Interview

Great East Japan Earthquake and SDF’s Activities

Situation in the disaster area
Situation in the disaster area

At around 2:46pm on March 11, 2011, a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 9.0 struck off the coast of Sanriku in the Tohoku region. It was the largest earthquake recorded in the history of Japan. The earthquake caused widespread destruction in Iwate, Miyagi, and Fukushima Prefectures, and the tsunami devastated areas along the coastline. Furthermore, there was damage to the nuclear reactors and other facilities at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, leading in turn to the leakage of radioactive materials. The earthquake was unprecedented in scale and in nature.

The MOD and SDF set up the Disaster Response Headquarters in MOD at 2:50pm on March 11. On the same day, the Minister of Defense ordered the Large-scale Earthquake Disaster Relief Dispatch at 6:00pm and the Nuclear Disaster Relief Dispatch at 7:30pm. By March 14, a Joint Task Force (JTF) comprising Ground, Maritime, and Air SDF units was established.

The SDF took immediate action after the earthquake, mobilizing at most 107,000 personnel, 540 aircraft, and 59 vessels. The SDF performed a broad array of activities, ranging from search and rescue of missing persons; relief efforts, including the provision of food, bathing facilities, and medical care; debris removal for the clearance of roads; transport of relief supplies; to watering, decontamination, and monitoring support in response to the nuclear power station accident.

The JTF was dissolved on July 1, and from August 31 the SDF conducted activities under the normal Disaster Dispatch order.

Then Defense Minister Kitazawa stated that never in the past more than 65 years since the end of World War II has the distance between the Japanese people and the SDF been so close and the people’s trust in the SDF so high, and applauded the hard work of the SDF personnel.

Characteristics of the Earthquake

  • ・Largest earthquake recorded in Japanese history (magnitude 9.0)
  • ・Extensive coastal damage caused by 40.5m-high tsunami
  • ・Vast disaster area spanning from Tohoku to Kanto regions
  • ・Many local governments unable to function due to catastrophic damage
  • ・Accident at Fukushima nuclear power station

Characteristics of the SDF’s Activities

  • ・Largest operation since the SDF’s establishment (JTF comprising GSDF/MSDF/ASDF: Approx. 107,000 personnel in total)
  • ・Two-dimensional response for earthquake and Fukushima nuclear accident
  • ・First ever summoning of SDF Reserve and Ready Reserve Self-Defense personnel
  • ・Close coordination between the SDF, U.S. Forces, and Australian Forces

the transition of the SDF deployment

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