By now, hopefully, Japan has dragged itself back from a disaster of unimaginable proportions. Japan is facing a humanitarian disaster on the scale of Hurricane Katrina, a financial crisis on the scale of Black Friday, and a nuclear catastrophe on the order of Chernobyl-combined, if today’s worse projections are realized. I’m praying for relatively good news.
I won’t report a lot of information because so much of it seems to change day to day. Still it is significant that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that three of the reactors at the Fukushima nuclear power plant are in partial meltdown despite the heroic efforts of no more than 200 workers struggling to regain control of the facility.
Temperatures were expected to drop in Japan today and tomorrow, threatening the lives of the 450,000 reported refugees. To date, no one has been able to announce an authoritative death count from the earthquake and tsunami. Most early estimates place the loss of life above 10,000. Video of survivors searching for family members resembles film shot in lower-Manhattan after 9/11.
The country is experiencing rolling blackouts and supply shortages, extending even to parts of the island unaffected by the natural disasters. Surely the loss of 4.7 gigawatts of capacity provided by Fukushima is exacerbating the humanitarian and financial disaster.
Of course, the earthquake and tsunami directly caused most of the damage on the ground, but media reports indicate that the earthquake and tsunami destroyed two diesel generators that backed up cooling systems at the nuclear plants. Human error apparently also played a role in exposing nuclear rods to air, causing them to overheat. In short, just a few days after the disaster, we’re reading about how a single point of failure and human error contributed to the catastrophic loss. We should all take this disaster personally on some levels, as we have taken on the task of eliminating downtime in mission-critical facilities as our charge. We devote much time to eliminating any conceivable single point of failure or human error.
A year ago, our columnist Peter Funk wrote about a liability case against a hospital that lost power in the floodwaters that inundated New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina (Katrina’s Legacy Includes New Threats of Liability Litigation, Jan/Feb 2010). “The Louisiana Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that LaCoste’s family could sue the hospital for negligence, which does not cap damages instead of for medical malpractice, for which claims are limited to $500,000. This case is believed to be the first of approximately 200 lawsuits that have been filed relating to deaths in hospitals or nursing homes during the flood after Katrina. This case could set precedent affecting both the Katrina-related lawsuits awaiting trial in federal or state courts and lawsuits based upon future catastrophes, since disaster planning is far different than providing medical care,” Funk wrote.
However the triple disaster that hit Japan plays out, I’m sure the Japanese will investigate and take extreme measures to prevent or minimize a recurrence of these events. Perhaps there will be litigation, according to that nation’s laws.
I’m sure that many industry experts will participate in the analysis of what went wrong, just as they did in the aftermath of 9/11. Industry groups like DatacenterDynamics and 7x24Exchange became forums where experts shared lessons learned from 9/11, helping the rest of the industry improve its designs and procedures. Let’s hope that both these organizations, as well as the industry trade publications, can help us learn from the aftermath of these disasters. After all, it is our higher calling. Perhaps some information will be available as soon as the fall. Check back at www.missioncriticalmagazine.com, www.7x24exchange.com, and www.datacenterdynamics.org.