Franklin D. Gilliam, Jr., Dean of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, joined an international group of scholars this month in Japan at the one-year memorial of the country’s earthquake and tsunami disaster of last March.
Gilliam traveled to Tohoku University, a Japanese national university in Sendai, to attend the Forum for International Research Collaboration, the first step toward international research and collaboration in the field of disaster sciences.
Reflecting on his visit to Japan, Dean Gilliam wrote the following:
One Year Later: Looking to the Future, Thinking of the Past
While marveling at the efficiency and power of the bullet train as I speed from Sendai to Tokyo, I can’t help but think about the last couple of days spent commemorating the one year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. The devastation caused by a magnitude 9.0 quake coupled with 30-foot swells still boggles the mind. Loss of life, loss of love, loss of place – this is really what tragedy means for people. On the other hand, I can do nothing but admire the resiliency and commitment of the citizens of the region to rebuild their communities.
The purpose of my trip was to join a number of American, European, and Asian universities pledging cooperation and collaboration in not only the rebuilding efforts but in developing best practices for disaster preparedness and mitigation. Scholars came from Italy, China, Turkey, Australia, America, Germany, and from other Japanese universities to celebrate the creation of a Disaster Preparedness Institute at Tohoku University. We all signed a pledge of cooperation in a lovely and formal ceremony at the Hotel Metropolitan in Sendai. In addition, UCLA signed a new MOU for research collaboration with Tohoku (we already have a MOU in place with them for academic exchanges).
After the official activities President Inoue from Tohoku graciously hosted us at a small private dinner at the Sendai Westin. Other senior officials from Tohoku joined us. They all spoke glowingly of Chancellor Gene Block and Professor Hitoshe Abe (chair of UCLA Architecture). It was a good opportunity to discuss the various activities going on at UCLA related to disaster science. By all accounts, there appear to be many areas of common interest that should serve as the basis for future conversations.
Ah, but back to the train. It is filled with locals going about their business on a Monday morning. They eat snacks out of bento boxes, sip tea and coffee, read the newspaper and – as the woman next to me is doing – sleep. It is hard to imagine that just one year ago the daily routines of this region were turned upside down. It speaks to the elasticity of the human spirit.
It also speaks to the role that science can play in the public interest. Researchers, practitioners, and policymakers all came together to take lessons learned and turn them into new knowledge, better tools, and smarter applications. This is where science meets the streets. This is where we can play a part in making the world a better place – one thought, one action, one step at a time.
It’s snowing now. The countryside is patterned with patches of white amidst the pale amber fields lying fallow. The sky is that color of white gray that makes you want a warm cup of tea and a good book.
Life goes on. I think I’ll order and fire up the iPad.
See related link: UCLA Luskin MPP Student Lindsay Miracle on KTLA News  Sunday Edition speaking about upcoming UCLA Luskin graduate students heading to Japan to learn and lend a hand in part of the country that was devastated by the disaster. Miracle said that the group of 22 students representing Public Policy, Social Welfare, Urban Planning and UCLA Public Health will be helping to deliver aid to families in Japan as well as learning about the policy challenges the government and people continue to face a year later.