On March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a 9.0 earthquake followed by a tsunami that devastated the island nation’s eastern coast. Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) had just demobilized from operations in New Zealand and quickly reached out to the Japanese government, the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and local contacts to pledge support and identify critical needs. It immediately became clear that a large urban search and rescue (USAR) element would be needed, so Global DIRT put a team of eight USAR K-9’s on standby and secured an aircraft to insert them into Japan. While preparations continued, Global DIRT received feedback that teams were being asked to stand down due to a potential incident unfolding at the Fukushima Diachi 1 Nuclear Power Plant. The team quickly refocused the mission and reached out to the Department of Energy and U.S. Embassy in Japan to provide radiation monitoring, mapping, and the donation of radiation detectors.
Through support from donors, Global DIRT secured a SAM 940 Radiation Isotope Identifier and transportation to Japan for the team and equipment through the non-profit Airlink. Once on the ground, an assessment was conducted from 70km away right up to the fence line of the plant in meltdown. The information gathered on type and strength of radiation detected was then given to the Japan Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in a Geographic Information System (GIS) format. This information was also shared with Japan’s Ministry of Sports Science and Technology, who were managing the incident, when it was identified that there were pockets of radiation sitting outside the 25km exclusion zone. As a result of the information collected by Global DIRT, the exclusion zone was expanded and certain areas of higher radiation levels were evacuated, saving tens of thousands of residents from harmful exposure. (To see the radiation map, click here.)
During this time, the Global DIRT assessment team found that it was imperative to ensure that public schools and other areas geographically close to the nuclear plant had continuous monitoring equipment for safety and to reassure residents. The team coordinated with the U.S. Embassy, Berkeley Nucleonics, the Japanese government, and the state of Illinois to facilitate the donation of over 3,000 personal radiation detection devices. The units were distributed to public places across the country where young children, who were more susceptible to harm from radiation exposure, were attending school.
In an ongoing effort to keep the public informed about potential hazards from the incident, Global DIRT partnered with Tokyo Hackerspace and SafeCast to facilitate continuous monitoring of the incident The SAM 940 is now being used by Safecast to test areas still affected by the incident and the non-profit relays the information to local residents.
Global DIRT is currently planning a follow-up mission to map levels close to the plant for a second time as well as utilize aerial photography drones and Immersive Media cameras to create a Google Street View-like map for residents to view their property that is still in the exclusion zone areas.