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Rebuilding communications in the japanese tsunami


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The earthquake and tsunami to devastate northeastern Japan in March 2011 remains the world's natural disaster to hit a developed country to date. As part of the recovery, enormous effort has been focussed on rebuilding the communications networks involved. For the first time in English, a comprehensive article is available detailing many behind the scenes aspects and many interviews with the leading players in the communications recovery. The scale of this disaster recovery effort and preparations and protection pose major questions not merely for technology but also for public policy and regulation globally. The article was published in December 2011 in Intermedia, the world's most influential journal focussing on digital media policy and regulation. Intermedia is published by the International Institute of Communications. IIC is a global membership, independent, non profit body focussing on critical issues in media and telecom policy worldwide. The article was written by Stephen McClelland, Intermedia Editor in Chief.

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Rebuilding communications in the japanese tsunami

  1. 1. The world’s most influential telecom and media policy, regulatory affairs, and compliance journalCritical infrastructure dependencyPower outagesNetwork resiliencyNuclear restriction zone monitoring 38 6’ 12” NMass communication imperative 142 51’ 36” EGlobal Internet capacity impact 11 03 2011 Japan: Surviving a tsunami, rebuilding communications
  2. 2. www.iicom.orgDecember 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5 Critical infrastruc Power outagesby Stephen McClelland Network resilienc Nuclear restrictio Mass communicatJapan: Surviving a Global Internet ctsunami, rebuildingcommunicationsCritical infrastructure assumes new importanceThe Great East Japan Earthquake that occurred at 2:46 Reconstructing economies,Japan Standard Time on the afternoon of 11 March 2011will almost certainly count as the world’s worst natural networks and livesdisaster to hit a major developed country in moderntimes. The resultant tsunami devastated many areas in the In Japan, the tsunami was undeniably a terrifying experi-northern part of Japan – known as the Tohoku region - as ence with significant loss of life. Much of the focus is nowit was emerging from winter. More than 15 000 people understandably on rebuilding and reconstruction of basichave to date been confirmed dead, but several thousand infrastructure in the affected areas. But the scale of theremain unaccounted for months later. Most of the fatali- disaster – itself under intense post-calamity scrutiny in theties and devastation were as a result of the tsunami gener- country – provides a narrative posing many questions inated by a sub-sea earthquake on the floor of the Pacific an age when developed countries are critically depen-Ocean about 40 miles from the north east coast of Japan. dent on these energy, transportation and communication facilities.Japan is well-used to earthquakes but what happened inMarch - a Magnitude 9 event - was unprecedented. In the There are debates, for example, on developing effectivelast hundred years, there have been several major earth- crisis communications for large numbers of distressed,quakes although minor ones are a frequent, almost daily, dispossessed and traumatized people. There is debate,occurrence in many parts of Japan. Major earthquakes, too, on the effectiveness of present countermeasures andsuch as the Kobe disaster of 1995, have caused significant early warning systems. And there is debate on the depen-damage in urban areas on land, but tsunami – tidal waves dency modern society may be placing on science and– have had the power to overwhelm coastal communities technology when it comes to protecting well. Even so, the last comparable Japanese tsunami - interms of devastation and loss of life - was nearly 120 years Still other questions deal with high-level organizationalago, in 1896. But this 19th century predecessor occurred and leadership practice: the need to ensure supply chainat a time when Japan was entering the modern era, with viability as suppliers from many industries are criticallyno complex economic systems, high rise buildings, high dependent on the just-in-time style practices2, and evenspeed trains, heavy industries, power plants or nuclear the place, management and systemic integrity of criticalreactors at risk. infrastructure industries in modern society and, perhaps too, the social responsibilities that providers in these crit-Over a century later, the 2011 tsunami was ferocious ical industries may carry, however implicitly, especially atenough to become a global phenomenon with physical a time of crisis. The outcomes of these narratives may welland economic impact: it travelled across the Pacific produce changes, not least in the infrastructure industries,region, and broke off new icebergs from the polar region. and set new priorities in working and living patterns.Astonishingly, geophysical analyses after the tsunamisuggest that the 2011 earthquake was powerful enoughnot only to move the north-eastern coastline of Japan’smain island of Honshu in its entirety at least 2 metres to 2 For example, Japan’s Toyota factories lost 5%, or 370 000 vehicles,the east, but also affect planetary rotation.1 of their annual output, because of disruption in Miyagi Prefecture although the company says it has no plans to relocate because of earthquake fears, citing currency effects as more strategically impor-1 Quake moves Japan closer to the US and alters earth’s spin Kenneth tant (from the Toyota Way in the Business Blog, 20 October 2011, TheChang New York Times 13 March 2011 Guardian, available at 12
