At TEDxSendai, Stories, Ideas, and Hope on Resilience After Disaster


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SENDAI, JAPAN | When natural disasters hit, the bonds of community are what fuel the push to rebuild.

Governments and others should help instill resiliency into the social fabric of communities – in addition to the usual resources -- so that when disasters happen, recovery is within reach.

That was the message echoed by several speakers at TEDxSendai, a dialogue on natural disasters set amid an area of Japan hard hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The three-hour event was capped off by a surprise visit by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim.

“It is possible to build resilience into our systems,” Dr. Kim told the audience in Sendai, which is the largest city in the Tohoku region of Japan.

TEDxSendai featured a roster of speakers who examined the natural disaster issue through the lens of policy, business, art, technology, and more.

Local speakers included Yoshi Tabata, a survivor the Showa Sanriku Great Tsunami, which hit Japan on March 3, 1933. Tabata presented a powerful photo essay based on her experience called “A Tsunami.”

Patrick Meier, Director of Social Innovation at Qatar Foundation’s Computing Research Institute, shared his hope to build advanced computing systems that would help governments, NGOs, and individuals respond quickly to natural disasters.

“[The] real first responders in disasters are disaster-affected people,” said Meier.

Rachel Kyte, World Bank Vice President of Sustainable Development, discussed the role of private and public partnerships when it comes to preventing and responding to natural disasters.

“We know empirically, communities that have stronger social bonds do better during disasters,” said Kyte, referring to the importance of family and friends during a crisis.

Explore the full speaker lineup and more about TEDxSendai on its website.

What do you think governments and communities can do to prevent or recover from natural disasters? Tell us in the comments.

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April 18, 2013

The best preparations that communities and government could make to get their populace ready for total disaster is to create a new attitude. What I mean is that governments should instill the thinking in their people that it is their right and their duty to lend a helping hand to one another and to work together for their own survival. One of the great flaws I see in the way the United States handles disasters (I live in Florida) is a big one. Government lulls the populace into inaction until they are "officially" saved. This is subtle message that undermines the determination of everyone to pitch in and take care of each other. People helping one another is very powerful!

Too often I see government not allowing in volunteers and their supplies for the victims of disaster citing "safety" concerns. O.K., so maybe an occasional person would suffer an injury, but I am convinced it would be far offset by the flood of support by nearby neighbors who flock to a disaster to lend a hand. At the most, government should get loosely help organize the flow of voluntary contributions and goods. If people know they can flock to a disaster and bring aid and supplies, they will and in great numbers.

I don't want to name specific hurricanes, but we have seen some where the people just congregated and waited for the government to rescue them and the results have been terrible. Governments are usually slow in their response and often bungle the job. We need to instill the idea in people to immediately band together with their neighbors, help those who need help and think for themselves as how best to work for their common good until some semblance of normalcy is restored. The United States used to be the best at this many decades ago, when self reliance was considered a worthy attribute and people did not wait for an official response to a situation. They just rolled up their sleeves, pitched in and took care of themselves and one another as best they knew how. Granted there were not the giant government disaster relief programs like now, but those same programs have too often created a vacuum when it comes to people taking control of their own community until substantive help arrives.

Government aid is needed, no doubt. But let us not lose the sense of urgency to step out of our homes and help one another until that aid arrives. It would be great to see society once again encouraging it's people to become more self actuated and altruistic when disaster strikes.