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Lessons on Disaster Prevention Voluntarily Initiated by Employees

Renewing a Sense of Unity with Society through Employees' Volunteer Initiative Providing Lessons on Disaster Prevention

In December 2011, following the Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred in March of the same year, Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting (TRC) rolled out a disaster educational program for elementary school children as a volunteer initiative that benefits society in the company's specialty field. We asked Sachiyo Nomura and Mizuki Shinohara, who started this project, to tell us how it happened and the thoughts behind it.

Sachiyo Nomura (left)
Chief Researcher, Business Risk Group
Mizuki Shinohara (right)
Chief Researcher, Corporate Property Group
Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting

QHow did this disaster educational program start?

Nomura: TRC provides consulting services specialized in the field of crisis management. Being involved in corporate crisis management myself, I had been telling our customers about the importance of implementing earthquake countermeasures. Then, the disaster struck Japan, and I was really shocked by the magnitude of damage it caused. Besides performing my role and responsibilities as a crisis management consultant, I began to seek ways to use my expert knowledge to help society. That was when the idea of lessons on disaster prevention came up.
The Tokio Marine Group is already providing an environmental educational program called "Green Lessons" as one of its volunteer activities. This program is based on the themes of the prevention of global warming and protection of ecosystems and is conducted at elementary and special needs schools across Japan. I thought of making similar lessons for elementary school children that focuses on disaster prevention.
To prevent or reduce damage caused by disasters, it is crucial that people think and act proactively on their own. We hoped that children participating in our lessons on disaster prevention would share their new knowledge at home and ultimately raise the level of disaster awareness of their families as well. Based on this idea, several of us teamed up and met about once a week after work to discuss the contents of the program.

QWhat is taught in the lessons on disaster prevention?

Shinohara: As mentioned earlier, the Tokio Marine Group provides an environmental awareness program called Green Lessons to elementary school children. To teach children the importance of protecting the environment in an easy-to-understand manner, these lessons use a video of mangrove forests and actual mangrove seeds. We wanted to have a similar interactive program, in which children see with their own eyes and touch with their own hands. But since the topic of our program concerns a disaster, it was difficult to offer actual experience. We had to be creative in developing teaching materials that are both instructive and interesting. We looked for ways to show how an earthquake and tsunami occur and how destructive they could be. Although it was a class we conceived from scratch, the children reacted favorably. Some told us that they were glad to know what to do in an earthquake, and others were eager to bring the idea of family evacuation drills back to their homes. We gradually gained confidence in the contents of our program.

Nomura: Our first class took place in December 2011. We proposed the program to elementary schools that our employees' children were attending and many schools accepted our proposal. In the lessons, targeting fifth and sixth graders, we used a mix of videos, experiments and quizzes to show how an earthquake occurs and what we should do when one happens. Employee volunteers served as instructors, and all teaching materials were of our own making. It was a process of trial and error, but when we received many letters from children and their teachers afterward, it was worth the effort.

QWhat did you most want to communicate to the children?
Shinohara: Because our classroom time was limited, we concentrated on teaching children how to protect themselves in a disaster. At elementary schools, children are usually taught to take cover under a desk when there is an earthquake. In our lesson, however, we moved a step further and discussed together why hiding under a desk was effective. We want children to think and act on their own in a disaster so that they can deal with the unexpected, not just follow what is instructed in manuals.
During discussions, children enthusiastically gave their thoughts, such as "What if there is no desk to hide under?" "How can we keep our heads protected?" and "Can school bags be used?"
Since TRC also engages in risk consulting for supply chain management in business activities, another topic we selected was the effect of disrupted supply chains, which greatly impacted the country's economy following the disaster. In the lesson, we explained possible consequences of supply chain disruptions by using an example of milk served with school meals, which became difficult to obtain immediately following the disaster.
QAfter giving the class, how did you feel about it? What benefits did it bring?

Nomura: TRC strongly supports our volunteer initiative, and the company's president himself participated in these lessons as an instructor. To date, we have conducted our lessons on disaster prevention in 10 classrooms at four elementary schools in Tokyo and in one other prefecture. Our team has also grown from just a few people to more than 20 members. Many of the employees who participated in this program expressed their gratitude, telling us that it gave them a chance to recognize the link between their work and society.
Being able to understand the role and significance of our daily work in society is a strong motivator, serving to increase employee engagement in the company's core business operations. Our lessons on disaster prevention were not possible without the expert knowledge we have accumulated in carrying out our core businesses. We intend to continue this social contribution activity as an extension of our business activities.

Shinohara: Our lessons on disaster prevention are a volunteer initiative, and TRC has been supporting us by encouraging employee involvement through the introduction of a half-day leave program under its volunteer leave system. It has been a rewarding experience. What we started voluntarily has taken a tangible shape and given me a chance to identify the significance of my work as well as the Tokio Marine Group's place in society. Being able to apply the knowledge cultivated in our core businesses helped me to think about the true meaning of working and living. If there is something I can do in my work to make our society better, I will do so. And if that makes someone happy, I am happy, too. It's just as simple as that. I would like to make steady efforts through this initiative so that children can act on their own to protect their lives in a disaster.