  3. 3. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5cture dependencycyon zone monitoring 38 6’ 12” Ntion imperative 142 51’ 36” Ecapacity impact 11 03 2011 In Rail stations without tracks. Tracks without stations. Iron ships flung the onto dry land. Wooden homes reduced to matchwood. Power, earth- water and communications infrastructures damaged beyond quake zones, repair. Oil refineries ablaze. An inundated nuclear reactor site life for some is unable to cool itself and threatening widespread contami- returning to normal. nation of radioactivity. People without towns. Most In preparation for recon- tragic of all, towns without people. struction, an army of diggers and trucks are still clearing the region of what commentators suggest will amount to 25 million tons of rubble. In its wake, the tsunami left a significant part of the Tohoku region without power, water, commu- DoCoMo reports nications and essential services. The true extent of the that mobile traffic may have seen 50 times normal levels damage is still being revised. But it’s been estimated, for as millions of people tried to contact loved ones and the example, that well over one hundred thousand buildings disaster relief effort swung into action. In addition to (including 12 hospitals) were destroyed but many more onshore disruption, the earthquake managed to sever damaged. According to communications service provider several major submarine cable systems out in the Pacific NTT East, the tsunami rendered inoperable around 1.5 and with onshore landing stations in Japan. In turn, this million lines, 16 exchange buildings (with a further 12 potentially triggered a global communications impact flooded), 28 000 telephone poles, 2 700km of aerial because Tokyo itself is a major international communica- Critical infrastructure cable, and 1 700km of underground cable. Around 90 tions hub for East Asia and the Pacific Rim. Significant major transmission routes were rendered unusable. earthquake disruption was felt in Tokyo, 230 miles away News analysis from the ocean floor earthquake. Power outages meant But, of course, in such circumstances, communications major rail systems were shut down, stranding hundreds of becomes more critical than ever. Executives at NTT East thousands of people. say peak communications traffic on its fixed network surged to 9 times normal immediately following the The estimated financial costs of the disaster will inevitably disaster, although the company says this traffic was continue to rise. Excluding the impact of the nuclear widely dispersed across the country; mobile operator NTT power plant incident at Fukushima, predictions are for at 13
  4. 4. www.iicom.orgDecember 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5least a Yen16.9 trillion (USD 200 billion) bill, most of which saw 10, or even 15, metre wave heights impact, otheris related to the destruction of buildings, but with a signif- specific areas probably saw far higher waves still, possiblyicant amount for the replacement of infrastructure. As a over 40 metres. The wave force was sufficient to channel aresult, the March 2011 earthquake will almost certainly be wall of water by some 40 metres up terrain in places suchthe world’s most expensive natural disaster on record. as the town of Onagawa and 10km inland in others.Putting all of this back together has been taking place Revisiting communicationsin scenes of unimaginable chaos. In the days after thetsunami, recovery crews were greeted repeatedly with At the communications infra-astonishing scenes of devastation and appalling loss of structure level, many facilities,life along the coastal towns and cities and even far inland. even those thought protected,Aerial TV footage had already revealed a gigantic wall of were destroyed; overall damagewater inundating the city of Natori, a great fire breaking has been essentially at leastout in Kesennuma City and several major oil refineries, a magnitude greater than inand Sendai’s airport experiencing a cascade of water and preceding earthquakes. Muchmud covering its runways. of the communications restoration has fallen to Japan’s incumbent carrier and infrastructure provider, NTT, andIn the months since the disaster, some commentators in in particular the regional carrier of the group which servesJapan have criticized what they see as a naïve belief in the the tsunami-affected areas, NTT East.5power of technology – a belief that was severely shakenby a natural event capable of overwhelming everything in In Shichigahama, the local exchange building disap-its path. In fact, much of the underlying technology did peared from its foundations. It was found