Written records lost in Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, Japan

Research Cooperative
20/03/11 09:56:19AM

Last night I had a long conversation with Mr Isamu Sakamoto, a semi-retired paper conservation expert. For about two years after the great Aceh earthquake in Indonesia, his company was employed in efforts to recover and restore the written records of countless towns and communities along the coast of Sumatra. Heavy metal filing cabinets were often lying not far from their original location, and paper-based records could be recovered. But computer hard-drives were mostly too corroded by water before people thought about trying to recover them. Yet computers are widely used by small businesses, schools and public offices, and are not backed up outside of a small area.

Japan now faces a similar problem. Large corporations have the resources to lead their own physical recovery efforts, with the assistance of insurance companies, but families, small businesses, schools and public offices do not have resources to carry out immediate recovery efforts for written records - yet many records are needed to help survivors get their lives reorganised and to rebuild their communities: family history, school records, property records, local bank records, and so on. Already help desks are being set up in evacuation centres to help people recover access to their bank accounts, medical services, and so on, but there is not yet any general practical effort to recover the physical materials containing written information.

Isamu is trying to organise an NGO effort with support from companies around Japan, but one of the biggest obstacles is finding containers to carry fuel so that a survey expedition can be sent into the affected areas. And a survey needs to be done soon, before the reconstruction begins. When contractors start moving into the area to clear and rebuild, the road system will become clogged, and will be placed under strict police control, as happened after the great Hanshin (Kobe) earthquake in Japan.

At present, the main roads are controlled, to ensure the long-distance flow of people and goods into the area for helping surviviors, but less restricted movement on many minor roads is possible.

The area that needs to be surveyed is vast. Isamu is hopeful but not confident that he will be able to achieve anything in the near future, but I hope he and his friends can help in some way, as they have practical skills that will be needed, sooner or later. I wonder if Apple Japan or other companies can lead a company initiative to help recover digital data for local communities in Tohoku?

(This message can be cross-posted to other forums. For Japanese readers, I have attached a PDF copy of newspaper accounts of the recovery work that Isamu helped carry out in Indonesia)

Peter Matthews, Kyoto, Japan