project at Tohoku University, Sendai. The conference brought together a wide range of expertise from both the scientific and engineering communities and provided an interdisciplinary forum for the sharing and discussing of ideas.

Figure 1

The conference was not only informative, providing a brilliant insight into the issues I will be encountering during my PhD, but allowed relationships to be forged between industry representatives and the academic world.  During our time at the conference meetings were also held with the IRIDeS (International Research Institute of Disaster Science) representative Prof Fumihiko Imamura to discuss the agenda for the upcoming conference at UCL in November 2013, which marks the anniversary of the 150 year relationship between UCL and Japan.

Attending the conference we saw first-hand Japan’s praiseworthy desire to nurture international relationships between industry and academia. The hospitality at Tohoku University was second to non and we were looked after extremely well. The conference banquet at the end of the first day was a particular highlight, even if we were swaying slightly with exhaustion from our 12 hour flight and full conference day without any sleep!

After an enlightening 3 days at the conference it was Melodie and I’s turn to go it alone and explore Japan for ourselves in order to follow up on the EEFIT report compiled 2 years earlier. We also wanted to experience first-hand the impact of such a large magnitude, both in power and impact, event. We hired a car to give us the freedom we needed to explore the planned sites. The field mission began in Sendai and took a coastal route where possible, as certain roads still have not been rebuilt after the tsunami, as far north as Ofunato. With a slight nervous excitement regarding what we were going to find, we set off on Friday 15th March heading north towards the Miyagi Prefecture coastline, one of the worst hit sections of coast in Japan.

Heavily damaged railway station at Nobiru.

Railway station at Nobiru.

We were immediately struck by the impact of the tsunami at one of our first stops, Nobiru, a small town east of Matsushima. Nobiru showed no signs of redevelopment apart from a few individual residential homes. The tsunami destroyed the town’s railway station, twisting the tracks and overhead power lines and heavily damaging the station building and surrounding shops. The coastal road is still diverted due to unrepaired damage. It appears that due to the town’s lack of industrial prowess and significant strategic importance, redevelopment has not been a priority and the whole area is mostly abandoned. A similar situation was also observed at Wakabayashi on the coast of Sendai. This is an area of near-total devastation. The only new building within this entire area was a temporary structure housing a 7 Eleven convenience store. Wakabayashi was our final site on the last day of our field mission but despite the evidence of destruction we had observed over the previous 2 days, this final site really made the impact of the tsunami hit home. The utter hopelessness and vulnerability of Wakabayashi’s position coupled with the footprints of homes

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

Memorial at Wakabayashi, Sendai.

where living rooms, kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms were still visible really made us think about the impact of this event on individual families. It is very easy to quote statistics on damage to concrete and steel, and even death toll statistics can become quite meaningless and devoid of emotion when repeated so frequently, but on the ground, stood at the front door of what was once a happy family home, now a mere footprint on the earth, really compounded our belief that something needs to be done to prevent this devastation from occurring to future generations. A memorial stands on the shoreline at Wakabayashi, dedicated to all of the victims of the tsunami.

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Rebuild Shop at Onagawa

Sites where the outlook was more positive were Onagawa and Shizugawa Bay, which in contrast to Nobiru and Wakabayashi, showed clear signs of progress but had not quite reached the rebuilding stage of recovery. In Onagawa one indicator of the destruction the 16 metre inundation wave wrought on the bay has turned into an unlikely tourist attraction. A 3-storey steel framed, reinforced concrete building was overturned by the force of the water during the tsunami but remained intact. As images of the building have circled the globe and visitors to the area go out of their way to visit the site, the ruin is now being deliberately preserved as a monument and reminder of the power nature can wield. A car park has been cordoned off and a temporary ‘Rebuild Shop’ has sprung up to help raise funds for the redevelopment of the area.

Left: 2011 EEFIT report image of Building D; Right: Recent mission image of Building D

Left: 2011 EEFIT image of Building D; Right: 2013 image.

After a refreshing night in a Japanese style hotel room, complete with slippers, Tatami Mats and a wonderful bento meal, we set out for Ofunato. On entering the town from the south, the redevelopment and rebuilding efforts of the town became apparent. The road (Route 45) appeared newly laid and lining it were newly constructed buildings housing a range of businesses from small enterprises to larger chain stores. The overall impression of Ofunato was one of progress.

Preserved tree at Takata-Matsubara


Despite the speedy recovery of certain areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami, there is still a long way to go before the Tohoku coastline of Japan can be classified as recovered from this momentous event. Some may argue that it never can fully recover from such an earth-shattering occurrence. Hope, however, can be seen in the miraculous survival of a singular tree on the shoreline of Takata-Matsubara. Where once 70,000 pine trees stood along a 2 km stretch of beach, one tree was left standing after the 2011 tsunami. This ‘miracle pine’ has captured the hearts of the Japanese people and it is now being preserved as an enduring symbol that hope is not lost and life can be protected.

Throughout our enlightening week in Japan, lots of things were learnt, many sights were seen and much rice was eaten. We all came away with a far greater appreciation of what challenges Japan, and indeed the world, are facing relating to our vulnerability to natural disasters. In addition to this deeper understanding however, Melodie and I also learnt that our transferable skills extend to the operation of an entirely Japanese Sat Nav; the personal achievement of our successful navigation around the coast and arrival back at the car hire shop a mere 10 minutes before the drop off time was, we felt, quite a triumph!

We would like to thank, once again, the UK Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) for funding the expedition; their support is gratefully acknowledged.