Teach-in sheds light on Japanese disaster
Tuesdayâs âteach-inâ on the crisis in Japan drew an audience of about 100 students, faculty and staff members who heard a panel of experts talk on a range of subjects, from how worldwide non-governmental organizations (NGO) respond to massive disasters to an account of how the nuclear crisis unfolded.
âIt was very informational,â said Erika Jilka, a sophomore accounting major. âIn the news, you just hear about the tragedy; you don’t hear about the science (behind) it.â
The March 11 earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan and has left 28,000 dead or missing, while another 245,000 people have been displaced, said Judith Hermanson, director of NIUâs new Center for NGO Leadership and Development.
Hermanson previously served as second in command of CHF International, a large NGO that provides relief and development worldwide. She directed CHF operations following the 2004 Indonesian tsunami and has led humanitarian-aid missions on five continents.
She said large scale disasters share common characteristics: chaos, confusion and vulnerability. âYou can imagine, people are in a state of shock,â she said
But NGOs are skilled at responding quickly and making rapid assessments of need. Early NGO responsibilities include quickly establishing provisions for sanitation, medical assistance, child care and distribution of water and nutritious food.
âCoordination is a huge issue always,â she said, adding that many U.S. NGOs are partnering with their Japanese counterparts or affiliates.
For people who want to help: âCash is best,â Hermanson said. She added that donors should give wisely to reputable organizations.
Takako Day of NIUâs Human Resource ServicesÂ was born and raised in Japan. She said Japanese culture instills a sense of awe in nature, as well as a sense of belonging to the land. âPeople want to go backâ even though their homes were destroyed, she said.
Areas near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, however, have been evacuated following explosions and leaks of radioactive gas. The nuclear plant lost power in the wake of the tsunami.
âOne of the tricky things about nuclear power is you canât just flip a switch and turn it off,â said NIU physics chair Laurence Lurio.
Lurio said backup power systems needed to cool the reactors helped avert a crisis that could have been much worse.
Lurio said when the plant initially lost power, a back-up diesel-powered generator kicked in. After the generator was flooded by the tsunami, the plant switched over to battery power, buying plant operators another eight hours of time to continue cooling reactors and restore primary power to the plant. Unfortunately, that couldnât be accomplished in the short amount of time because the switching room was under water.
Still, the backup systems allowed the reactors to cool some and âmade a huge difference in preventing another Chernobyl,â Lurio said.
âThis is still a very serious situation,â he added, saying that plant operators didnât foresee âa once in a millenniumâ natural disaster. The crisis should prompt young people especially to weigh the consequences of various means of energy production.
âThis is a moment where we ought to . . . learn as much as we can from it and plan for the future,â he said. He also pointed out that Illinois has more nuclear power plants than any other state in the country.
NIU geology professor Paul Stoddard said scientists, with proper equipment and observations, can predict tsunamis within minutes after an earthquake. Scientists also know some areas are more earthquake-prone, and they can predict the frequency with which large earthquakes can be expected to hit certain regions.
But predicting with certainty when and where an earthquake will strike remainsÂ an inexact science.Â âI doubt in our lifetimes that we will ever be able to do this,â he said.
Levin said the âteach-insâ used to be common years ago on college campuses and âthis seemed like an appropriate time to bring it back.â
âIâve been wanting to have a way that we could be more responsive to current events,â Levin said. âIâd like to try to hold these once a semester.â