Even though disasters will always be unexpected, business continuity planning has benefits both before and after they occur, finds the World Bank

On the ten-year anniversary of the Tohoku/Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE), a mega-disaster that marked Japan and the world with its unprecedented scale of destruction, the World Bank has commemorated the disaster by reflecting on what it has taught us over the past decade in regards to infrastructure resilience, risk identification, reduction, and preparedness, and disaster risk finance.

On 11 March 2011 a Magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the northeast coast of Japan, near the Tohoku region. The force of the earthquake sent a tsunami rushing towards the Tohoku coastline, a black wall of water which wiped away entire towns and villages. Sea walls were overrun. 200,000 lives were lost. The scale of destruction to housing, infrastructure, industry and agriculture was extreme in Fukushima, Iwate, and Miyagi prefectures.

In addition to the hundreds of thousands who lost their homes, the earthquake and tsunami contributed to an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, requiring additional mass evacuations.

The impacts not only shook Japan’s society and economy as a whole, but also had ripple effects in global supply chains. In the 21st century, a disaster of this scale is a global phenomenon.

Since Tohoku, the World Bank in partnership with the Government of Japan, has been working with Japanese and global partners to understand impact, response, and recovery from this megadisaster to identify larger lessons for disaster risk management.

Three common themes have emerged repeatedly through the examples of good practices gathered across various sectors, it noted. They are:

  • First is the importance of planning. Even though disasters will always be unexpected, if not unprecedented, planning for disasters has benefits both before and after they occur. The creation of business continuity plans, by both public and private organisations, involve planning for the potential of disaster before it strikes
  • Second is that resilience is strengthened when it is shared. Throughout Japan national and local governments, infrastructure developers and operators, businesses and industries, communities and households are building back better systems by prearranging mechanisms for risk reduction, response and continuity through collaboration and mutual support. 
  • Third is that resilience is an iterative process. Many adaptations were made to the policy and regulatory frameworks after Tohoku. Many past disasters show that resilience is an interactive process that needs to be adjusted and sustained over time, especially before a disaster strikes.

Ten years on from the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, it is clear some of the lessons continue to be relevant in the next decade, in a world faced with both seismic disasters and other emergent hazards such as pandemics and climate change.

”The ten-year anniversary of the GEJE finds the world in the midst of the multiple emergencies of the global COVID-19 pandemic, environmental and technological hazards, and climate change. Beyond seismic hazards, the global pandemic has highlighted, for example, the risks of supply chain disruption due to biological emergencies.”

“In the era of climate change, disasters will increasingly be ‘unprecedented’, and so GEJE offers important lessons on preparing for low-probability high-impact disasters and planning under uncertain conditions in general,” warned the World Bank.