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Providing Support for Future Natural Disaster Risk

Demand for risk consulting has increased as the need for measures against earthquakes and tsunamis has reached unexpected levels following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Within Tokio Marine Group, Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting (TRC), which was established in 1996, analyzes and performs research on a diverse range of risks, mainly earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and floods, and provides companies and local governments with a variety of services that include risk assessments and preparing relevant response measures.

Ichiro Sato (left)
Group Leader
Ryu Miyamoto (right)
Senior Consultant,
Property Risk Engineering Department
Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting

Q Can you tell us what your current job entails?
Sato: We provide companies and local governments with consulting on earthquake and tsunami damage prediction and response measures while maintaining close contact with research institutes relating to natural disasters. We utilize our expert knowledge and technologies in earthquake and tsunami risk modeling to visualize risk and provide customers with easy-to-understand explanations of risk to help them enhance the effectiveness of their future response measures.
Q What kind of requests increased following the Great East Japan Earthquake?

Sato: More and more people have been consulting with us to see if there is anything else they can do beyond conventional disaster countermeasures. In particular, there have been increasing calls to revise traditional assumptions about earthquakes and tsunamis and reevaluate response measures following the Great East Japan Earthquake. For instance, people have started to wonder about the danger of slipping if oil from machines in a factory spreads out all over the floor when an earthquake strikes, or if a structure or ceiling will collapse in a tremor, or if employees can evacuate properly under conditions that are clearly different from usual. The number of people seeking consultation is rising as companies and different facilities look to revise past disaster measures and evacuation plans. In addition, some members provide support with evacuation plans for facilities that include vulnerable persons such as elderly and social welfare facilities.

Q What is involved in the actual consulting?

Sato: We identify conceivable risks using earthquake and tsunami simulations and work with specialists to provide consulting that meets the conditions of each customer, including measures for both before and after the fact such as recommendations for improving daily operations and calculations of economic damage. We also create hazard maps of areas where liquefaction may occur assuming the risk of an earthquake or tsunami.
As part of a project to establish public facilities on a certain coastline, we performed a simulation of a tsunami coming ashore in order to develop plans for the required structure, the number of floors and the evacuation route for the building.

Miyamoto: We developed a menu of natural disaster consulting services for "Tsunami Risk Consulting" in-house. These consulting services provide even more specific proposals to prepare for an earthquake or tsunami. This includes enabling companies to perform sophisticated simulations of data such as the anticipated arrival time of a tsunami at the location of the company and the scope of water immersion while also covering such issues as where to evacuate when an earthquake strikes and what measures are needed for seismic reinforcement. The services are being used by financial institutions and other facilities with branches in different parts of the world.

Q What kinds of things are important in consulting?

Miyamoto: In 2011, I carried out a survey for the modeling of tsunami risk. A mere two days after making the announcement and finishing my report, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. The immense damage wrought by the tsunami was truly shocking. Prior to the Great East Japan Earthquake, I was continuously involved in undertaking tsunami research and surveys. During this time, the Hokkaido-Nansei-Oki Earthquake struck in 1993, when I discovered that the tsunami was the main cause of most fires that broke out after the earthquake. Even so, I was extremely shocked at the sight of images showing this process actually occurring. In my field of earthquake risk management, I analyze risks covering a wide range of factors besides earthquakes and tsunamis. In explaining risks to customers, I sometimes need to understand physical and architectural engineering-related matters. I always keep in mind that I need to provide very clear explanations from an even broader perspective.

Q In what way do you think you can make a contribution to society through your work?

Sato: In Japan, many areas have been struck by an earthquake or tsunami in the past. People in these areas have fears and concerns about when the next disaster might occur. Our job is to provide reassurance to customers by making preparations for the future through consulting. I am pleased when customers say that they feel some relief and express their gratitude following our advice. Analyzing future risk and providing security and safety is the true reason for the existence of Tokio Marine Group, so it's extremely motivating. It really feels like what we do is able to contribute to society. The other day I visited the Fukushima disaster-affected area with children from a kindergarten. I explained the concept of risk as simply as possible in the hope of fostering the ability to thrive. I'll take my utmost efforts to enable customers to visualize unseen risks to help customers reduce the "beyond the scope of assumptions" and provide them with security and safety.

Miyamoto: In 2013, I took part in a workshop in Turkey together with Professor Fumihiko Imamura of Tohoku University, a leading expert in earthquake and tsunami research. After announcing a calculation formula for measuring the height of tsunami waves and the extent of tsunami inundation, some people from island nations in the Pacific that face the same risk of tsunamis as Japan provided feedback and suggested that it may be possible to apply the formula there as well. For Japan, there is a risk that earthquakes and tsunamis will have a major impact on the country's economy as a whole. Since our job deals with natural phenomena, there are many unknown variables and uncertainties. This reaffirms the need to provide clear explanations of why it is difficult to comprehend certain things and what needs to be done exactly because these uncertainties exist, while having a solid understanding of what we are expressing. Through this work, I hope to contribute to the further advancement in Japan's disaster prevention.