“Hi, mrbrown, the Japanese Cabinet wants to invite you to an event.”
I was like, what cabinet? Ikea one ah? But no, it was really the Japanese government inviting me to attend a panel entitled “Threats vs Technology: Building Resilient Nations & Businesses”.
So on the 27th of February, off I went to the Shangri-la to listen to experts talk about the state of Japan’s disaster management and the technologies that Japan has deployed to mitigate some of these natural disasters.
After a message from Mr Yusuke Arai, Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of Japan, Singapore, the panel discussion, Threats vs Technology, began.
The main panel discussion consisted of Dr. Ayesha Khanna, Co-Founder and CEO of ADDO AI, Mr Riki Kitagawa, Co-Founder and CEO of WOTA (they are water treatment experts), Dr. Shunichi Koshimura, Professor at Tohoku University (who is an expert on tsunami risk assessment and mitigation efforts) and Ms Lauren Sorkin, Managing Director of 100 Resilient Cities (specialist in environment management).
It was a lively discussion, and I enjoyed the exchange. Disasters like the Hokkaido earthquake in September of 2018, showed that Japan is ready to tackle these disasters with technology and the will of a resilient people, ready to respond at the local and national level.
Actually, I was in Japan in September 2018, just after the earthquake happened. I went to Sado Island on that trip. Hokkaido was still recovering from the earthquake, and trying to restore their power lines and train lines, and ensuring the safety of the residents there. What struck me when I was there in September, was how quickly the country responded to the situation and how tough and resilient their people are. Every day, I watched the news and read reports, and I was following the developments in Hokkaido in-country.
Professor Shunichi Koshimura said that with Quantum computing, more robust communications, precise positioning GPS, and an automated driving system, may one day allow future scenarios where you don’t just run for the hills in the event of a tsunami, but you just need to get to your car and the ADS will take you to the safest place. That was a fascinating prospect to me.
At the event, I saw some of the technology used for disaster relief, like the Cyberdyne suits and WOTA water tech.
Cyberdyne makes suits that allow relief workers to carry heavy objects like rocks and debris, while providing support to the person’s back. I tried the suit on, and you can really hear the motors moving as I walked and squatted. It was the first time I felt like a cyborg. I cracked a joke with the staff at the Cyberdyne booth and said, “You know this is a Terminator-related name you have, right?”
They laughed and said they were aware of the link, and they joke about it themselves all the time.
The suit itself is called HAL. Somebody has a cheeky sense of humour in this company.
You can see how it works in this video I made at the event:
The Cyberdyne suit is also useful to help old people recover from surgery and strengthen their body. I would like to see my aging mom wear the suit, she would climb stairs like a Terminator, I bet. She is already a Sarah Connor inside. Tough as nails.
The WOTA water recycling technology is another fascinating thing to behold. As Singaporeans who have to get water from our neighbours and who drink our own recycled pee, any kind of water recycling technology is interesting to us. WOTA has these machines that are like portable showers. 100 litres of water can be cleaned and recycled so that you can provide showers to many people with just one portable shower unit. So in a disaster, this portable shower will be deployed so that displaced people have access to hygiene and showers.
I wanted to try the shower out myself, but forgot to bring a towel. Also, I think the hotel would not be too pleased with me getting their carpet wet.
The panel also dwelled on the threat of Cyber Attacks. Now, Singapore is very familiar with this. We were hit by the SingHealth cyber attack not long ago, and the threats are real. These threats will come from even state-sponsored players. So much so, that Digital Defence is now the sixth pillar of our Total Defence strategy.
Ms Lauren Sorkin of 100 Resilient Cities said that cyber attacks have gone up 10% in the last year, in cities. For example, she said that Rotterdam was one of the cities who wanted to know: what is the cyber risk in their ports? A cyber attack can cripple their key economic driver, and Singapore is also well-aware of this threat.
As Singapore strives to be a Smart City, we also need to ensure our people, like the Japanese, know how to respond to national disasters, be it in the natural realm or digital realm.
Dr Ayesha Khanna of ADDO AI pointed out that in many cases, people were not sure how to respond to disasters. For example, the SingHealth leak was a lesson in processes and people. It’s more than just about technology. A three-pronged approach is needed: Technology, People and Processes.
Cape Town in Africa almost caught off-guard with their Day Zero disaster when they ran out of water. But they avoided it because the rain came on time. You may not know this, but Singapore has been in preparation for a 60-day Day Zero from day one. Because we may one day have our water supply from Malaysia cut. This is also the reason for NEWater.
But infrastructure alone is not enough. The community needs to be mobilized like for disasters like flash flooding. Singapore faces this kind of challenge.
It is important to learn from countries like Japan, because they have a long history of dealing with disasters. A small nation like ours too, while we may not have as many natural disasters, can still have other problems to deal with, like flooding, running out of water, and cyber attacks. Taking a leaf from Japan’s use of technology and the resilience of their people in dealing with disaster, is so very important to our own survival.
After the panel discussion, we were introduced to the wonders of Hokkaido by Aya Imura a.k.a. SAKURA, of the Ninja girls blog. Hokkaido is one of my favourite parts of Japan. I have been there in almost all the seasons, and it is also great to go back.
Just to give you an idea of how big Hokkaido is, at 83,456 square km, its land area is 116 times x Singapore.
The southernmost city of Hokkaido, Hakodate City, alone is 677.9 square km compared to Singapore is 721.5 square km.
Many Singaporeans go to Hokkaido thinking they can see it is a few days. But it is HUGE. So you really need to set aside ample time to get around the big island. It does not have a Shinkansen service that runs through it, unlike Honshu and Kyushu, so you won’t be able to get from one end to the other end in a few hours. It takes only three hours to get from Tokyo to Hakodate, the southern tip of Hokkaido, by bullet train, but it takes longer to get from Hakodate to Sapporo because you will be traveling by regular trains.
Please, Japan, can we get that Shinkansen line extension to reach Sapporo before the estimated date of 2030? I would be quite old by then.
Hokkaido takes in a lot of tourists, from all over the world. In 2011, there were 560,000 visitors to Hokkaido. In 2017 it was 2.8 mil. Hokkaido aims to have 5 mil visitors by 2020, the year of the Olympics.
As such, they have taken steps to provide support for tourists like Emergency Support Stations for Tourists in the event of natural disasters and accidents. These places will have information and consultation in multiple languages and charging stations for smartphones, and wifi for communications.
You can find out more about Hokkaido travel safety at their website: http://safety-travel.jp/
It was a good morning spent at the event. I ended it with some Hokkaido wine, and after seeing the beautiful images of the scenery there and partaking of my wine, I was itching to return to Hokkaido once again. I really need to get on a plane there soon. I miss it so much.