March 30, 2020 - From the March, 2020 issue

Japan House Pre-Pandemic World Summit on Emergency Preparedness & Resilience  

In the days before Governor Newsom declared a COVID-19 State of Emergency, weeks before the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic, on February 25, leading authorities from some of Japan’s largest companies and local resilience experts gathered in Los Angeles for the Japan House Disaster Prevention & Recovery Summit to share global and local industry perspectives on emergency preparedness and resilience . TPR shares excerpts from remarks made by City of LA Chief Resilience Officer, Aaron Gross—providing an overview of the City of LA's Resilient Los Angeles Plan, and Hitachi's Beverly Rider. Both provide a point-in-time glimpse at the evolving notion of resilience and how governments, businesses, neighborhoods, and people prepare for, respond to, and recover from disaster.

“As we look at the future, I think the conversation on resilience needs to be broader. It needs to not just be about how we fortify our resources, but how we take care of one another as we go through this process and work together in order to overcome some of these things we haven’t really even looked at yet.”—Beverly Rider

“(Our mandate is) to look at everything the City of Los Angeles does with an eye towards resilience to make sure that we are prepared for, can deal with, and can recover from any shock or stress that comes along.”— Aaron Gross

Hitachi's Beverly Rider: At times, what we consider a disaster or naturally occurring event has a different definition from region to region. I went to Japan 16 times in the last two years. In those two years, there were two earthquakes, three typhoons, and two tsunamis. So, I want to talk about what is a disaster, really. The definition—region to region, person to person, or company to company—is different, and we have something going on the world today that nobody really knows how to categorize, so we don’t really have a plan for it.

Everybody thinks disaster is either tectonic activity—all of the things that go along with the earth’s surface moving, like volcanos or earthquakes—or weather-related natural disasters, but what about other things?

Does anyone think running out of natural resources like water isn’t going to be a natural disaster? I do.

We have a global pandemic happening. Isn’t that going to be a disaster? Half of my staff is grounded now in the country where they live.

As we look at the future, I think the conversation on resilience needs to be broader. It needs to not just be about how we fortify our resources, but how we take care of one another as we go through this process and work together in order to overcome some of these things we haven’t really examined yet.

In the face of disaster, how do you bring all the people and resources together and look at recovery in a way that’s going to be successful for everybody? I went to my own company to think about how we are doing it, and a lot of it comes back to what your mission is and where you start.

Hitachi is a large company, about 350,000 people and worth about $100 million. Over 50 percent of our population is in Japan with an average employee tenure of 24 years– that’s 160,000 people. For us, an aging workforce can be an actual disaster. We have a lot of people who came out of high school and college and started to work, and we have to bring in new people to take their jobs as they retire and move on. 

Looking at how we work with others and what premises we start with is something that our founder was thinking about 110 years ago. He thought we needed to be in harmony with the universe, and it’s been updated and changed over the years to make sense in today’s business environment, but we needed to do things with sincerity in a humble way, and with a pioneering spirit. You need to be able to put yourself on the line, try new things, and not worry about failing, because trying is what’s more important; it’s okay to fail. From that perspective, I thought about where to go from here, and what are we going to do to make a difference.

I’ve been with two other companies during my life as a worker. One was from the Americas, General Electric, and Ericcson, a Swedish company with about 100,000 people, a multi-billion-dollar company. All three of those perspectives aren't much different in how they look at the world, how they help others, how they view responsibility, and how they look at the bottom line.

Everybody I heard who talked today cares about the triple bottom line. They care about the people and the company and want to do good for the world. But that’s not something everybody agrees with, especially here in the Americas. It’s hard to get that consensus in order to act, and I’m worried—from a natural disaster prevention perspective—that we’re so quarantined in our silos that it makes it really hard, even in a city, to agree on how to do the kinds of things like what is happening in Tokyo right now.

In 2005 in Japan, there was a giant earthquake, and we had 64,000 elevators that stopped working. What’s interesting is that if that had happened today, we could communicate and let everyone know help was on the way. In 2005, we didn’t have that, and people were scared. It took over 25,000 workers to get everyone out, and it took a pretty long time to get it fixed. But we were able to restore all 64,000 elevators in 20 hours.

In 2005, we developed a disaster prevention center for our offices in Japan and across the world. You’d think that would mean making our projects more prepared for disaster, but it really meant how can we innovate, and even work with our competitors, to find solutions that are going to help across the world? Right now, they’re being made in no market. Together, we can create a new market. Now, when we look at our products, we look at gross margin and profitability, but also how it’s going change the social good. If doesn’t help society in some way, then why are we doing it.

In the 2011 and 2016 earthquakes, we used some new equipment and it was all bred out of this 2008 program that we put together. There were two different departments that we worked with in two different geographies, one being Japan and the other in Singapore to develop new types of equipment to address big challenges both regions face. We make everything, we have IT, OT, and everything in between. We make big machines. We decided that we would work with the departments to figure how to solve problems they couldn't solve themselves.

In the Americas, Canada, and Australia we have very large offices, and there have been massive wildfires over the past few years. We’ve reached out and done a lot of discovery in this area—we’ve tried sensory manufacturing, private LTE, hackathons—to see how you can apply technology to this massive problem to stop it from happening.

Like, there has to be a way to solve this problem in Australia, where wildfire is killing off all of the biodiversity, or what’s happening in the Amazon, so we can get ahead of disaster and know what’s happening real-time.