after two dayswork. All of Japan’s speeding bullet trains – Shinkansen – of searching by recovery teams having been thrown somewere brought safely to a standstill from speeds of up to 500 metres inland and buried under a mass of debris. In300km per hour by Japan Rail’s own Urgent Earthquake the coastal town of Onagawa, a major two storey NTTDetection and Alarm System (UrEDAS) that powers off installation was submerged in its entirety. In Tokura,the network on detection of an earthquake. More widely, most of the exchange building was simply washed intobuilding structures (especially those outside the imme- the bay. Even exchange buildings, like those in Nobiru,diate tsunami area) designed to be resistant to earth- constructed with walls of special concrete reinforcementquakes in most cases remained intact. to withstand typhoons, were devastated; the hardened walls may have been left intact but everything else wasMost damage and loss of life however was caused by the destroyed.power of the tsunami and its associated water damageitself3 overwhelming what proved to be inadequate In many areas, local telecommunications access forprotection systems. At the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear narrow- and broadband networks was simply demolished.power plant, for example, tsunami countermeasures were Carrying the aerial cable for fibre and copper transmis-designed to protect against wave heights of 5.7 metres; sion line distribution, telephone poles – often constructedin fact, the inundation height at the site was probably from concrete over a steel reinforcement mesh – facingbetween 14 and 15 metres. Elsewhere, the coastal system the tsunami were toppled and the concrete stripped fromof dykes worked when the tsunami height was lower the underlying mesh frame. Elsewhere, the ground lique-than the dyke or where elevated expressways buffered fied and swallowed up telephone poles in metre-deepcommunities from the tsunami impact. But in many cases,the tsunami simply overwhelmed existing defences and 5 The NTT group is Japan’s longest-established communicationstragically, in some areas, even where people thought they service provider, originally the state-owned incumbent and now privat- ized. The Japanese market and policymaking has been influenced bywere safe by moving to higher ground, evacuation also US and European practice in the treatment of incumbent carriers andproved inadequate. deregulation for a competitive marketplace, and particularly by the 1984 divestiture of AT&T. As a result, policymakers have ensured theJapan has developed many tsunami detection systems company has been subject to, firstly privatization, marketplace deregu- lation, and then to functional separation in 1999. This series of policiesand defences. A sophisticated array of sensor systems has seen the creation of two operating companies in the group withdetected the earthquake and tsunami seconds after they local franchises (NTT West and NTT East) serving particular areascame into being, but the tsunami height was underesti- of Japan, a separate long distance, inter-regional, and internationalmated: initial predictions of 3 metres were updated within gateway provider (NTT Communications), and a major mobile cellularminutes of the earthquake detection.4 In fact, the actual company offering 2G and 3G services in Japan (NTT DoCoMo). Other parts of the group provide data communications services and relatedtsunami surpassed all the predictions. Whilst some areas facilities to enterprises. The group is within the top three communica- tions carriers worldwide. Within its franchised service area, NTT East is3 Around 92% of fatalities in the disaster were due to drowning. a vertically integrated service provider. NTT West and NTT East compa-4 Japan’s tsunami warning systems retreats in Nature News, 11 nies have deployed fibre connectivity nationwide. With fibre availableAugust 2011 to about 90% of Japanese households nationwide, Japan is in the topnews.2011.477.html two countries for deployment worldwide. 14
  5. 5. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5 Severed submarine pipes Japan saw its inland trunk communication routes severed by the earthquake. Restoration was possible within 48 hours by the rerouting to form an additional bypass – in future, major onshore trunk routes will probably consist of three separate paths. But Japan is also a major communications hub for the Pacific Rim and carries traffic for onward routing to the US, China, and South East Asia. NTT Communications – responsible for long distance and inter-regional connectivity for the group - says at least 5 major cable systems were frac- tured – several in multiple places including arms of the Japan-US, China-US, APCN-2 and PC-1 systems. Immediately after the disaster, trans-Pacific Internet capacity available temporarily slumped to 36% of its pre-earthquake figure (see graphic). In some cases, restoration (through emergency rerouting of traffic from the affected cables onto other systems around the Pacific), was able to ameliorate the service disruption. Overall capacity was increased to around 70% of its pre-disaster levels by this means within 6 days of the disaster. Longer term restoration however required major repairs to the damaged