GSDF-Acquired Information Set to Be Quickly Shared in Event of Disaster

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Self-Defense Forces members and firefighters search for missing people after a mudslide in Atami, Shizuoka Prefecture, in July 2021.

A new system for smooth transmission of information from the Ground Self-Defense Force to related government agencies will begin trial operations by the end of this year, it has been learned.

The system is being developed by a national research institute in preparation for large-scale disasters, such as a possible earthquake in the Nankai Trough, to allow central and local governments to promptly obtain information grasped by GSDF units that would be dispatched for disaster relief missions.

Up to now, this kind of information has been provided on paper or orally due to confidentiality issues, and there have been concerns about delays in initial response. The central government hopes to introduce the system next year in order to provide early support for transporting injured people and assisting isolated areas.

Learning from the Great East Japan Earthquake, the government has strengthened the information sharing system in the event of large-scale disasters because rescue and relief efforts were delayed in the 2011 disaster due to the lack of information on overall damage. By 2018, the Cabinet Office completed a new system that will consolidate information from local governments as well as central ministries and agencies, including damage to roads and buildings, the number of injured and the number of evacuees. These pieces of information are shown and shared on digital maps.

That system, however, is disconnected from the GSDF’s information system, which includes secret information for defense purposes. Although the GSDF dispatches a large number of personnel to disaster areas and collects a great deal of information in a short period of time, the information is transmitted to related organizations on paper or orally by personnel who are stationed at the disaster headquarters of the affected local government. There has been concern that the information might not be shared in time in the event of a large-scale disaster.

The National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Resilience (NIED) has been building a dedicated system for the GSDF to connect to the Cabinet Office system. The NIED is considering a system in which on-site SDF members carrying dedicated computers would input information such as on inaccessible roads and the number of evacuees in each area, and all of it would be automatically shared via the system of the Cabinet Office.

This system is expected to make it possible to avoid inaccessible roads when transporting injured people and to facilitate the smooth delivery of relief supplies to isolated areas.

The basic system has already been developed and verified in disaster drills conducted by the Defense Ministry, the Aichi prefectural government and others in 2018-22.

GSDF members who participated in the drill praised the easy operation of the system, with one commenting, “It was simple enough to learn intuitively.”

Another member said, however, “It would be nice to have a function to indicate the respective search areas.” This opinion was based on the experience of the 2011 disaster, suggesting the introduction of a method to prevent the GSDF, police and fire departments from searching overlapping areas.

The NIED will consider such opinions in preparation for practical application. If a disaster occurs this year, the performance of the system will be verified in the field.

“The system is needed to confront possible large-scale disasters such as a Nankai Trough earthquake,” said Tadashi Ise, a senior research fellow at NIED who is involved in the development of the system at the institute.

“It’s meaningful to effectively share information each organization possesses from the early stage of a disaster,” said a Defense Ministry official. “Quicker and more efficient initial responses are highly anticipated, such as pinpointing areas of major damage.”