A gathering on disaster preparedness by Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation members officially kicked off Tuesday, featuring case studies on how businesses overcame the damage inflicted by the March 11 catastrophe that wiped out many of their footholds in the Tohoku region.

The three-day APEC Workshop on Private Sector Emergency Preparedness meeting in Sendai focuses on promoting business continuity plans (BCPs) among the member economies with the aim of improving risk management for the private sector and to create a more resilient supply chain in the region.

“Besides threatening lives and possessions, disasters disrupt smooth business activities and present a major obstacle to the world economy,” State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Chiaki Takahashi said in an opening address.

“I believe that in order to protect the highly developing business networks and supply chains from disasters, the importance of emergency preparedness in the private sector will become increasingly important,” he said.

Following a reception Monday evening, the two-day workshop through Wednesday is being attended by approximately 70 officials and experts on emergency preparedness from 21 APEC member economies, of which 11 have experienced large earthquakes in the past.

Tuesday’s session featured several presentations, including one by Shinya Suzuki, Senior Managing Director of Suzuki Kogyo Co., an industrial waste recycling and disposal company in Sendai that was damaged by the March 11 tsunami but was able to speedily resume operations thanks to its business continuity plans.

Suzuki said that while the disaster was more severe than assumed under the company’s emergency plans, employees responded to the disaster according to the established plan.

Recovery work also began soon after the disaster thanks to contingency agreements with other manufacturers, local electricity companies and construction firms.

Emergency electric generators and satellite phones the company had prepared helped in the company’s initial investigation on the safety of its employees and determining the scope of the damage suffered by the company.

Junshi Yamaguchi, executive adviser of major semiconductor manufacturer Renesas Electronics Corp., talked about the resumption of production at the Naka factory, the company’s main production base in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki Prefecture, which shut down after being hit by the earthquake.

In accordance with the company’s disaster plans, Yamaguchi said, the company decided to shift 50 percent of the Naka plant’s production to other plants, while work got under way to restore the destroyed plant. Up to 2,500 people worked round-the-clock to support the recovery, while companies outside the Renesas Group offered support to speed up the resumption of operations.

By June 1, the company could resume production of its semiconductors, and shipment capacities are expected to fully recover by September.

From the United States, Bryan Strawser, group manager of American retail chain Target Corp.’s global crisis management, explained the crisis management plans that were kick-started in 2005 after several hurricanes, including Katrina and Rita, devastated Target stores.

Greg Fenich, CFO of Microsoft Japan, shared his experiences during the aftermath of the earthquake, stressing the importance of utilizing various communications tools to organize the workforce in times of chaos.

Timothy W. Manning, deputy administrator for protection and national preparedness of the Federal Emergency Management Agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said APEC member economies are more prone to disasters than elsewhere in the world, and stressed the need for close collaboration between economies to create more resilient communities throughout the area.

“The continuing tragic disasters that are affecting all of our communities with what appears to be increasing frequency is a grave reminder of the importance of the work we all do and what we are here to focus on,” he said.

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