cable systems involving specialist ships to haul the cable systems up from the ocean floor before repairing the fractures, followed by relaying of the cables. NTT Communications reports that all the affected cables were restored by early August 2011. “The policy was that NTT as a whole tried to avoid service disruption,” says Satoru Taira, Vice President in the Crisis Management Planning Office at NTT Communications. Mr Taira, who has had previous experience with the Taiwan earthquake (which also caused a major submarine cable outage) emphasizes a four-pronged strategy by the company: the design of a disaster-proof network and rapid disaster recovery through increased decentralization and redundancy (such as the three route redundancy plan), quake proof buildings, rapid recovery of communications at regional hubs, and finally, solution services for the disaster-hit areas, particularly in supporting evacuees.holes, whilst the same liquefaction thrust buried manhole Here, Mr Oka emphasizes, trust in the operationaltunnels into the air above ground. management and, in particular, the NTT East General Managers of the affected areas was paramount, as onlyOne aspect of the disaster was the mutual reliance of they could evaluate the on-the-ground situation andinfrastructure components on each other. In terms of respond to it in the first days after the disaster. Strategiccustomer outage, peak disruption for the NTT East management was channelled into evaluating the biggernetwork reached 1.5 million circuits. A significant number picture and the widespread uncertainties with significantof facilities however that were not destroyed by the initial implications that were being revealed on an hourly basis,tsunami event were rendered inoperable by damaged says Mr Oka.power supplies and, in the hours after the event, by thegradual draining of the automatic battery backup facilities Within hours, the scale of destruction became clear, butthat came on stream when the primary power sources also the potential for major economic impact as busi-failed. “Failure of facilities was in many cases caused by nesses dependent on ICT were ceasing to function.a failure of power supplies” says Takashi Ebihara, Senior In Miyagi, Sendai Suisan, a major fisheries supply andManager responsible for the core network restoration marketing co-operative supporting a key part of the localat NTT East. But within in three days of the disaster, the economy, was finding ICT and associated logistics indis-restoration of commercial power supplies brought many pensable, especially as it was supplying perishable food-non-functional systems into operation again; support was stuffs. With NTT’s help, the market was actually able toalso available from the fleet of 100 mobile power units open the day after the tsunami, although the ICT opera-dispatched by the company. Meanwhile, says Kei Ikeda, tions of the business needed relocation within the weekSenior Manager responsible for the access network resto- after its management building was deemed unsafe. “NTTration, “the hardest decision of all was deciding which helped a lot to keep our business alive,” says Fumiyoshicentral offices to save in terms of operational capability.” Shimanuki, Sendai Suisan’s Chairman. Critical infrastructureThe most uncertain period, points out Masahide Oka, Recovery and restoration means many different activi-Senior Vice President at NTT East and the executive in ties need to take place in parallel even if support facilitiesoverall charge of the recovery operations, remained the are compromised. In the days that followed the tsunami,immediate aftermath of the tsunami when management NTT East was preoccupied, not merely with clearing thewas still trying to establish basic information on company debris of its own damaged facilities in preparation tostaffing and availability in the region, and the extent of restore them, but in also supporting the survivors of thethe devastation. earthquake as they were evacuated from the affected 15
  6. 6. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5 The Big Picture and the tsunami Communications Recovering a network and an information economy Event occurred at 2:46pm, Peak post-tsunami national network peak traffic time 3:03pm, traffic to Miyagi Prefecture 11 March, maximum 70%Images: T.Ishii traffic restraint Peak traffic about 9 times normal 11 March 12 March 13 March Miyako I W AT E PREFEC TURE Ofunato Kesennuma M I YA G I PREFEC TURE From top: temporary central exchanges at Nobiru, Onagawa NTT building at Onagawa flooded above top floor, exchange building with typoon hardened Ishinomaki walls devastated at Nobiru. Background images: Nobiru concrete building overturned at Onagawa Below: geiger counter reading at Soma, Fukushima Sendai Natori Fukushima City Restricted Minami-soma nuclear area FUKUSHIMA PREFEC TURE 16
