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Avnet Survivor Account of Japan Earthquake: Part 1

When {complink 577|Avnet Inc.} first heard about the devastating earthquake in Japan, our first thoughts were for our 400-plus colleagues in the country.

Avnet's Emergency Response Team — which consists of security, travel, real estate, HR, IT, customer service, and logistics personnel — is focused, first and foremost, on providing support to our staff in Japan at this time of crisis, as it did during other disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, the volcanic eruption in Iceland, the 2008 earthquake in China's Sichuan province, and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The team is also supporting our business partners in Japan.

The following report was submitted by Bob Hackett, Director of Marketing and Communications at Avnet Japan. Bob worked for me before he took up that position, and he has lived in Japan for the past nine years. This is the first part of Bob’s firsthand account of the events of March 11, 2011:

    The day started out as a typical Friday. I was looking forward to a swim after work and then a weekend of relaxation. I was on the 11th floor of the Avnet Japan headquarters in Sphere Tower on Tennozu Isle. Avnet Japan also occupies half of the 12th floor. The island is man-made and encroaches into Tokyo Bay. As usual, about half of the senior management and sales people were out of the office, visiting customers or suppliers, or in meeting rooms outside our office space.

    For anyone who has spent any time in a location where earthquakes occur frequently, you’re probably familiar with that queasy, butterflies-in-your-stomach type of feeling you get just before the conscious part of your brain understands what’s happening. Well, I got that feeling. My first thought was, did I eat some bad sushi today? No, that’s pretty impossible in Japan because of its quality standards. So I asked myself another question: What’s going on? Then the conscious part of my brain noticed that the building started to creak and sway. That was when I realized it was an earthquake.

    OK, it’s another earthquake. This is my ninth year in Japan (four years were from my pre-Avnet life). I’ve experienced earthquakes before, so I didn’t think this one was a big deal. Most of the earthquakes I’ve experienced are brief and feel like the building has just hit a big pothole. In other words, they usually don’t last that long. Basically, anything over a magnitude of 5 will make the buildings sway. If you get into the 6 territory, they start getting dangerous and often last a little bit longer than the pothole variety, but rarely last more than a minute. But Japanese building codes are so strict that most structures are able to endure even a quake of this magnitude. Although I thought it lasted five minutes, from other eyewitness accounts, this quake lasted around just two minutes.

    During this shaking, I had trouble keeping my butt in my chair and my feet on the ground. I looked across the desk at Ohno-san, and he looked like he was in the same dilemma as me — walking would be challenging. By this time, the quake was getting stronger, and the building’s safety systems started up with flashing red lights, sirens, and an announcement from the building disaster prevention center. The swaying was making it difficult to stand, let alone walk. The previously calm voices started to get a hysterical edge to them; cabinet doors were sliding back and forth on their tracks, banging with the rhythm of the swaying building; and objects were beginning to fall off desks and walls.

    This was when one of our executives, Kawabata-san, came out of his office with such composure and confidence that even before he spoke I felt better. Yukio Kawabata is a bit older than me and has most likely experienced many more earthquakes than I have in my short stint in the country. He told us where it was safe and what areas to stay away from. Then he trotted across the room to prevent some large metal shelves loaded with marketing materials from falling and crashing. And I think he stood there throughout it all, although, honestly, I lost track of time. I would just like to publicly acknowledge him for his leadership by example. It’s a privilege and honor to work with him.

    Meanwhile, the building kept shaking and swaying, and the siren was still going off, although the pace of the swaying lessened. Eventually, the earthquake stopped, but the building kept swaying for a while as the momentum of the event extinguished itself. It was probably the longest two minutes of my life. Emergency messaging started almost immediately to inform both Avnet’s Emergency Response Team and the local employees with as many hard facts as possible.

    Although we knew that our office and the people in it were all fine, we could not yet verify the safety of our entire staff, as many people were out of the office. The effort of accounting for everyone lasted through the weekend. A few of our staff were on airplanes and were scheduled to land at Narita, but the airport had already closed, so they were landed at the US’s Yokata airbase for a quick refueling before being diverted to Osaka. They took the bullet train home the next day.

In the second and concluding part of his account of the events of March 11, Bob Hackett writes about the hours immediately following the disaster, and how the Japanese are struggling to cope with the experience. (See: Avnet Survivor Account of Japan Earthquake: Part 2.)

7 comments on “Avnet Survivor Account of Japan Earthquake: Part 1

  1. AnalyzeThis
    March 22, 2011

    This is the first first-person account of the earthquake I've read, so I found it to be very interesting!

    I've experienced minor earthquakes in Southern California, but nothing nearly as dramatic as what was described.

    Thanks for sharing and I'm glad everyone was alright. I'll be sure to read part 2…

  2. Kunmi
    March 22, 2011

    I want to congratulate you and your staff members especially your leader. I can notbbb imagine what was running through the mind of everyone at the phase of uncertainty. It is like seeing death face to face. Earth tremor or 1 minute shaking of the building may not be unusual but the courage to stay confidence is out of bravery. Once again, congratulations!

  3. hwong
    March 22, 2011

    From the author's first person account, it positively reinforces the idea that experience people are always more valuable. With the leader's calmness and directions, employees are much safer and feel much less shaken. That is another justification why great management is not easy and why they get paid the big bucks

  4. screenwriter
    March 23, 2011

    Al-Thanks foir posting and sharing-this was an excellent account of what happened and I'm happy that all the Avnet folks are OK

  5. Steve Saunders
    March 24, 2011

    terrific post and thanks for sharing it

  6. maou_villaflores
    March 24, 2011

    I think every company should have this kind of disaster preparation program. Just in case a disaster happens there will be a minimal impact ot the overall operations of the company.

  7. stochastic excursion
    March 25, 2011

    Being able to remain composed goes a long way for the two long minutes into a major earthquake that were described in the account.  Supporting this are a lot of heroes who weren't in the room during the event.  The leaders and designers who built the earthquake-grade structures, and the facilities people who insisted on the earthquake-proof standards deserve some credit.  The future belongs to those who are prepared and Japan is certainly a case study in this.

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