Maintaining a Digital Disaster Archive for Future Generations


You never know when or where a disaster will strike. Unlike storm and flood damage, which occur every year, earthquakes are unpredictable in terms of frequency and location. In particular, many people have never experienced a huge, life-threatening earthquake and may not be able to visualize what it is like.
However, if we have the mindset that only those who have experienced a disaster can understand it, we will never be able to progress in a way to enable everyone to cope with such a situation. It is precisely because of these major disasters, which we may encounter only once in a lifetime, that we need to use the precious records of past disasters as lessons and have future generations learn from them.
The Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the Kumamoto Earthquake are the three major earthquakes of the Heisei era. There is a vast amount of data on the damage caused by these earthquakes, as well as records of emergency response and recovery efforts by emergency teams and the government. Attempts are now underway to create a digital archive of these records as lessons for posterity.
For the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake, the city of Kobe released The Kobe GIS Earthquake Archive in 2020. Utilizing a geographical information system (GIS), the archive organizes the damage sustained from the earthquake on a map. An overview that includes comments from the archivist and explanations appears in a pop-up window, and detailed information on images and videos also appears.
In regards to the Great East Japan Earthquake, there is Hinagiku (The Great East Japan Earthquake Archive), which was launched in 2013 by the National Diet Library and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. It is a portal site that provides the opportunity to search and make use of digital data related to the Great East Japan Earthquake in one place and is maintained and operated by the National Diet Library. Images, sounds, videos, web articles, and research reports on the disaster are all searchable. (As a side note, hinagiku [daisy in English] symbolizes a sense of moving forward, hope, and shared sentiment. (The archive moniker was chosen with this in mind.)
In the case of the Kumamoto earthquake, The Kumamoto Digital Earthquake Archive was launched by Kumamoto Prefecture in 2016. The unique feature of the archive is that when searching the site, detailed information and permission for reuse, including commercial use, can be requested, making for easier reuse of most of the data and expanding the scope of use for educational purposes.
When it comes to photographic and video records, there are many cases where information such as the date and location are missing making it difficult to make such data searchable. Also, there are still issues in organizing and registering the huge amount of data that is coming in, such as not being able to cite the data because the owner of the data has not given permission for reuse.
In the future, it will be necessary to develop a platform that takes an integrated approach, allowing access to all of Japan’s disaster-related and records for future generations and providing a complete historical record for the benefit of society.
「The Kobe GIS Earthquake Archive」
「Hinagiku」(The Great East Japan Earthquake Archive)
「The Kumamoto Digital Earthquake Archive」
(Image source: composite of digital map and expanded video details from The Kobe City GIS Archive)