Hitoshi Igarashi is no stranger to natural disasters. From the 2011 Fukushima incident and the Tohoku tsunami that followed in Japan to Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines and numerous disasters in Indonesia and Sri Lanka, he’s seen it all.
“I’m like a disaster chaser,” Hitoshi, 51, joked while completing course work in New Westminster as part of the Emergency Management Certificate program at the Justice Institute of British Columbia (JIBC).
With a master’s degree from the University of Oregon and an undergraduate degree from Eastern Washington University, Hitoshi was looking for a short program to expand his knowledge and skills and learn how emergency management is done in Canada, which has a similar government structure to that in Japan.
He chose JIBC’s program in particular because he wanted to learn from experienced instructors who were well versed in preparing for, and responding to, the types of natural disasters faced in British Columbia. This includes earthquakes and forest fires, which are similar to those of the west coast of the United States and in Japan.
The fact that most of JIBC’s program is conducted online meant he could learn at his own pace, as long as he was meeting deadlines, while still being able to communicate with instructors, which was a particular benefit when he was working in Indonesia. All that remained was one week of intensive coursework at JIBC in person on campus.
“It’s very flexible for working professionals and international travelers.”
[JIBC's Emergency Management Certificate program is] very flexible for working professionals and international travelers
For many years, Hitoshi worked for the Japan International Cooperation Agency, Japan’s aid agency as well as for foreign government agencies, as a community health development and emergency planning expert. After retiring early, he became a consultant for international development, which took him to Africa, Cambodia and Sri Lanka, as part of a program that taught disaster management to those countries’ governments and agencies.
Currently, he does volunteer work with the Community Emergency Management Institute of Japan (CEMIJ), a voluntary, non-profit organization made up of retired first responders and government staff with disaster management experience in Japan. The objective of the group is to support new generations in learning about the emergency management field. In this work, CEMIJ uses a combination of the North American and Japanese models.
Among the benefits of the North American system he hopes to adopt in Japan and the countries that CEMIJ works with is the system of communication and coordination between those involved in disaster response. In Japan, each government ministry has its own disaster plan and set of resources, but there is little interaction between ministries or agencies. In contrast, the North American model sees those tasked with emergency management converging on a designated emergency operations centre where people from all departments work together to solve issues that arise.
Hitoshi said one of the most significant lessons he learned at JIBC is the importance of helping disaster responders deal with the stress and trauma of the work.
“We have this Asian culture that thinks that if you’re responders you must work 24 hours without eating and drinking because the victim is worse off than us,” he explained. But in Canada, emergency personnel must follow time-limited work shifts to allow them to rest and refuel.
“I really learned from this course that we must integrate that because human beings, when you’re tired, you’re more likely to make mistakes. And in emergency situations, when you make mistakes that has a cost.”
For more information on JIBC’s emergency management programs, visit jibc.ca/emd.