Standards helped response to the Great East Japan Earthquake

Contributed by: 
Morishige Ota, Fellow, Kokusai Kogyo Co.,, Ltd.

A broad-based effort to employ geospatial analysis and information sharing contributed greatly to the disaster response effort after the Great East Japan Earthquake on 11 March 2011.  OGC standards played an important role. (, a crisis-mapping site that uses the Ushahidi platform, was launched 4 hours after the earthquake occurred. "Sinsai" means earthquake disaster in Japanese.  Volunteers organized by Open Street Map Japan confirmed, geo-coded and uploaded more than 110,000 calls.

Students at Tufts University, Boston USA who had been engaged in the Haiti earthquake relief effort were working on Japanese earthquake relief within 24 hours, and by 16 March they had uploaded more than 3000 reports. One Japanese volunteer in Germany, immediately after the earthquake, began training and directing volunteers in Japan for the rectification and mosaicking of satellite images and aerial photographs. The products were distributed from through an interface that implemented the OGC Web Map Server (WMS) Interface Standard. Open Street Map (OSM) Japan volunteer mappers digitized new maps using these aerial and satellite images.

The Japanese Government gave an award to honoring their contribution. Taichi Furuhashi, the vice chair of OSM Japan, one of the leaders of, said, "We use OGC standards such as WMS and KML to exchange geo-data, and we use FOSS4G open source software that implements OGC standards. This project could not have been realized without such tools."

Soon after the earthquake, the National Research Institute for Earth Science and Disaster Prevention (NIED) established a portal site called “ALL311” ( for aggregation and distribution of information. The portal was supported by JAXA, OSM Japan, OSGeo Japan, private companies such as map venders, aerial survey companies and the international IT industry. Such cooperation involves sharing of geospatial data and services, which would be difficult to accomplish without encoding standards for Geographic Information and interface standards for network-mediated geoprocessing operations.

There is an opportunity and a requirement now, before the next crisis, for capacity building. Now is the time to train more people in the use of geospatial technology and also in the use of geospatial standards that make it possible to share geographic information.

The photos below document progress made over the last 15 months in recovering from the earthquake.

Morishige photo Japan Earthquake 1

Morishige photo Japan Earthquake 1

Morishige photo Japan Earthquake 1