Font size
  • S
  • M
  • L

Civic Force Preparing Disaster-Support Platforms in Order to Save Lives!

Mr. Taku Shinjo from Civic Force’s PR Unit (right); and Mr. JangWoo Lee, originally from South Korea, responsible for the Asia Pacific Alliance within the Program Unit (left).

Mr. Taku Shinjo from Civic Force's PR Unit (right);
and Mr. JangWoo Lee, originally from South Korea,
responsible for the Asia Pacific Alliance
within the Program Unit (left).

September 1st is Disaster-Preparedness Day. It is a day on which municipalities nationwide will conduct disaster-preparedness drills, and it is a time of year when individuals can reconfirm the importance of preparing for disasters within their everyday lives. Accordingly, Close Up this month introduces Civic Force (Emergency Response Teams), which is a public interest incorporated association. Civic Force is a disaster-support platform that was established so that timely and effective support can be realized when major disasters occur. It achieves this objective through coordination with non-profit organizations/non-government organizations (NPOs/NGOs), government and businesses, etc. On this occasion we spoke to two Civic Force representatives: Mr. Taku Shinjo is from the organization's Public Relations Unit, while Mr. JangWoo Lee is from Civic Force's Program Unit. The topics we discussed were the support activities conducted by Civic Force in response to the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the development of instant emergency response systems for future major disasters. Furthermore, we also talked about the "Asia Pacific Alliance", whose purpose for establishment is the provision of mutual assistance beyond national borders in times of disaster.

Q.What led to the establishment of Civic Force?

A.Mr. Shinjo: The Chairman and Founder of Civic Force, Mr. Kensuke Onishi, is also the Chairperson and CEO of an international cooperation NGO called Peace Winds Japan. In that capacity he has traveled extensively throughout the world conducting humanitarian support in response to civil wars and natural disasters. When the Niigata-Chuestsu Earthquake struck in 2004, Peace Winds Japan provided overnight accommodation to victims using large tents called "balloon shelters". Through tie-ups with business, they also organized for the preparation of food which was then provided to more than 400 people. However, due to insufficient preparations in coordination with local municipalities etc., it took time for these shelters to become recognized evacuation centers. Until such recognition occurred, they did not receive supplies and information from the cities in question. In reflecting on this, Civic Force was established in January 2009 as a coordinating entity whose role is that of a disaster-support platform, its purpose being to conduct support both quickly and effectively in times of major disaster.

balloon shelters ©Peace Winds Japanballoon shelters ©Peace Winds Japan

Because the structure of balloon shelters is maintained by a continuous flow of air,
they don't collapse even if seismic aftershocks continue.
A single unit is able to offer accommodation for approximately 100 people.
©Peace Winds Japan

Q.Please tell me about the role of Civic Force as a disaster-support platform.

A.Mr. Shinjo: On the issue of disaster support, Civic Force maintains close and ongoing cooperation with a range of entities including NPOs and NGOs, businesses, government and public administrations, etc. If we can confirm and coordinate our plans with these stakeholders, when disaster strikes we will be able to respond to the needs of large numbers of victims. Civic Force represents a coordinating institution with respect to such matters, and when a large-scale disaster occurs, we can gather together the necessary support resources including "information," "people" "funds" and "equipment," etc., and deliver them to impacted areas. Our mission is to closely work with related institutions and exercise the functionality of a coordinating body so as to "save as quickly as possible as many people as possible".

Q.With respect to the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011, what sort of activities did you engage in?

A.Mr. Shinjo: From the day following the quake, on March 12th we deployed helicopters from a company with whom we had concluded a prior agreement. This move represented the commencement of our emergency support. With respect to emergency materials, from March 11th until the end of May we procured and delivered some 380 tons of equipment. These materials consisted of 546 different items. More than 600 companies and 50,000 individuals supported us in these activities. Additionally, in responding to the needs of the impacted areas, we leased car ferries to connect the mainland with outlying islands; we also constructed and operated bathing facilities, provided both trailer houses and container houses, and developed the Employee Volunteer Dispatch Project whereby company employees were dispatched to disaster areas as volunteers, etc.

Takahashi Helicopter Services, a business that partners with Civic Force, started flying its helicopters immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Over a period of approximately one month, it transported emergency materials to the impacted areas. ©Civic Force

Takahashi Helicopter Services, a business that partners with Civic Force, started flying its helicopters immediately after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Over a period of approximately one month, it transported emergency materials to the impacted areas. ©Civic Force

Q.In what ways do you feel that it was possible to leverage the power of this disaster-support platform?

A.Mr. Lee: After the quake struck, there were many inquiries from companies asking "is there anything that we can do"? However, all the government administrative agencies and the various NGOs were so busy and overwhelmed that they couldn't respond. This made response to each individual offer of help very difficult. As a disaster-support platform, it was at this point that Civic Force was able to grasp both what needed to be done where, and what was necessary. It was in this role that we organized things by acting as a go-between.
Furthermore, the biggest bottleneck when offering emergency support was the issue of logistics, and we resolved it by working with removal companies. It was not the case that we had agreements in place with these companies in advance, however, in that we previously held discussions with them whose tone amounted to "it would be good to have a cooperative relationship with one another", they kindly responded to our requests immediately when contacted after the quake.

During the Great East Japan Earthquake, Heart Moving Services ran a regular service of 10 4-ton trucks each day. These delivered emergency materials from cooperating companies to the impacted areas.
©Civic Force

During the Great East Japan Earthquake, Heart Moving Services ran a regular service of 10 4-ton trucks each day.  These delivered emergency materials from cooperating companies to the impacted areas. ©Civic Force

Q.So what preparations are you making for future disasters?

