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A Report on Field Research Conducted on the Usage of Sahana in the Tohoku Region


In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, which occurred on March 11th 2011, multiple local government bodies utilized Sahana in conducting relief activities.

This document will explore how Sahana was used by these local government bodies and what kind of problems they encountered. In this report, we compiled an interview survey for individuals in charge of using Sahana in Rikuzentakata-shi1, Iwate Prefecture, and Yamagata Prefecture. The survey was conducted by the Sahana Japan Team together with Kwansei Gakuin University on November 2011. This report has been compiled with the aim of providing insight to administrative organizations and NPOs that are considering using Sahana for any relief efforts for potential future disasters, as well as domestic and international technical developers involved in the development of Sahana.

【Table of Contents】

  1. Iwate Prefecture
    1. Overview
    2. Deploying Sahana
    3. Details on the Use of Sahana in Rikuzentakata-shi
      1. The Scope of Usage
      2. The Detailed Flow of the Delivery of Relief Supplies Using Sahana
    4. Evaluation
      1. General Evaluation
      2. Advantages of Using Sahana
      3. Issues Faced in the Deployment of Sahana and Desired Improvements
      4. Considerations for Future Use
  2. Yamagata Prefecture
    1. Summary
    2. Deploying Sahana
    3. Intended Usage
    4. Evaluation
    5. Considerations for Future Use

【Iwate Prefecture】


In Iwate Prefecture, the coastal areas were subjected to devastating damage caused by the tsunami brought on by the Great East Japan Earthquake, displacing a large amount of residents that far exceeded expectations, thereby forcing many people to live as evacuees.

With the aim of sending relief supplies to the victims, the disaster countermeasures office of the Iwate prefectural government began deploying Sahana mainly in the Rikuzentakata-shi area, in the individual municipalities of Yamada-machi, Otsuchi-cho, and Ofunato-shi in order to track the number of evacuees in the evacuation shelters and the amount of relief supplies required by the victims.

In the cities and areas where Sahana was deployed, tablet computers were distributed, allowing the victims themselves to use a pre-installed application to input any pertinent data. Additionally, municipal staff members in charge of distributing relief supplies were able to collect and handle information using Sahana installed on a cloud server provided by IBM Japan.

The application was used for a duration of 2 months from June 1st to August 10th.

Deploying Sahana


In the initial phases after the occurrence of the East Japan Earthquake, the Japan Self-Defense Forces assumed the role of delivering relief supplies to the victims at the shelters. After the Japan Self-Defense Forces withdrew and these tasks were delegated to the individual municipalities, the Iwate prefectural government’s disaster countermeasures office took the initiative to deploy Sahana for the purposes of collecting information about the supply needs of the victims. Additionally, IBM Japan cooperated with the Sahana Japan Team to provide the cloud server and to develop the application installed on the tablets.

In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, the Japan Self-Defense Forces routinely visited each evacuation shelter, in order to verify the number of victims present and the kind of relief supplies they required.

However, as it was determined that such activities could not be considered as being within the scope of relief activities that can only be carried out by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, a need was identified to delegate these activities to the individual municipalities. At the same time, local governments affected by the disaster were faced with a shortage of manpower, requiring such organizations to consider alternative methods of collecting information.

During this time, Iwate Prefectural University acted as a hub for intra-prefectural ICT assistance (by collecting and disseminating disaster related information and assisting in the restoration of the Internet connectivity infrastructure), mainly led by the efforts of Professor Murayama (Faculty of Software and Information Science).

Around April in 2011, the Iwate prefectural government’s disaster countermeasures office requested Iwate Prefectural University to develop a system that could be used to monitor the material needs of the victims. As IBM Japan had recently introduced Sahana to Iwate Prefectural University, roughly around the same time, Professor Murayama proposed the usage of Sahana as a possible solution.

In order to provide the evacuation shelters, etc., with a means of telecommunications, NTT Docomo distributed tablet computers to act as terminals at sites within Iwate Prefecture. By using the tablet computers, which were stationed at the individual evacuation centers, the evacuees themselves could directly input information, and in a very short period of time, IBM Japan developed an Android OS application that could be used to connect to Sahana.

IBM Japan assumed the role of installing the application, which they had developed, on the tablet computers, as well as configuring Sahana to run on their cloud server. The tablet computers were then distributed by the Japan Self-Defense Forces to the evacuation shelters, and official operations of the system commenced on June 1st 2011. After the Japan Self-Defense Forces withdrew from the evacuation shelters, in July 20th 2011, all collection of information was consolidated to the Sahana system.

Eventually, temporary housing was prepared as a replacement to the evacuation shelters, and the usage of Sahana ended on August 10th 2011.