  7. 7. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5 The Japanese tsunami of 11 failed at the onset of the on communications networks March 2001 wreaked unprec- tsunami or within hours after may be extremely high but edented damage on major loss of power (in the case of very variable, raising impor- communcations infrastruc- communications networks). tant questions of traffic tures, both domestically, The force of the tsunami was management and service and, in terms of international strong enough to remove prioritization (Data connectivity to the outside concrete buildings from source: NTT East, NTT world, along the coastline of their foundations and sever Communications). the northeastern part of the networks rendering on-the- country. Infrastructures, inter- spot repair impossible. In a dependent on each other, crisis, instantaneous demand 1.5 million circuits (385 Optical exchanges) Number of broken circuits A/I Affected coastline expanded on opposite page Earthquake 11 March 12 March 13 March 14 March Sendai Epicentre Communications circuit disruption due to power outages post-tsunami Japan-US (to US) 5 August JAPAN PC-1 (to US) 26 May Tokyo Locations and routes shown are approximate and for illustration purposes only China-US (to US) 15 May Submarine cable systems (& restoration date) Affected Japan-US (to US) 16 April Unaffected PC-1 (to US)APCN-2 (to Taiwan) TPE (to Taiwan & Korea) PACIFIC APCN-2 (to China & Korea) 18 April OCEAN 17
  8. 8. www.iicom.orgDecember 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5A communications recovery plan: NTT East executives discuss strategies.Left to right Masahide Oka, Natsuo Minamikawa, Takashi Ebihara, Kei Ikeda, Naoki Shibutani (Images: T.Ishii)areas. “One of the strengths of NTT as a group,” says Mr critical facilities with generators) is scheduled for comple-Ebihara, “has been that the group companies have been tion in early to help NTT East in the recovery period, and NTTEast has a presence in all the affected areas.” Key central offices in major cities such as Tokyo have battery, generator and on-site mobile generator backupNearly 4000 public payphones were deployed around the separately to guard against outages. NTT East managersregion offering free telephony services, and 12 thousand say that critical transmission lines, where possible, willexisting payphones were also switched to free services. be buried either underground or on a sub-fluvial basis.Some 400 fixed Internet connections, 204 wireless access However, it is likely that most local access transmissionlocations and 277 WiFi locations were made available on facilities will remain aerial: a full network burial would bea free of charge basis. Meanwhile, ingenious techniques prohibitively expensive and not necessarily robust. Thewere being used to bring up the networks themselves likely total cost of the full restoration programme has beenparticularly in areas where they had been severed. Tempo- estimated in the region of Yen 80 billion (around USD1rary fibre optic lines were strung across rivers or on rail billion).bridges, says Mr Ikeda, where main transmission conduitshad failed. NTT’s own proprietary technology for tunnel- In the main, services have been either fully or nearly fullyling was used to provide new conduit paths underneath restored in the affected areas on a pro tem basis in manyrivers ready for fibre optic deployment. cases within a 50-day time horizon from the disaster. In the Miyagi area, around the regional capital of Sendai,Lessons learned the disaster damaged 153 communication buildings and disrupted 490 000 lines, principally in the Ishinomaki This disaster has stimulated an area to the north of the capital. By 30 March, only 23 intense analysis on systemic damaged buildings and 22 000 disrupted lines remained, failures across the system and a and one month later, this had become only 2 damaged focus on management and buildings and 250 damaged lines mainly on small islands technology lessons for the off the coast. future. In fact, each natural disaster in the past 50 years has Resiliency enabled NTT to configure arational response to improve its network. For NTT East, a For Natsuo Minamikawa, the NTT East General Managermajor civil engineering programme to reposition critical responsible for Miyagi Prefecture6 and overseeing thecommunications centres on much higher ground has area communications rebuild, the biggest challengesalready begun. rest on quality of service: “it is key: we are trying to build a resilient network.” He continues: “The first lesson weGiven the civil engineering required, this will be a learned is how to deal with the power outage [of thelengthy task. The first phase of a two phase programme affected network facilities]. This time the power outagedesigned to provide complete restoration was completed was caused by the tsunami, but in other disasters, it couldby summer 2011; a second phase to focus on buildingrelocation, additional transmission route bypass construc- 6 Japan is administratively divided for local government purposes intotion, and further improvements in backup power systems Prefectures and the conurbations of Tokyo and Osaka. The Tohoku(particularly in the replacement of battery systems in region (which saw most earthquake and tsunami damage) has six of these Prefectures: Miyagi, Iwate, Fukushima, Aomori, Akita, and Yamagata. 18
