Friday, April 13, 2012

SPEEDI Déjà Vu: J-Alert Failed to Alert on North Korean "Rocket" Launch

or missile or whatever it was that failed to launch as planned. The rocket/missile was launched at 7:40AM on April 13, and it was the event which the Noda administration and the Japanese government had made a big deal out of for the past several days. The event was supposed to showcase Japan's defense alert system.

But Japanese officials learned about the failure not from their expensive defense and disaster alert system called J-Alert but from TV. They couldn't confirm the launch until nearly 40 minutes after the actual launch.

(And they want to do what? Re-start Ooi Nuclear Power Plant?)

From Yomiuri Daily (4/14/2012):

Many upset over missile information delay

Despite thorough measures to prepare for a ballistic missile launch by North Korea, the central government's delay in communicating relevant information on Friday, compared with authorities in the United States and South Korea, has exasperated concerned parties.

In Okinawa Prefecture, which is located below the previously assumed flight path of the missile, people were angry with the central government's response, saying, "What would have happened to us if the missile had exploded over our prefecture?"


Missile launched?

In response to breaking news from South Korean media on the missile launch at around 7:55 a.m., reporters at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo rushed to confirm the information.

When asked by reporters, "Was the missile actually launched?" or "Is there a fallen object in the Yellow Sea?", ministry officials only repeated, "We haven't confirmed anything yet."

Meanwhile, CNN and other foreign media were reporting that North Korea had launched the missile but the launch had failed.

Forty-three minutes had already passed when Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka finally announced the missile launch at a press conference.

"[The launch] will have no impact on our country," exclaimed Tanaka. But when reporters tried to ask more questions, defense officials interrupted them, saying, "We're now analyzing the additional information."

To the amusement of reporters, Tanaka was practically yanked from the scene by fellow officials.

The government offices in charge of ensuring public safety looked increasingly frustrated.

A senior official at the National Police Agency said, "We haven't received any precise information."

Later the official said with a frown, "We finally received the [missile] launch information from the Prime Minister's Office shortly after 8:20 a.m."

The NPA was supposed to relay the missile launch information to police across the nation and issue a warning as soon as it received any updates.

Another senior NPA officer said, "Though preventive measures [for the missile launch] were thorough, it took time before an initial response was given."

In response to the media's communication of missile launch information, the Japan Coast Guard issued instructions to deploy airplanes and patrol vessels to determine any possible damage in the nation. But it withdrew the instructions soon after hearing the defense minister's announcement that the missile launch would not have any effect on the country.

A JCC senior official said, "If ocean vessels had been damaged, rescue activities might have been delayed due to the communication delay."


Why didn't the J-Alert sound?

At the Okinawa prefectural government office, the Em-Net, a system to convey emergency information from the central government to local governments, blared at 8:04 a.m.

Tension rose in the office at once. But the message from the central government said only "No information [on the missile launch] has been confirmed."

The prefectural government received the information confirming the missile launch at 8:37 a.m., about one hour after the missile launch was first observed.

While no information was provided from J-Alert, the nationwide system to relay emergency information, TV news programs reported that the missile launch had failed.

The prefecture's senior official said, "We're relieved because there was no damage in Okinawa Prefecture."

However, the official cast doubt on the central government's response, questioning, "Why didn't the J-Alert sound?"

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama complained, "We wanted to have an official announcement from the central government as soon as possible."

"We'd like to request that the central government review why it could not provide the information immediately, even after announcements were made in other countries," Nakayama added.

At the Ishigaki Airport, passengers checking in watched TV news reports on the missile launch shortly before 8 a.m. Noriko Matsubara, a 57-year-old insurance salesperson, said, "I feel a chill up my spine when I imagine the missile might have flown over Ishigaki and exploded over the island."

AFP (link is in Japanese) reports that the US military alerted the Japanese Ministry of Defense 2 minutes after the failed launch, but for whatever reason the Ministry of Defense didn't tell the rest of the government until nearly 40 minutes later.

My wild guess is that the Defense Ministry officials were scrambling to start J-Alert so that they could report the J-Alert result to the Prime Minister's Office, instead of what was told by the US military.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujimura said they would look into why J-Alert was not used. Maybe the system was not plugged in, just like the teleconferencing system at the Prime Minister's Office when the March 11, 2011 triple disaster happened.

J-Alert looks like this. If you think this is like the nuclear emergency response system with Off-Site Centers and SPEEDI, you are right. That didn't work. Any reason that J-Alert should work? Nope.

Reading the wiki entry on J-Alert, I think this system should have warned people of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident last year. I don't think it did any of that, because not many municipalities have installed the system due to its high cost and malfunctioning.

It looks pretty in the diagram.


Anonymous said...

Sure is common for EXPENSIVE systems to not work. Wonder if it has anything to do with certain people pushing their usage for the sole purpose of personal profit? Taking selling lemons to the next level.

Also, even if J-Alert did work, I wouldn't be surprised if the government still waited an hour to notify everyone...

Anonymous said...

Did anyone else find it disconcerting that Japan took several days to get military units in position to defend Japanese territory from the North Korea missile launch? Good thing North Korea gave advance notice. What defenses does the country have for a real 21st century (unannounced) missile attack?

Also of concern: 50+ nuclear power plants with unsecured spent fuel pools. How much damage would result if an enemy, with conventional weapons only, collapses a few of Japan's fuel pools? Even if Japan "won" the war with the help of its allies, there is nothing that could be rebuilt in the wake of the resulting widespread nuclear contamination. Nuclear power plants cannot be adequately defended. Unless you think war will never happen again, you must know that the NPPs need to be shut down and the radioactive remnants permanently secured underground. There is no winning a war when your small country's nuke plants are taken down. Any war would be the end of Japan, Japanese culture, and many Japanese people.

Stop nuclear power now! There is no future in it. No future at all.

Anonymous said...

It's not a missile, it's a rocket launching a satellite.

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