Tsunami relief work in Japan

Introduction: Military families used APAN to share information during earthquake and tsunami relief work in Japan.

The U.S. Department of Defense assisted Japan after the earthquake and tsunami disaster in March 2011. APAN was used to share daily updates and was utilized as a center of communication for military families travelling back to the U.S. from Japan. There were many questions about executing travel. Most of the regular avenues for getting answers to questions for military families were occupied due to response efforts for the disaster.

Challenges: Provide support to military families struggling with the complex system for arranging travel back to the U.S. while devoting full resources to responding to the disaster.

A few days after the earthquake, many military families had to manage complex travel arrangements involving many organizations that were already occupied with disaster response. Answers to the many questions generated by the travel needs of military families could only come from the same people who were fully engaged in earthquake and tsunami relief.

Solutions: As the need for military family support emerged, the Japan disaster response community on APAN customized collaboration tools to serve families while minimizing the time required to answer their questions.

Those responsible for managing their family’s travel arrangements were able to use forums to post questions which were answered by U.S. Forces Japan staff. The frequently asked questions and answers were then maintained in the community for others to read.  This significantly reduced time needed to respond to phone calls and emails.

Links were collected on the community from the many organizations that assisted military families on travel: units, component offices, DOD offices, Department of State, and other federal agencies. These links provided quick access to resources focused on military family travel.  This list of links became a directory that was flexible and updated easily as lessons learned and new guidance developed over time.

The Yale-Tulane Disaster Resilience Academy created daily briefs to compile information into a format that could be shared through public blogs. Through working with the nongovernmental organization, APAN was able to create a mirrored blog on the community for Japan that automatically posted updates from the Yale-Tulane program when new content was produced.  This automated connection increased the speed and reach of existing efforts to provide up-to-date information to the public.

Results: The improvement in situational awareness created by the increased speed and reach of information sharing on APAN enabled more people to make informed decisions. The time spent managing complex travel arrangements was minimized for both military families and the staff supporting them.

When disaster strikes, no one knows in advance exactly what information will be produced, what will be needed, and who will be involved.  APAN’s ability to adapt in real-time to changing needs and to provide a wide range of tools allowed the DOD to give the support that was needed to those who needed it.