Members in the Prime Minister's Office
Before analyzing communication process during the crisis, I would like to provide background information in minimum about the important members in the Prime Minister's Office in Tokyo. There were 7-8 core members of top officials and experts. Basically, they made all the important decisions during the first seven days of the crisis. They were Prime Minister Kan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano, Minister of Economy, Trade, and Industry (METI) Banri Kaieda, three assistants to the prime minister, TEPCO's fellow Ichiro Takekuro, and Chairperson of the Nuclear Safety Commission (NSC) Haruki Madarame.
Structural analysis on communication process
|Prime Minister's Office|
Even in the government, there was an information divide between the Crisis Management Center on the mid-second floor and the Prime Minister's Office on the fifth floor in the same building. For example, prediction data projected by the System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) was delivered to the Crisis Management Center, but had never passed on to the Office at first (Fukushima 105). These information blockages caused the Office members to intervene more with micro management at the on-site center in Fukushima. Finally on 15th, Kan decided to set up a joint response headquarter at TEPCO and assigned one of his assistants Goshi Hosono as the chief of the center and ordered him to station there. This new headquarter enabled the Office members to gather information much more quickly than before. At the same time, they were also able to pass on the orders from Kan to TEPCO and the on-site office in Fukushima immediately (Fukushima 106).
The final report concludes that the two biggest problems regarding the crisis management system are the malfunction of the off-cite centers and bureaucrats' poor management ability to deal with a sudden crisis (Fukushima 394). This is just what Arjen Boin says in “The New World of Crises and Crisis Management: Implications for Policymaking and Research” (2009). Here Boin refers to the political-administrative challenges of preparing government agencies to deal with sudden adversity as one of the three types of challenges that the government faces in a crisis (Boin 370). According to Boin, what is required in the crisis management is flexibility, improvisation, redundancy, and the occasional breaking of rules (Boin 373). These points are still remained as the structural problems of Japanese government's crisis management system.
Personal analysis on communication process
Next, I would like to analyze the communicating process between individuals in the Prime Minister's Office from a personal-characteristic point of view. The point can be summarized in Kan's poor crisis management ability and risk-communication skills. His characteristics can be summed up in the following four points:
1. Poor risk-communication skills. Many members in the Office told the Commission members that he often shouted to others, which made many officials and advisers shrink under his direction. NSC Chairperson Madarame said that he could not fully tell what he should have told Kan then because of Kan's harsh attitude toward him (Fukushima 110).
2. Deep involvement into the micromanagement. At the night on March 11th (the first day of the crisis), Kan tried to arrange power-supply cars at the Fukushima plants by himself. He even asked the staff about the size, weight, and length of the batteries they needed over his cell phone. The report concludes that his conducts such as asking about minor technical details only further complicated the process (Funabashi and Kitazawa 10).
3. Personal advisers outside the government. He no longer believed what the experts and advisors from TEPCO and NISA said any more at the early stage (Madarame lost his trust because he told Kan on the 11th that there would be no hydrogen explosion, which actually had occurred on the following days). He often called experts and advisors that he knew. He called them and asked their advices even in the middle of the crisis. One of the Office members said that the ‘experts' and ‘advisors’ who had no responsibility and authority should not have involved in the decision-making process in such a way (Fukushima 112).
4. Top-down management style. He tended to play a leading role in decision making on various issues in detail. In the report, the Commission evaluates some of his behaviors that actually led the situation getting better. One of them is the fact that he refused TEPCO's request to pull all its workers from the Fukushima plants. Kan and other officials immediately rushed into the TEPCO's headquarter in Tokyo and made a speech in front of 200 TEPCO's employees saying that there was no way TEPCO could accept defeat and they should put their lives on the line to salvage the situation (Fuhabashi and Kitazawa 8).
|Prime Minister then Kan|
Desirable communication system in crisis
|Federal Emergency Management Agency|
A worst-case scenario
|Damaged reactors after explosions|
As the final report described, the biggest problem with the crisis management by the Office members in the crisis was “the amateurish level of its crisis communications” (Funabashi and Kitazawa 10). All the examples and analysis argued above indicate that the Office members had a very hard time at the early stage to set up an efficient information system that can transform itself according to the on-going situation. Bureaucratic sectionalism was also a big problem for putting the transformation forward. As the report suggests, what is needed on emergency is not a rigid, well-structured plan, but a system that can flexibly made new plans (Fukushima 396). In other words, the system should be designed as a flexible organization that can offer interim and optimum solutions at each phase of the changing situation accordingly during the crisis. As Boin suggests, a crisis can be a good opportunity for policy reform, institutional overhaul, and even leadership revival (Boin 374). This may be the best chance for Japan's government and public to think about the way they did during the crisis and find out what they can best do for the next generation.