  9. 9. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5be caused by anything. [In the event] the protection we There are wider implications for critical infrastructuresprepared was probably not enough. The second lesson is also, in particular in terms of inter-dependency. As thethat this is the first time an entire field office building has power supply challenges indicate, one infrastructure willbeen disabled, although, of course, in the past, there have need another infrastructure, says Mr Shibutani: “One ofbeen instances of cable and line breaks. We need to learn the serious problems is, for example, lack of water supplyfrom this disaster how to quickly restore facilities after for drinking, washing and sanitation. [In the disaster]significant damage. The third lesson is how to rebuild the we were out of water and out of energy, and this is annetwork of the entire area so new advanced services can area where we are not so well prepared. After all, we arebe deployed.” specialists in network provision, not water and power infrastructures.” In turn, this will mean that co-operationIn the next prefecture to the south, Fukushima, significant with providers of other infrastructures is indispensableimprovements have also been made. Here the disaster when this scale of disaster strikes.damaged 39 facilities and disrupted 110 000 lines. By30 April this had reduced to 3 buildings and 10 000 Understanding behaviourdisrupted lines, but these were mostly in the nuclearrestriction zone. The zone continues to pose a challenge Getting communications right is key, and perhaps evenfor reconstruction of services given the need to minimize more important is getting the right sort of communica-exposure to radiation for those working in the region tions made available to the people who need them.most seriously affected, around the Fukushima Daiichi Human behaviour remains an important (but potentiallyplant (a second facility, Fukushima Daini, has also threat- unpredictable) factor in crisis management everywhere.ened radiation contamination and been ring-fenced with It has special relevance when national disasters affectevacuation although from a smaller area). millions. Communications usage habits are extremely significant in this, as service providers acknowledge.The nuclear restriction zone still requires advanced mobileand broadband facilities, however, to service the reactor For users inside the disaster zone, surveys carried out bydecommissioning work, in particular for monitoring NTT indicated that the vast majority of people thoughtconditions inside the plant, and to enable the decommis- that mobile communications were indispensable andsioning personnel to communicate with each other and nearly 10% of those surveyed did use their mobiles tothe outside world. make voice calls – a far higher percentage than those who wanted to send emails from their mobiles. Intriguingly, forThere are several challenges in re-engineering infrastruc- those outside the disaster zone and not directly affectedture more generally here. Fukushima is the third largest by the disaster, mobiles were still important communica-Prefecture in Japan with a wide variety of terrain from tion tools. In Japan, mobile data services include bothremote mountainous areas to an extensive coastline. The SMS and mobile email which is extremely popular.prefecture itself experiences extremes of climate and,apart from the tsunami and nuclear reactor challenges, Other attitudes were unearthed in the surveys. Therealso had to contend with storm and snow damage this were, for example, some usage of the emergencyyear, says Naoki Shibutani, General Manager for NTT East message boards and lines throughout the country butat Fukushima. perhaps the most surprising finding was the preference for FM/community radio to keep in contact for thoseOne large scale implication is for network architecture in the disaster-affected areas; more people said theyitself. NTT supports the traditional copper network that considered TV to be an indispensable medium over radio,supplies PSTN and ADSL services as well as the fibre based but in practice some seven times more people actuallyNGN. But in the event, NTT executives say that the point- used radio as a medium than TV. Curiously, PC-basedto-point star configuration of the established PSTN was, if email services generally remained of low usage. Mr Okaanything, more reliable than the newer NGN which saw suggests that communications patterns and habits maymajor transmission routes – including backup facilities – vary according to the situation, and “providers such assevered. As with common practice in the past in terms NTT must work alongside these community networks andof learning from previous disasters, NTT East is investi- behaviours to ensure resiliency and effectiveness in thegating improvements to its network architecture and future.”design. Resiliency is one factor. The future may well lie in Critical infrastructureincreasing tailoring of new networks to the applications Messagingand communities they serve, and providing specific needsthrough making the network as flexible as possible, says Following the Kobe earthquake of 1995, NTT intro-Mr Shibutani, himself one of the NGN network architects. duced specially configured network-based applications“NTT East may well look towards network approaches – collectively called the Disaster Emergency Messagethat are more diverse and flexible,” says Mr Oka. Dial 171 service suite – which enables phone access to emergency messaging. A companion web service – Web 19
