A Look to the 2011 Japan’s Earthquake


On March 11, 2011, a 9.1 magnitude earthquake occurred 231 miles northeast of Tokyo and within 30 minutes a 132-foot high tsunami. These two events led to a major event involving the release of radioactive material from the Fukushima Nuclear Plant. At least 20,000 people died (18,000 from the tsunami), and another 2,500 went missing and over 465,000 people were displaced.

The disaster also destroyed 138,000 buildings and had an estimated cost $360 billion in economic damage. In history, it became known as the “Triple Disaster”.

Recovery Efforts

Forty-four minutes after the earthquake, the government of Japan, activated the emergency operations center and in less than 24 hours over 10,000 military troops were on their way to Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures in Japan. Within a week of the nuclear emergency was declared, 95% of people living nuclear evacuation zone were evacuated, 95% of electric service was restored and all 14 ports were opened to receive relief goods.

The total expenditure for reconstruction work is estimated to cost over $284 billion dollars through fiscal 2020, and the operation of the Japan Reconstruction Agency was extended another 10 years to continue servicing the affected areas.

Based on a survey in March 2019, manufacturing, agriculture and other key economic enablers have returned to pre disasters levels. The agriculture and fisheries are at 90% of the pre disasters levels. As of March 2019 there are 54K displaced personnel still living in temporary lodging facilities and all public housing was expected to be completed by the end of 2019.

Economic Impact

As a result of the events, Japan’s economy was devastated in four ways. First, the destruction cost more than the $250 billion cost estimate for Hurricane Katrina.

The earthquake hit a region that was responsible for 6%–8% of the country's total production.

It crippled Japan's nuclear industry, by May 2012, the government had closed the 50 nuclear plants responsible for energy production in the country. As a result, Japan had to import oil to replace generation capacity, causing record trade deficits.

The Bank of Japan provided market liquidity to ensure the stability of financial markets, but the long-term impact was harmful to the country's struggling economy. Rebuilding lifted the economy a bit, but the increase in the national debt outweighed it.

Lastly, Japan's economy had just started to recover from 20 years of deflation and recession. The earthquake impacted to the country’s to massive government debt, Japan faced rising commodity prices and an aging labor pool.

Lessons Learned

In 2014 a panel of experts gathered at Brookings to identify lessons from the Japans’ experience to include in future and mitigate the loss of lives. Among the lessons learned included movement and integration of non-Governmental Organizations, rehearsal and drill of realistic scenarios versus canned mega scenarios, the preparedness of laws and regulations in support of disasters relief operations and low technological solutions like effective sirens.

But the biggest lesson came to the humanitarian actors where they needed to understand that to be able to operate within a nuclear hazard environment they need to be equipped and prepared.


A famous military strategist said, “During battle, plans are useless, but planning is essential”. Japan one of top economies in world wrestled and continue to battle recovery efforts. Disaster and recovery operations are complex and lengthy in time and requires an innovative way to approach solutions.

Puerto Rico, going thru similar events (in a minor scale), lacks the resources, planning and the right decisions that enable our government to transition from the emergency operations to recovery operations. Japan continues to provide resources after almost 9 years of the events, however they have moved forward. Puerto Rico needs to move forward in this operation by proving to the affected population.



US Army