I was originally going to post as if the world were “business as usual”, but it seemed too flippant and disrespectful to do so given what’s happened in Japan over the past week.
This particular crisis hits very close to home not only because my employer has a significant presence in Japan, but because of all the people I had the opportunity to meet on my last trip there.
Thankfully, nobody that I am acquainted with in Japan has been seriously injured and, while the nuclear situation is still troubling, that realization has given me enough calm to try to look at what happened through a more dispassionate lens.
A few thoughts/takeaways:
- It is amazing to me that the situation did not play out significantly worse. That the number of lives lost was not greater in the immediate aftermath and that Katrina-like mob chaos did not emerge is a testament to Japanese engineering and the training of Japanese transit workers, health officials, police, etc. If this doesn’t convince you of the value of investing in disaster preparation/training/prevention, I don’t know what will.
- As smart and resourceful as we humans are, we are still “small fry” relative to massive geological phenomenon. We are reminded of this all the time (especially during hurricane season), but seeing one of the most populous, wealthy, and technologically advanced countries be knocked off its feet in the matter of hours is a striking reminder.
- Make sure your backup/redundant systems are truly independent and de-coupled. One of the causes of the current nuclear crisis was the incorrect assumption that diesel generation could be a fairly independent redundant system versus relying on the main power grid to power the coolant system. While in most circumstances, diesel generators are a good backup to the electric grid, the mistake was not recognizing that a massive geological event could knock out both the electric grid and create a big enough tsunami to take out the diesel generators. Its important for all of us to think through what risks can actually be heavily correlated when we plan risk mitigation.
- The internet and new social media technologies are revolutionary. Although phone lines were quickly overwhelmed following the initial earthquake, networks such as Twitter, Facebook, and email kept going. Facebook actually became my primary means of reaching out to people I knew there. I can definitely see this as a major turning point for the promise of new technologies for communication.
- The public needs greater scientific literacy. I am no nuclear expert, but the great amount of confusion I hear/read about from both average American and Japanese people about what is going on and I think its sad suggests we still have a ways to go in scientific literacy.
I just want to end this post with two thoughts. The first is that despite the tragedy, I hope countries and companies out there will study what happened in Japan and plan appropriately. The second is a sincere hope that the authorities and the IAEA find a way to restore some semblance of normalcy to the nuclear situation as soon as possible.