Media Mix, Mar. 17, 2013

UnknownHere’s this week’s Media Mix about the Shinsai Big Data project, which endeavors to make sense of data recorded on March 11, 2011 in the areas of northeastern Japan that were hit the hardest by the tsunami caused by the 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Rereading the column in the paper this morning I realized it may come across as a sort of magic bullet—a means of managing disasters as they happen—but in truth the only aim of the project now is to evaluate that data. Any recommendations that follow have more to do with changing people’s perceptions of how to act in an emergency, rather than how to utilize GPS and mobile phone data, as well as social networks, in the event of a disaster. In other words, the value of the knowledge gained by the project is still in the realm of preparedness. For sure, social networks are going to be a very valuable tool in disaster management from now on, but such considerations can be addressed without having to study how they were used during 311, though such study is helpful. What the project really tells us is that preparedness measures have been insufficient so far. The implication that people drove toward the most dangerous areas and were then killed in their cars when the tsunami hit indicates that not enough has been done to educate people who live in at-risk zones. Also, better evacuation plans should be drawn up, stressing distance from the shore rather than just height above sea level. It’s understandable that under such tense circumstances people will first think of the safety of their loved ones, but the data implies that a good number of people died trying to do that. Given the reality of human nature perhaps it’s useless to expect people will leave their loved ones behind if they think they have even the slightest chance of saving them, but they have to be made aware of the fact that an automobile in such a situation may end up being a tomb rather than a tool. What the NHK program suggested to me was that anyone in danger of being a victim of a quake or tsunami—and that includes almost everyone in Japan—must be told of which areas are more dangerous than others. More significantly, schools and nursing homes and other facilities catering to individuals with less mobility should not be built in isolated places that cannot be readily reached by rescue personnel. These are exigencies that don’t require mathematical analysis, just common sense.

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