Five years from the Great East Japan Earthquake. What can we do through studying science and engineering?
On March 11 of 2011, the coastal areas of Iwate prefecture suffered extensive damage from the Great East Japan Earthquake. Fortunately, Iwate University in Morioka, located about 90 km away from the sea, was safe. However, as a university located in the same prefecture, we wanted to join in the reconstruction work. Therefore we established “the Iwate University Great East Japan Earthquake Reconstruction Headquarters” just in 21 days after the disaster. We continue to utilize our knowledge, technology and human resources in reconstruction, from immediate help to building the future.
1. Disaster prevention research / education
Our mission is to build a base for regional disaster prevention, recovery, and development
A year after the Great East Japan Earthquake, the Iwate University Research Center for Regional Disaster Management was restarted as an institution of not just the Faculty of Engineering but of the whole university. The educators and researchers of the center educate and research about disaster prevention and recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake. They have a variety of academic fields throughout the university.
As the name indicates, the strong point of the Center is its focus on regional disaster prevention. After a disaster, such as a tsunami, a volcanic eruption, an earthquake, a flood or a landslide, the natural and social environment of the region greatly affects the restoration and recovery.
Some of the researchers of the center have long-term involvement in local community. They take a practical approach to find and solve problems of regional disaster prevention.
The Center has three departments—natural disaster analysis, city planning with disaster prevention and disaster culture.
The educators visit the devastated area by the Great East Japan Earthquake. There, they research and educate interdisciplinary with the local people. They examine the disaster conditions and analyze the earthquake or tsunami. They also support town planning for recovery, education for children and keeping the memory of disaster culture.
To be a base for regional disaster research. And to be a cornerstone for the exchange of knowledge among people to work towards the recovery and the regional development. We believe that is the mission of the Iwate University Research Center for Regional Disaster Management.
In order to speed up the recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake, we research and educate with the local community. We also collaborate with universities which have a fear of future disasters. Our goal is to make a place where we can learn from each other through the past, the present and the future.
2. Looking at the future through reconstruction study
What can we do from the viewpoint of the disaster areas?
At this university, first- and second-year students visit the disaster areas and study reconstruction. The students directly experience the present situation and the recovery of the affected areas. We hope them to feel that they can utilize their study for these regions. To ensure the disaster will not slip into the past, and to keep asking themselves what they can do.
Upon their return way from the affected areas, I asked the students, “Have you found something you can do? Is there anything you can do now?”. Of course, some of them have discovered their own themes. However, many students returned with no conclusions about what they could do to help reconstruction. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that they thought nothing. They came back having noticed something valuable. “What we can do right now is fulfill our duties as students to study as hard as we can. Next is to be equipped with knowledge that will be useful to society someday”.
The students visited the disaster recovery areas came back with a new resolution to keep learning. We educators, too, continue to go out the field to support the recovery of the affected areas. One of these attempts is to suggest an easier system to remove the entrails from sea urchins. We repeated experiments to find a way to simplify the tedious manual task of the fishermen.
Constantly, I’d like to help the recovery of the affected coastal areas through the skilled manufacturing with the students.
3.Support the fishing industry with robotics
Robotics technology for surveying and managing the coastal fishing environment and seashore resources
In the Sanriku coastal region, the survey and management of fishery resources in the shallows have usually done by divers. However, robot technology is required for the reasons of driver’s aging and dangerous environment of shallow. Also, the development of labor-saving devices is an urgent issue because of marine product workers’ aging and a labor shortage. The various hardships facing coastal fishermen have become even more apparent and have escalated by the attack of the disaster. The fisheries and the marine product industry suffered devastating damage.
After “3.11”, we want to build a support system for the coastal area and help the recovery of the fishery industry. We are working to put a robot to practical use to support the fisheries and solve the hardships they are facing.
As for fisheries robotics, we research and develop marine resources management robots to support the divers’ survey. We also work for the robots that support the marine product industry. Our first development was the fish-shaped robot “Sassy”, which dives into the sea to search a lot of sea urchins or seaweed. Sassy has an excellent ability to move straight in the sea and can also be used for surveys in a fast ocean current.
The underwater robot “FAN” is able to take photographs from a variety of angles while remaining stationary in the sea. It is suitable for the observation of cultivations such as wakame seaweed and scallops. The robot was named because it moves by the propeller (fan) and is a “fun” underwater robot. (The Japanese pronunciations of “fan” and “fun” sound the same.) We want to research and develop underwater robots that manage the fishery resources safely and easily.