Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami Mental Health Response and Recovery

What happened during the Great East Japan Earthquake?

On March 11, 2011, a large-scale earthquake of 9.1 (Mw) magnitude struck the northeast coast of Japan. The Tohoku earthquake generated a massive follow-up tsunami that hit the coast within 30 minutes, crushing over seawalls and disabling three nuclear reactors within three days. The tsunami had a wave height of almost 40 meters (130 feet) and washed 6 miles inland, as far as the city of Sendai. Researchers estimate that the tsunami impacted 2,000 kilometers of Japan’s Pacific coast.


The damage of this natural disaster was astronomical: it resulted in the deaths of more than 18,000 people, including several thousand victims who were never recovered, the destruction of more than 123,000 homes, and damage to almost a million more. Huge areas of land were flooded, which contributed to the destruction of homes and buildings.


The tsunami and earthquake impacted the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, creating a radioactive post-disaster catastrophe that released radiation into the environment, a clear predictor of a public health emergency.


As a result of the tsunami and the toxic environment, more than 450,000 Japanese disaster survivors became homeless as evacuees and their family members were forced into emergency temporary housing. Many had depressive symptoms and other mental disorders due to the trauma.


In addition, the tsunami crippled the local government infrastructure within the Tohoku region, destroying businesses, roads, and railways and impacting the ways in which the Japanese government emergency providers were able to send help.


The Tohoku earthquake and tsunami was the most expensive natural disaster in history in terms of damage and recovery.

Psychological first aid for disaster mental health

As part of the crucial disaster response process, a large airline carrier needed to continue flight operations between the U.S. and Japan to fly disaster management experts and various supplies into the affected areas. Naturally, the flight crews assigned to these flights had concerns about travel to the area. Many were worried for their health and overall safety due to the conditions and potential for radiation exposure. These flight crews needed support for their mental health needs to complete their mission.

How R3c's response helped the recovery process

Trained in helping employers to provide large-scale and 1:1 behavioral and mental health care after workplace trauma, using solutions tailored to nuanced situations, R3c responders were brought in to assist the airline carrier and its affiliated crews with their psychological distress.


R3c behavioral and mental health professionals began providing on-site behavioral health support at the hotel outside of the Narita International airport in Japan, about an hour from Tokyo, where the flight crews were staying. The crisis counselors provided open access to post-disaster mental health services and social support resources.


While there, the team of consultants met with airline leadership to provide expert advice on their mental health support messaging to flight crews, in addition to participating in large group briefings with executives. The R3c team also met with nuclear physicists to receive radiation updates on the situation and ensure flight crews’ well-being.

The importance of post-disaster mental health support on well-being

Emotional support in the workplace is never more important than in a disaster situation. Immediate communication and specific behavioral health services can avoid post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems—and instead lead to recovery and positive mental health outcomes.


Importantly, through the support provided by R3c, the airline carrier’s employees could complete their mission to aid disaster victims. R3c crisis consultants played a key role in helping the airline carrier to address their flight crews’ risk factors and safety concerns and make them feel comfortable under the prevalence of stressful conditions—allowing the necessary recovery efforts and operations to continue in Japan.


Though an event of this nature is rare, natural disasters can and will continue to happen. Don’t wait until disruption occurs to navigate how to support your employees during a crisis.


Talk to us today to learn more about disruption and disaster preparedness of all sizes with R3c’s tailored support solutions.