  10. 10. www.iicom.orgDecember 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5 Time for organizational DNA? As part of its own identity, NTT East has attempted to embody its corporate values and this need for evolution in what it calls Tsunagu DNA [Connecting DNA], essentially a short- form description of what the company stands for. Tsunagu DNA refers to a connection with customers and particularly employees using organizational knowledge, capability, and attitude: reaching perhaps an almost emotional engagement. Masahide Oka says “As a carrier, connectivity is the main mission of this company…we are trying to pass the idea of Tsunagu DNA down through the company.” Other managers agree. “The brand [of Tsunagu DNA],” says Takashi Ebihara, “means NTT East will connect anyone, anywhere at any time.” But the Tsunagu DNA attitude in a time of crisis seems to reduce corporate operations often involving complex and troubling demands to very deep and core values that managers can clearly depict and use to engage a sense of overriding mission. Tsunagu DNA may be a brand, but branding in this case seems to go well beyond ‘normal’ mission statements, helpful straplines or catchy marketing messages that many organizations use – and often use superficially without thinking. In Fukushima, for example, a major part of Naoki Shibutani’s task, he says, has been the support of morale of the reconstruction workers in difficult conditions. Working in the face of enormous challenges has significant implications for organizational management practice and even the rights given and taken, expected and implied, between employer and employee. He continues: “Sometimes the hardship [here] is indeed very hard, and our staff may worry about their personal conditions, so it is important we improve attitudes and atmosphere. There are hundreds of very brave people who have sacrificed their family life [by working away from home] and these people are much admired,” points out Mr Shibutani. But, he says, it comes back to the Tsunagu DNA concept and values – connecting with teams and transferring the skillsets to others. Fundamental management challenges remain however at all levels. He continues: “When the field workers retire – we lose about a hundred workers annually – we lose their ‘DNA’, because only 30 workers are inbound to replace them, and these new workers will require extensive training. Outsourcing is also a concern because we do not manage these workers directly and perhaps we effectively may have started to lose our own skills.” Mr Ebihara agrees that senior management have been rethinking the outsourcing strategies the group has pursued in recent years for operational efficiencies: “Top management now believe that holding these skillsets will make the company run more reliably.”171 – provides a message board system. NTT East plan supporting affected populations. The company is lookingto release a major enhancement to these systems in 2012 to establish dormant WiFi networks at conveniencewhich will be accessible from a variety of platforms. But stores7 and other community gathering points that canthe human touch may be everything, says Mr Ikeda. be activated in emergencies to offer smartphone and tablet access. It seems likely that such stores will effec-In Iwate Prefecture, NTT East staff, at one point before the tively become “information stations” with free, specially-network was fully restored, were on their own initiative configured voice payphones to enable services rangingcollecting handwritten messages from survivors in evacu- from evacuation orders, safety confirmations, traffication centres and passing them on to their loved ones information, disaster information and radio broadcastsvia the 171 system itself. This ad hoc idea was extremely to be mediated to the general public. Subscriber devices,popular and was quickly extended to the entire Prefecture too, may be enhanced with sophisticated power-savingby the NTT East General Manager. Mr Ikeda suggests that capabilities and “blackout-ready” adaptors alongsideservice providers have learnt an important lesson: “this many different kinds of local charging systems to circum-showed us that our mission is not merely transmitting vent major but making an emotional bond between people.” For the restoration of mobile base stations that sufferedWiFi futures? from severed backhaul in the affected areas, NTT DoCoMo and NTT East utilized a variety of methods toApart from the network architecture considerations to restore service including point-to-point microwave andmaximize reliability, it seemed mobile communications – satellite links with mobile base station facilities. In someperhaps, predictably – was vital in the immediate post- cases, now and in the future, mobile facilities will alsotsunami timeframe. But the NTT East experience also be restored by so-called large zone schemes that enablesuggests that WiFi networks offering flexibility and fastservice set-up may be particularly useful in the future in 7 NTT has announced that this programme will first be rolled out across all 27 wards of Tokyo. 20
