The GEOASIA Research Society

Message from the Society President in 2019



    In the area of earthquake disaster prevention or risk reduction in recent years, there is no escape from the feeling that there has been a growing move away from hardware. There may be a slight bias behind what I say, but I would be glad to sound out people’s opinion.
At the end of August, 2012, a year or so after the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011, the government’s Central Disaster Management Council (CDMC) published a damage estimate for the coming Nankai Trough Earthquake that predicted (a maximum of) 323,000 persons dead or missing, total damage of \ 220 trillion, and an effect on the lives of 60 million people. Not even the government can wholly ignore figures like these, and in 2014 a target was set to “reduce this by 80% by the year 2023.” As the first stage towards this goal, on May 31, 2019, I found it reported in a newspaper that, in gist, “the predicted number of deaths had been reduced to 231,000”. This already amounts to a 30 percent drop, so I read through the article to see what had changed. The drop was said to be due to a raised awareness of tsunami evacuation, building repairs, and a more widespread installation of breakers to guard against electrical fires. It was not the result of drastic preventive measures involving hardware. This called back to mind the various things written by members of the CDMC Working Committee in their “Conclusion” of March, 2013. “It is important to conserve the right kind of fear of largescale earthquakes and tsunamis …”, “As we have learned from the March 11 disaster, we should not depend excessively on prevention through hardware …”, “softer preventive measures such as evacuation drills, disaster training instruction, and the lessons handed down from past disasters …”, “Even a strong force 7 tremor ... may not always require special prevention measures”. Alongside that stark figure of 323,000 dead, why this unbroken string of remarks that can be taken as virtual dismissals of preventive hardware? If there is a reason, I still fail to see it. The last thing I would want to suspect is that this could all be a show of deference to help a hard-up government through its housekeeping pinch.
  Quite apart from the pros or cons of “prevention through hardware”, it has to be said as a fact that among so-called scholars of disaster risk reduction there has always been a stance of “dismissiveness towards hardware research” and that this is what forms the perennial thread of these people’s claims. Allow me to quote a few parts from a text authored in 2007 by the first well-known scholar to have used the Japanese term “gensai” (減災), generally translated as “disaster (risk) reduction”. “Seismologists are researchers into disasters, not into disaster prevention. Seismologists pursue their research out of an interest in how earthquakes occur, but unfortunately there are none of them whose aim is to reduce the direct human or economic damage caused by earthquakes. What is meant here of course is that there are none engaged in first-order research. Look anywhere in the world, they are not to be found.” .... “Researchers who specialise in seismology as a science, or in seismic engineering as technology, are all ham-handed.” .... “Even after the increase in research funding, the practical achievements can then only be described as meagre, when the costs and the benefits are reckoned up together.” .... “The clarification of mechanisms and the development of technical prevention hardware, while no doubt necessary for the prevention or reduction of disasters, is not sufficient.” .... “Unless research into seismology and seismic engineering can be clearly placed in an overall framework of disaster prevention and reduction strategies [not left outside on grounds that these are scientific research fields] and better managed with a keen eye on cost effectiveness, no amount of time will suffice [relying on this research alone] to attain the intended objectives of predictive capability and a practical reduction in damage.” (Parts in [square parentheses] are explicatory notes added by myself.)
  In response to a request in October 2018 from the Education Ministry’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, I had the opportunity of working with Professor Noda and Professor Otani, president of the Japanese Geotechnical Society, on a report on the state of progress of recent geomechanics research concerning changes of state in grounds with soft surface layers due to strong seismic tremors. Adducing various research findings since March 2011, we were able to show that “changes of state in a ground go back to plastic deformations in the ground itself, meaning that the plastic deformation mechanism lies outside the logical framework of elastic (wave motion) theory.” This means that joint cooperation is important in this area between earthquake research on the one hand and geomechanics on the other. In a presentation time limited to just thirty minutes, there was no way of arriving at a report that could be anywhere near complete. But preparing for the report provided a welcome chance of seeing once again what an outstanding state of progress there has been in these years since March 11.
  The act of withholding fund provisions and in effect killing off research on grounds of cost effectiveness is a once off measure. But as any researcher knows, once a line of research has gone under, it is virtually impossible to revive it again. Underlying all the sustainment and improvement of disaster prevention hardware and all the training of personnel with requisite skills for maintaining it, is a supporting foundation of day-by-day progress in ongoing research activity. From our scholars of disaster prevention and disaster risk reduction, I would wish for a little more seemliness in their choices of language and argument.


Akira Asaoka
Senior research advisor, the Association for the Development of Earthquake Prediction (reg. foundation);
Emeritus professor, Nagoya University

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