Celebrating Two Disaster Anniversaries

Happy anniversary COVID-19 and the Japan Tsunami.

Thursday, March 11th)

It was just a year ago that the World Health Organization (WHO) labeled the coronavirus disease a pandemic. At that point the United States had 241 confirmed COVID-19 cases. It was likely that it was mostly infectious disease experts who really understood what might be ahead of us as a nation and the world. Besides all the health issues, and 530,000 dead so far, there were 22 million job losses. The economic pain has gone far and wide!

It was this time last year when our office (Pacific Northwest Economic Region
) shuttered our buildings and people were instructed to work from home. The world changed quickly and it has fluctuated up and down as nations and governments seek to "open up" too early and then reverse course. Even a year later we are in the midst of a grand experiment here in the United States with states eliminating masking mandates and, as in the case of the state of Texas, removing all restrictions for gatherings of people. The CDC director again cautioned about opening up too fast since the virus has been the one "leading the way" throughout the pandemic.

Lest we forget, it is also the 10-year anniversary of the Fukushima Disaster in Japan that was three-pronged — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear plant meltdown. So much death and destruction being remembered on both fronts.

A quick story: I was at an International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) conference, likely in the fall of 2011. There was a panel of FEMA big wigs on the dias up front and it was Q&A time. I asked about what plans they might have for debris from the Fukushima disaster coming to the western coasts of the United States. Two things — I remember a guy heckling me in the back, saying that is the stupidest question, and then the blank looks on the faces of the FEMA team as they looked at each other.  It had not crossed their minds at that point. Then four years later there was this news article: "Japanese tsunami debris will continue to wash up on US shores, expert says." I guess it wasn't such a "stupid question" after all. I know where we should have dumped everything though — in that guy's backyard!

Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.