We have a couple of things that we’re working on. Sensors and cameras are the easiest, but you need a very wide swath of Wi-Fi or cellular service, which is usually cost prohibitive. For example, in California it would cost many millions of dollars for the network alone, without even implementing the solution. We’re trying to find ways to reduce that cost to monitor transmission lines, so that wildfires don't keep happening. It’s happened three times, three years in a row in California. This is something my team is working on trying to develop.

The last thing is the future: where are we going from here? How do we all work together to find what it means to prevent or recover from disaster? From there, we can reduce loss of life, cost, and work together to bounce back faster.

Aaron Gross: The definition of resilience is very broad, especially for the city of Los Angeles. According to Mayor Garcetti, resilience is a lens through which we need to view everything we do, because we know that decisions we make today will shape the future of our grandchildren.


The Resilient Los Angeles Plan will help us strengthen our infrastructure, protect our economy, make institutions more inclusive, and create safer neighborhoods. This is really an effort to look at everything the City of Los Angeles does with an eye towards resilience to make sure that we are prepared for, can deal with, and can recover from any shock or stress that comes along at the individual level, at the neighborhood level can collaborate, at the national and international level, on solutions.  Los Angeles is pioneering collaborative partnerships to be able to learn from other cities and share best practices.

With a such a varied geography, Los Angeles, experiences a diverse range of shocks and stressors. We face acute stressors like fires or earthquakes, or gradual stressors like sea level rise or urban heat. Stresses can be human made, like cyberattacks, or they can be natural disasters, like climate change. Because of this, Los Angeles already has a few plans that helped inform the Resilient LA Strategy

The first is Resilience by Design, which focused on three areas that the city needed to improve on: the structure and safety of buildings, water, and telecommunications. And we’ve implemented a number of new ordinances and infrastructure projects to address these key areas already.

For buildings, we’ve implemented new ordinances to require buildings that have soft stories or non-ductile concrete be retrofitted, so they can be safer and protect life and property. We’re continuing that work and looking at other ways to retrofit buildings. With the water system, LA Department of Water and Power (LADWP) is spending over $1 billion on strengthening our infrastructure and specifically our power lines and water pipes. That includes the purchase and deployment a seismic-resistant pipe network from Japanese company, Kubota, among others.

 For telecommunications, while most equipment is privately-owned, the City of Los Angeles understands the need for telecommunications to be up and running for people to be able to communicate with each other during a disaster. We are working with the private sector to find ways to strengthen that part of our infrastructure.

The other plan that overlaps considerably with the Resilient LA plan is the Sustainable City pLAn, which was recently updated and renamed the Green New Deal for Los Angeles. It overlaps with resilience in many ways—most specifically with heat islands, water storage, and preparedness.

It’s really important to know that while the city does what it can, it can only do so much, so we’ve partnered with nonprofit organizations, advocacy groups, and the private sector to help make a more resilient city.

Another high- tech tool that we use in Los Angeles is an app for your phone, much like they have in Japan, called Shake Alert Los Angeles, that provides a few seconds, and up to a minute, of advanced warning before an earthquake happens—just enough time to “drop and cover and hold on” to protect your life.

Communication is key in times of emergency, and there have to be multiple modes of communication. We use text messages, the internet, social media, and radio. We have HAM radio operators around the city, because we don’t what’s coming and we don’t know what systems are going to be operable. In addition, NotifyLA and ShakeAlert are apps that can be used not only in emergencies to provide urgent information but also as a resource guide for before and after an emergency  

We do have flooding in Los Angeles, not only because of sea level rise but when it rains or especially in areas where there has been a recent fire. We are working on updating our Floodplain Management Plan to be able to assess risk, educate people, and encourage them to get insurance. In addition, this work and helps people prepare and lowers insurance rates in Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has some of the poorest air quality in the United States. We’re using satellite data with some of our partners in the tech industry, like SmartAirLA, and working with the Air Quality Management District to be aware of when air quality is poor and what may affect that poor air quality—fires, ships coming in to the harbor, climate, etc. It helps inform City planning efforts and improves city policy making.

Our Emergency Management department is charged with helping protect the city during emergencies. One of the great programs we’ve got is called Ready Your Los Angeles Neighborhood, or RYLAN for short, where help neighborhoods come up with plans to protect themselves.

I mentioned that one of the problems we face in Los Angeles is cybersecurity. Mayor Garcetti has initiated LA Cyber Lab, a public-private partnership between the City of LA and private companies to share information and learn about cyber threats that confront Los Angeles or businesses. The more information that’s out there, the more we can protect ourselves and be aware.

For the first time in the city of Los Angeles, we’re using a sea level rise study to help us determine appropriate land use to protect people, property, and critical infrastructure. Some of those threats are to property, civic structures, or ecological assets that we have that we want to protect, and there are ways to plan for the future by using smart people, technologies, and studies to inform our decisions.  

We work with the Homeland Security Advisory Council that has an amazing mapping tool called SALUS, which we use to map out vulnerability indexes, tsunami zones, etc. There’s so many different ways to map that we can use to prepare our city to be ready for, deal with, and recover from any shock or stress that may prepare itself.

And these are just a few of the ways LA is trying to look at everything with an eye towards resilience to make sure that we are prepared for, can deal with, and can recover from any shock or stress that comes along at the individual level, at the neighborhood level and can collaborate, at the national and international levels, on solutions.



© 2024 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.