  11. 11. December 2011 Volume 39 Issue 5single high elevation base stations to temporarily provide this sense of community involvement. But in doing thisservice coverage if groups of low elevation base stations it also poses challenges of how organizations especiallyare incapacitated. in a deregulated, and perhaps fragmented, marketplace will actually provide a coherent and critical infrastructureBut there are wider lessons in the face of such an extreme on a national basis. Countering such extreme demandsdisaster, too. Japan may already be looking at funda- may imply an organizational size, capability, and deep butmental changes in how it prepares for major crises. Some relatively permanent expertise is needed.may simply be too large. “In my personal opinion, perfectpreparation for this scale of disaster is not possible even Flexible regulation?without the Fukushima nuclear problem,” says Mr Oka,“but we at NTT have learnt a lot from past disasters and If the precise nature of a deregulated marketplace andin the case of each these disasters, there were new recom- organizational management are two factors in extrememendations and procedures (such as the 171 service) that situations, the role of policymaking is clearly anotherwere implemented to prevent recurrence of the same one. Exactly what policies are needed – and how flexibleproblems.” and even pro-competitive they should be in a dynamic environment is open to question. Certainly, the disasterFuture scenarios and new mindsets experience seems to suggest that the competitive drive for new networks and services may well need to beNTT East, says Mr Oka, has also conducted an annual balanced with perceptions of what is required in theexercise with the Japanese Self Defense Force (the Japa- national interest.nese military) to anticipate operational requirements andchallenges in the event of a (hypothetical) major earth- For Mr Oka, the question also suggests an analysis ofquake in central Tokyo. The scenario considers widespread future markets and competitors which might be quitedisruption and impassable roads and railways and so relies different to those of the past: “Our competitors in Japanextensively on helicopter-borne operations. It also empha- - or globally - are now actually over-the-top players [assizes the fast-set up of temporary communications for opposed to other carriers] like Google and Apple.” Hegeneral use, power supply support, as well as advanced continues: “In a competitive market, each competitorcommunications facilities such as satellite communications necessarily has a priority for each client set. But in emer-and broadband-mediated disaster monitoring facilities to gency situations, we need to start discussing priorities –enable accurate evaluation of the disaster. and this probably needs the involvement of government and policymaking. In my personal opinion, infrastructureIn terms of Japanese society, detection and response planning should be looking at the safety of Japan, andmay also be key. One strand, says Dr Mikio Ishiwatari, based on that societal priority as well. In the telecom-Senior Advisor at the Japan International Co-operation munications field, this kind of disaster may well provide aAgency (JICA), is to ensure that the available technology new structure or new roles in terms of collaboration. Weis further developed to its maximum capability to offer need to be discussing what roles the industry will take onadequate warning. But says Dr Ishiwatari, there are key after this crisis.”issues that need to be confronted and probably a needto “put people at the centre of the system”. He argues It is not a unique challenge, he points out. He suggestspeople themselves need to utilize the warning informa- cyber-security has comparable multi-faceted dimensions.tion for evacuation and they should also understand that “Japanese industry has already been attacked by hackers,the technology itself has limitations, particularly when it but if people think that NTT can handle this challengecomes to critical parameters such as the determination all by itself, [they should understand] it is impossible. Weof wave heights and the adequacy of coastal defences to need collaboration between players to protect people,counter them. but there are [cultural differences] between carriers and Internet players – Internet does not have the same senseJICA’s Dr Ishiwatari says that in turn the protection of traditional management as carrier networks.”systems should change in focus from being engineering-orientated to human-orientated, from supply-driven todemand-driven, and from structure-based responses to The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance and Critical infrastructurethose based rather on a fundamental integration with the interview responses of the staff of the Japan Internationalcommunity. Co-operation Agency (JICA), NTT Communications, NTT East IPTV Analyisis News Analysis Tokyo, Miyagi and Fukushima offices, NTT DoCoMo, SendaiThese are big issues. But how organizations – particu- Suisan, the civic centre of the town of Onagawa, andlarly information and communication entities - configure Toshinari and Eko Ishii of the CWell Institute.themselves and their crisis responses in the face of ex-treme demand and disruption will be highly significant.In some sense, this reconfiguration may parallel itself with 21
  12. 12. International Institute of Communications