The combination of natural and human-made disasters in Japan created mounting international concern
hen the huge earthquake and tsunami hit Japan on March 11, nearly 45% of International SOS and Control Risks clients
who use TravelTracker (the online traveler-tracking system) had employees working or living in Japan. While most members were outside the affected area, companies wanted confirmation of their employees’ whereabouts and well-being.
“ Even in ”
low-risk countries, international companies need to implement and test crisis management plans.
A student’s story
A number of US-based universities had students studying in Japan at the time of the earthquake. One such student is Christina Foss from Elizabethtown College, Pennsylvania, who was at KCP International Language School in Tokyo.
Christina was in class when the initial earthquake hit. With train services suspended, she was unable to get home and stayed at school that night with the other students. On Saturday morning, Christina made the hour-and-a-half train journey home, where she stayed for the rest of the weekend. Without TV or radio access, it was difficult at first to know the extent of the disaster. On Sunday night she spoke with her mother about whether she should return to the US.
On Monday after speaking with staff at her school in Tokyo, she decided to return home. At 4am on Tuesday Christina left by train for Narita Airport in Tokyo. Once she arrived, she made her way to her terminal where she then spent much of the day awaiting her flight. Unable to reach her during that day, Christina’s mother became extremely anxious about her safety. She contacted the team at an International alarm center, who were able to reach Christina while she was at the airport and return a call to her mother to confirm that she was safe and departing that day.
Business continuity David Cameron is Chief Security Officer at International SOS. “We swiftly implemented crisis management and business continuity plans to ensure our own people were safe and able to respond to the high numbers of calls from clients”, he says. “As the situation deteriorated we moved business-critical staff to our Singapore alarm center to ensure that assistance to clients was not disrupted.”
As soon as the earthquake struck, International SOS set up crisis management teams in Singapore and Tokyo. Dr Irene Lai is International SOS’ Deputy Medical
Director. “Using our experience from the 2004 tsunami and the recent Christchurch earthquake we initiated a series of medical alerts to our members”, she says. “When news of the nuclear reactor hit, we quickly established a dedicated team.”
With the disruption to cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant about 170 miles north-east of Tokyo, concerns about radiation leaks spread. Some airlines cancelled flights to Narita International Airport amid growing fears internationally about the dangers of nuclear fall-out. Calls for help to International SOS alarm centers
increased by 250%. “From March 11-17, we saw very difficult days with spiraling internet and media reporting”, says David. Misinformation was rife, with reports about the nuclear incident dominating headlines. Populations worldwide were unnecessarily worried about radiation exposure.
Informed decisions With a critical need for credible information, International SOS and Control Risks launched a special website with comprehensive advice on potential health risks and how to mitigate them, use of iodine prophylaxis, up-to-date information on events in Japan and travel advice and information.
4 Hotline Issue 1, 2011
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