On March 11 at 2:46 pm JST, my officer partner, Sayuri Anderson, and I were in the University of Phoenix office at the Navy College, U.S. Navy base at Yokosuka, Japan, when I noticed the building shaking. Living in Japan is much like living in central California when it comes to experiencing small earthquakes; however, this earthquake was very different from any that I have experienced. We left the building and moved to a safe area across the street (on the water side) where I still felt and observed the effects of the earthquake. After several minutes, I decided to leave the base and make my way home; I live in the hills above Yokosuka.
Upon arriving at my home, I logged back on to the company email system and found two messages from our Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Barb Turner, in Okinawa. She had sent out messages to all full-time faculty assigned to mainland Japan, also known as Honshu, checking on our welfare. Within an hour, all but one of us had been accounted for. During that hour, a tsunami alert had been broadcast telling everyone to move to high ground. Because I live in the hills, I was not especially worried about the tsunami.
The telephone network (landline and cell phone) stopped working immediately after the earthquake and for the rest of that evening. Additionally, there were continuous earthquakes (all in the 5.0–7.0 magnitude range) throughout the day and the night. However, the Internet was working and it became our means of communication. We used Skype™ to communicate with our families back in the United States. While I was trying to contact the entire faculty assigned to my location, I received a Skype call from my College Campus Chair (CCC), Dr. Mel Hagan, checking on my welfare. I found it comforting to know the University of Phoenix family was making efforts not only to ensure we were all fine, but also to provide evacuation and housing for us if we had to leave the main island. Dr. Turner (DAA), Dr. Hawks (Campus Director), Dr. Hagan (CCC), and Dr. Goldberg (all in Okinawa) had made it clear I would not have to worry about transportation or housing if I had to be evacuated under mandatory evacuation orders.
Eventually, all full-time faculty members, as well as the program coordinators for each site, were accounted for and we could relax a bit. However, the resulting tsunami had devastated the coastal towns and villages in an area about 200 miles north of where I am located. We have a University of Phoenix office in Misawa, which is very close to the devastation, and it was adversely affected by the earthquake and aftermath.
The day following the earthquake and tsunami, a new problem developed with the nuclear reactors near the devastated areas; the power to those reactors had been cut, so the worry of a meltdown and radiation exposure now became a very serious possibility. Thoughts of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl came to mind.
After a few days of the tsunami damage constantly being played on news channels, the focus switched to the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Live video and pictures of the reactors fueled everyone’s concerns. The Japanese people are very sensitive regarding nuclear power for obvious reasons relating to World War II, and they were suffering heavily because of the devastation. I really felt as if I should be doing something to help beyond dialogue and prayer. However, there was no way to get near the devastation; the roads and communication lines were wiped out. Out of respect for the Japanese people, all activities on the military bases were cancelled — no parties, no celebrations — and we were told to avoid laughing in public. Although this made sense, I did not think I’d be laughing anytime soon. My family and friends in the States had sent email and messages via Facebook® to see how I was doing and to see whether there were inconsistencies between what was really happening in Japan and what American news and media outlets were reporting. The first thing I could think of was to tell them, “Imagine the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and double the damage, add 30 million people to the equation, and throw in the radiation concern.” That might give someone a good idea of what it was really like.
Within the first week after the earthquake and tsunami, my base was under volunteer departure orders, so most of the dependents left Japan for the United States. This is a large base that houses the U.S. 7th Fleet, along with the U.S. Navy hospital for the Pacific, so our classes were cancelled/postponed until we knew what we could do. There was the constant possibility of mandatory evacuation of the base, which meant I would be moved to Okinawa, along with all other full-time faculty and their families in mainland Japan.
It has now been three weeks since that day, and the base is still void of the fleet and most dependents; however, we have resumed our classes. During the first days following the earthquake and tsunami, we (myself and Sayuri Anderson) contacted all students and faculty to determine who was here and who was not here. We determined that there was sufficient numbers of faculty and students to resume our classes.
Although the nuclear reactor concerns are still present, the earthquakes have diminished to about their normal magnitude of less than 2.5 and the occasional 6.0 quake or greater. Thus, we are somewhat back to normal; however, there is no definitive answer as to how long we will be operating, if we will eventually be moved to Okinawa or another part of the main island of Japan.
As I mentioned earlier, I am very grateful to the University of Phoenix family for its concern and help during this disaster. I have been with the University as an associate faculty member since 2001, and as a staff faculty member since 2003. University of Phoenix continues to show its human face and its willingness to ensure students and faculty are provided the best possible environment in which to pursue their studies. This particular event has brought us even closer and made us more aware of the value of the little things that we can do to make another’s day better.
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