Another Fukushima Tsunami - Minus the Crisis

December 12, 2016

Two weeks ago another earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima, Japan. This was the area that experienced the country’s largest quake and tsunami in recorded history in 2011, resulting in catastrophic flooding and the meltdown of three nuclear reactors operated by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO).

Last week I had a conversation with Dr. Dale Klein, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the chairman of TEPCO’s Nuclear Reform Monitoring Committee to compare the two Fukushima events.

Dr. Klein has a number of insights of interest to those who are responsible for managing crises.

On transparency and speed: In the 2011 event, TEPCO was driven by an engineering culture. “Engineers want to know everything before they say anything…they didn’t want to say anything until they had all the answers.” In a crisis of that magnitude, you don’t have luxury to wait indefinitely. By contrast, two weeks ago TEPCO “was responsive quickly, using electronic media as opposed to just print. They were sending out tweets, they were sending out messages…they were a lot more proactive.”

On clarity: TEPCO still needs to work on “the human interface. For example, being a nuclear reactor person, if someone refers to a rate of so many milligrams, I get it.” The general public will not. “Rather than doing a data dump…you need to put [your message] in terms that the public can understand.”

On safety: TEPCO knew it had to change its safety culture. Japanese culture emphasizes a hierarchal chain of command. When the boss says something, you do it. “We needed to change their culture and we needed to change their communication.” The leadership understood that change was essential and has helped promote the concept that it’s okay to challenge authority in the interest of safety.

Check out the video for more fascinating commentary.

In 2011, TEPCO was driven by an engineering culture. Has that changed?

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While they are improving, TEPCO still needs to work on the human interface.

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