Kenji Aoshima from Tokio Marine assigning tasks
Background: In the fall of 2013, International Medical Corps and its corporate partners (Tokio Marine & Nichido Risk Consulting Co., Ltd., and Mitsubishi Corporation Insurance Co., Ltd.) conducted a three-part workshop series on Business Continuity Planning (BCP) to help local Japanese non-government organizations (NGOs) create solutions to risk-related challenges and better prepare for future emergency response and recovery efforts. Due to popular demand, International Medical Corps conducted another similar workshop series from February – May of 2014.
During several follow-up conversations with organizations that participated in previous BCP planning workshops, International Medical Corps learned that many were still facing difficulties getting all of their staff members to gain an understanding of what their BCP is, and the importance of preparing for emergency situations at the headquarters level.
Advanced BCP Training: To assist the capacity-building efforts of these organizations, International Medical Corps is offering advanced BCP training for willing organizations. On August 5, 2014, AAR Japan was the first organization to accept the opportunity to have International Medical Corps and Tokio Marine facilitate a private tabletop exercise to give AAR Japan’s management staff a taste of what it would be like for them react in an emergency situation.
In total, 17 staff members from AAR Japan, including the director-general and senior management staff members, participated in the two-hour simulation exercise. The participants were divided by their work departments (i.e. administration, communications, and operations), and the disaster scenario was set as follows:
An earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale hits Tokyo at 10:30AM, with 70% of the Greater Tokyo Area experiencing a quake of 6.0 or stronger. Buildings are damaged and fires ensue in multiple neighborhoods. Everyone in the AAR Japan building evacuates to a nearby public park... 2 hours later, it is confirmed that the AAR Japan building is safe to re-enter.
The simulation exercise was divided into two parts: (1) the initial response (between 12:30 – 2pm, approximately two hours after the earthquake); and (2) restoration of operations.
Part 2 of the exercise was further divided into Phase I and Phase II: Phase I started at 2pm, three and a half hours after the earthquake, running until the end of day one; and Phase II covered the day after the disaster:
Phase 1 (2pm): Power outages continue, and office desktop PCs are unusable. Internet connectivity to laptop PCs and cell phones is minimal and the server cannot be accessed. AAR had originally been planning to send money to its overseas operations but they now cannot wire money via net-banking because they cannot use the internet. Calls to the bank are not going through and it is unclear whether the banks are operating.
Phase 2 (the day after the disaster): Train and subway systems have been shut down in many parts of the Tokyo Area; traffic congestion continues. Due to transportation difficulties, as well as, damage to homes and/or affected family members some AAR staff are unable to come in to work. Around 60% of the staff are available, either because they stayed in the office overnight or are able to walk to work the next day. Scheduled power outages have also started, and Laptop PCs and mobile phones will soon run out of their batteries and cannot be recharged. Donors and members have been trying to reach the office with offers of donations but have largely been unsuccessful. Staff members who had stayed overnight are showing signs of exhaustion.
The workshop facilitator gave each group timed tasks in accordance to the specific timelines (for example, during the initial response, each group had 20 minutes to brainstorm and come up with their department’s list of priority tasks that need to be completed within the first two hours of the disaster). During the simulation of the initial response, AAR Japan received regular situational updates by monitoring reports on a large TV screen regarding traffic conditions, public transportation conditions, fires, power outages, etc. Each group was then responsible to keep up with the updates while also working on their assigned tasks. The Director-General oversaw all activities at a distance and received reports from each group regarding updates and priority work areas.
Results: Through this fast-paced exercise, many issues that had yet to be resolved with AAR Japan came to light, including:
- What is the minimum number of staff needed?
- Who has to stay behind in the office and who can go home?
- How much cash do we need to have on hand to meet our immediate needs for at least a few days?
- Where will we work if the office becomes unusable?
Overall, the feedback from the participants was very positive, including the following comments:
- “It was an extremely worthwhile exercise that made me think about disaster response in a practical manner.”
- “The simulation exercise covered a lot of material in a very short time frame.”
- “I realized how important prior preparation is for disaster response.”
- “Next time we should expand the simulation to include more staff members.”
Masayuki Okada, Administrative Officer and the focal point for this BCP exercise, summed up his impressions by saying, “I think this exercise helped us all to realize how much work we still have to do to prepare ourselves for a disaster. We always meant to, but never got around to stockpiling emergency supplies such as food, water, and disposable toilets for our staff. If we lose electricity, most if not all of our work will grind to a halt, so we seriously need to consider investing in a generator.”
Mr. Okada continued, “Other issues include not having an alternative workspace if our office ever became damaged, and how our BCP doesn’t specify which staff member is in charge of certain roles in case of an emergency. This exercise allowed us to experience a little bit of the chaos a disaster causes, and has helped management-level staff to have a better appreciation of the urgency of these issues. Now that we all have this shared sense of urgency, this is the ideal time to push forward with strengthening our level of preparedness. Additionally, we will be sharing the highlights of this exercise with other staff at our annual ‘Joint Conference for Internationally-Posted Staff & HQ Staff,’ which will be held at the end of this month. We truly appreciate the opportunity International Medical Corps and Tokio Marine has given us, and we will be sure not to waste the lessons we learned through this exercise.”
Teams monitoring news feeds
AAR staff reporting to their Director-General