Font Size: A A A

Home > News > Interviews > Ahead of Tokyo 2020


Ahead of Tokyo 2020

In the second in a series of articles (also in the September 2019 print issue of Professional Security magazine) Robert Hall, pictured, Executive Director, Resilience First, seeks to raise awareness of the topic and examine its application in various domains.

As the preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games pick up pace, including plans to deal with all eventualities, it is timely to look at the Japanese approach to resilience and what lessons exist for preparing its population to face major challenges by promoting what is called ‘social capital’, namely the value of the bonds in a community that enable it to function effectively.

A troubled past

Japan has overcome many national traumas to emerge as a modern, economically successful country. It is the only country to have experienced not one but two nuclear weapon attacks on its soil. In contemporary times, it has recovered from severe earthquakes such as that in Kobe in 1995 – which caused a world-wide shortage of microchips at the time – as well as major tsunami resulting in a nuclear-plant meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi plant in 2011. Only on July 2, more than one million people across the island of Kyushu were ordered to evacuate, amid warnings of landslides and floods brought on by heavy rain: last summer about 200 people died in western Japan in the country’s worst flooding disaster in decades. The apparent Japanese ability to overcome adversity and rebound in the face of frequent major natural and man-made challenges epitomises the country’s resilience in the post-war period. As David Leheny of Waseda University in Tokyo argues, ‘Japan sees its ability to bounce back after crises as central to what it means to be Japanese’.

Social capital

The Fukushima experience in particular has generated a number of studies on Japanese resilience. One of these is the role of social bonding and societal networks in resilience by an academic, Daniel P Aldrich. Using qualitative and quantitative data from the 2011 disaster, the author has evidenced ‘how communities with deeper reservoirs of social capital had higher survival rates and faster recovery rates’. Social capital is about the ‘soft’ side of resilience, namely those people-oriented aspects that get somewhat forgotten in the plans, policies, procedures and physical infrastructure normally associated with building and maintaining safety, security and business continuity.

The soft skills

Both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills are essential for long-term recovery but the Japanese appear to have recognised – perhaps from bitter experience – that it is the social elements that give societal strength. Here are some of the attributes highlighted in the experiences surrounding the Fukushima incident but could apply anywhere, any time:

– Trust: The need to know and be able to rely on your neighbour and community – before an event.
– Empowerment: The ability to be assured that others know what to do when confusion reigns – a buddy system of care gives reassurance to both parties.
– Leadership: Clarity of direction and a convincing message can overcome many other failings.
– Networking: Help can come from others who know you in advance, and you can help them.
– Culture: A less socially homogenous society (as Japan is becoming) may challenge cohesion but can also bring new perspectives and skills to the arena.
– Civic engagement: Having an investment in society brings collective responsibility as well as empowerment.

To illustrate in a practical way how some of the challenges from Fukushima can be solved by social interaction, Daniel Aldrich [the American author of Building Resilience: social capital in post-disaster recovery] gives this example: ‘to deter crime in a disaster affected area where police and other authorities no longer have time to patrol, local households may need to create a community police patrol. If only a single family volunteers for the job, there will be insufficient coverage to deter thieves and looters. If all families participate, it will be easier to maintain order in the neighbourhood, and create a sense of mutual responsibility to each other. Similarly cleaning up debris, engaging political decision makers, and other post-disaster goals require the participation of the majority of the community. Where social ties are deeper, residents can better overcome barriers to collective action and successfully carry out these necessary tasks.’ They become adept at dealing with change. Let’s hope Tokyo 2020 is an incident-free event.

– Next article; what three top security professionals have learnt from security incidents that allowed them to add to their organisational, and personal, resilience.

Lessons of Salisbury

Lessons in business resilience from Salisbury and London Bridge is the title of a Resilience First briefing hosted by Deloitte on October 24. Speakers include Lord Harris of Haringey, author of a report on London’s preparedness for the Mayor of London; and Tom Harris, Business and Operations Manager, Bankside. Visit


Related News