A.Mr. Shinjo: To take what was learned in terms of "coordinated power" during the Great East Japan Earthquake and maximize it again during future disasters, we are strengthening our coordination with various organizations. This strengthening includes measures such as new cooperative agreements being concluded with local municipalities and new partnerships being established with both companies and NPOs/NGOs, etc. Civic Force is also working to develop instant emergency response systems. As of now, we have concluded "Agreements of Mutual Assistance during Times of Disaster" with Fukuroi City in Shizuoka Prefecture, Kensennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture, and the prefectural governments of Aichi and Mie Prefectures.
Civic Force has also taken the initiative in establishing an NPO called "All Round Helicopters" in Kesennuma City, Miyagi Prefecture. Normally, this will be a medical airlift service for the transportation of emergency patients occurring in remote areas such as outlying islands, etc. However, an agreement has been concluded with ARH which would give priority to the use of their helicopter in providing support to impacted areas in the event of large-scale disasters. Based on the hypothesis of the Tonankai Earthquake occurring, in July 2014 by working together with a partner organization in Aichi Prefecture and through the cooperation of a Chiba Prefecture hospital, a simulation was conducted using a helicopter whereby doctors were dispatched to areas supposedly impacted by such a disaster.
Additionally, the "Asia Pacific Alliance" was established in October 2012, and we are working to establish an immediate response system to the natural disasters that periodically occur in the region.

All Round Helicopters commenced operations in October of 2013.  Centering on Kesennuma City, it is a multi-purpose medical airlift helicopter that works along the Sanriku Coastline.  It is equipped with an onboard stretcher (upper right).  Mr. Lee refueling the helicopter during a training exercise conducted in Aichi Prefecture (bottom). ©Civic Force

All Round Helicopters commenced operations in October of 2013.
Centering on Kesennuma City, it is a multi-purpose medical airlift helicopter that works along the Sanriku Coastline. It is equipped with an onboard stretcher (upper right).
Mr. Lee refueling the helicopter during a training exercise conducted in Aichi Prefecture (bottom).
©Civic Force

Q.Please tell me about the Asia Pacific Alliance.

A.Mr. Lee: In countries in the Asia Pacific region, we are creating the foundations of a Civic Force type platform via cooperation with businesses, NPOs/NGOs and administrations. These foundations shall exceed the organizational barriers of each of these institutions. Furthermore, we are aiming to develop a system of mutual support which could be used when large-scale disasters occur. This effort involves a cooperation with the national platforms of the different countries which goes beyond the established national borders of each.
For example, if a disaster were to occur in Japan in the future, rather than the NGOs and businesses of other countries having to apply to Japan individually, support in the form of funds, people and materials etc., would first be gathered together within the support platforms of the other countries. Contact would then be made with Japan. This process would make the receiving of assistance very smooth. Moreover, by having support allocated via the platform of the impacted country and through local NGOs, it is possible that support would be conducted both more effectively and more efficiently.

It then distributed emergency supplies to some 11,400 people in 1,900 households ©Civic Force It also provided some 960 evacuation tents that housed 9,600 people ©Civic Force

In responding to victims in the Philippines of Typhoon Haiyan
in November, 2013, by cooperating with local NGOs, Civic Force quickly obtained
information regarding the situation on the ground in impacted areas.
It then distributed emergency supplies to some 11,400 people in 1,900 households (left).
It also provided some 960 evacuation tents that housed 9,600 people (right). ©Civic Force

Q.How will the alliance develop in the future?

Mr. Lee: "In the future as well disasters will occur to which single countries are unable to respond. In light of this, I would like to develop a platform that all countries can have faith in".

Mr. Lee: "In the future as well disasters will occur to which single countries are unable to respond. In light of this, I would like to develop a platform that all countries can have faith in".

A.Mr. Lee: Currently, there are five countries who are members of the alliance: Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and South Korea. In addition to these, other countries such as Bangladesh and Myanmar, etc., are moving forward for the purpose of establishing their own national platforms.
With respect to the support of victims of Typhoon Haiyan which swept through the central Philippines in November 2013, it was possible for a South Korean NGO that previously had no overseas experience to coordinate with an NGO in the Philippines. This allowed both parties to achieve a quick and effective provision of support. All NGOs are currently in the process of developing their own national platforms; and this experience will allow them to develop links with one another that are both trustworthy and cooperative. Furthermore, when a disaster does occur, although in the impacted areas it can be difficult to appreciate from what countries assistance has been sent, we want to develop a system that allows people to literally see the faces of their benefactors. If this happens there will be a deepening of mutual cooperation within the Asia Pacific region.

Q.Finally, please offer a message to our readers.

Mr. Shinjo:  "At the root of our activities there lies the desire to save as many victims as possible during times of disaster, and to also offer them support as quickly as possible."

Mr. Shinjo: "At the root of our activities there lies the desire to save as many victims as possible during times of disaster, and to also offer them support as quickly as possible."

A.Mr. Shinjo: It is not known where and when disasters will occur. Each year on Disaster-Preparedness Day in September, there are a range of events held nationwide. Through activities such as participation in disaster- preparedness drills, etc., I believe it is very important that all of us give some thought on a daily basis to the issue of disasters.
As "disaster support professionals," in addition to continuously working to prepare for future disasters, Civic Force is conducting emergency support activities throughout the Asia-Pacific region and not just in Japan.