Details on the Use of Sahana in Rikuzentakata-shi

The Scope of Usage
  • Among the municipalities in Iwate Prefecture where Sahana was implemented, the scale of usage was found to be greatest in Rikuzentakata-shi and Otsuchi-cho.
  • Sahana was deployed specifically for the purposes of verifying the number of evacuees and their conditions, for individual evacuation shelters, as well as to request goods for daily use that were distributed as relief supplies. At the same time, food supplies were excluded from those supplies that could be requested, as food stocks were non-existent, requiring deliveries from the food distribution center to be distributed proportionally within the day that they were received.
  • According to data entered into Sahana, immediately after the deployment of Sahana (June 1st 2011), there were 83 evacuation shelter locations housing 2,267 evacuees, and an additional 3,832 victims that visited the shelters to receive supplies. By July 26th 2011, the number of victims visiting the evacuation centers for supplies dropped to 598 people (287 people housed at evacuation shelters).
  • The scope of the logistical network used at the time that Sahana was deployed consisted of 6 delivery routes (delivery was carried out by the Japan Self-Defense Forces), while there was a maximum of 8 routes operating at one time before the deployment of Sahana. After the withdrawal of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, there were a total of 4 routes (2 routes used by municipal workers and 2 used by contracted delivery companies). Deliveries were performed in the morning and evening using 1 or 2 trucks per route.

The Detailed Flow of the Delivery of Relief Supplies Using Sahana
  1. The representative of each evacuation center enters information regarding the number of evacuees present and what supplies are needed (goods for daily use) using the tablet computers.
  2. The information that is entered is sent to the Sahana database running on the IBM cloud server.
  3. The municipal worker in charge of tallying the data accesses Sahana to check conditions for all evacuation shelters and data on supply needs and downloads them as an XLS format file at a fixed time on a daily basis.
  4. Using Excel, the data is sorted to identify entries for Rikuzentakata-shi that were received before the deadline for the previous day, and this information is e-mailed or delivered by hand via USB flash drive to the delivery center, after necessary layout formatting is performed (spreadsheet column width, page settings, etc.).
  5. At the delivery center, supplies are divided for delivery to each district based on the information given in the Excel file. The Excel file is updated to reflect the distribution status and is sent back.
  6. The following morning, the person in charge of delivery (initially handled by the Japan Self-Defense Forces, and subsequently delegated to municipal workers and contracted delivery company employees) delivers the supplies to the evacuation centers.
  7. Based on the Excel file returned from the delivery center, the municipal worker in charge of tallying the data deletes supply request entries in the Sahana database for supplies that have already been delivered.


General Evaluation

Although the system was deployed for multiple municipalities there was a great disparity in usage between individual municipalities, and Rikuzentakata-shi exhibited the greatest amount of usage. For small municipalities that exhibited limited damage from the earthquake, supply management could be carried out over the telephone and using paper-based record keeping, providing little incentive to migrate to a system using Sahana.

Based on interviews conducted on persons in charge of such operations, respondents felt that there was no significant advantage to implement such a system, for cases involving 10 evacuation shelter locations or fewer, and where all deliveries could be performed using a single delivery route. However, respondents felt that for cases involving 2 or 3 delivery routes or more, some kind of a system to manage such information would be necessary.

Additionally, the amount of system usage was low for evacuation shelters that mainly housed elderly people, while 3 or 4 evacuation shelters chose not to use the system at all. On the other hand, evacuation shelters housing younger evacuees (generally in their forties or younger) exhibited relatively greater usage.

Furthermore, since a procedure was already established and had been in place for 2 months, wherein Japan Self-Defense Forces routinely visited each evacuation shelter to ask what the victims needed (with such requested goods being delivered the following day), and since the period of system usage coincided with the gradual replacement of evacuation shelters with newly-erected temporary housing, there seems to have been some resistance among the disaster victims in adopting a new system of delivery.

It can be assumed that if Sahana had been deployed in conjunction with the restoration of communication lines, better usage results would have resulted.

Advantages of Using Sahana

Since data collected at the evacuation shelters was handled in digital form the point it was entered, the time and effort spent on tallying data was reduced. Furthermore, the system made it possible to associate the number of the victims with the supplies requested for each evacuation shelter, providing a better understanding of the situation in its entirety.

From the standpoint of the evacuees, there were advantages in how evacuees were able to place their requests 24 hours a day and that the system made it easier to submit requests for such supplies that may have been uncomfortable to make in person.

Furthermore, users were required to input the number of evacuees every time supply requests were placed, causing some users to skip this step by entering the values given for the previous request, due to the amount of extra work required to verify the actual number of evacuees, leading to a small number of instances where incorrect numbers of evacuees were reported.

Issues Faced in the Deployment of Sahana and Desired Improvements
Regarding the Tablet Computers

Since there was no screen to verify the results of the data sent after the supply request was sent, it was difficult to discern whether data had been sent successfully or not. Furthermore, there was no way to cancel or revise requests that had already been sent.

Additionally, since evacuees could not verify the history of requests which they had sent, they were unaware of what data they had sent the previous time unless they kept separate records.

As the user would always be required to enter a value for the number of victims whenever they wanted to request for supplies, some users felt this process to be burdensome causing them to skip over part of this process, leading to a few cases where the user would enter a number of victims that did not reflect the actual numbers.

Regarding the Tallying Process Using Sahana

For the application customized for Iwate Prefecture, a flag was not provided for the supply request records to indicate whether supplies had been delivered or not, requiring the staff to manually delete records for supplies that had already been delivered. For this reason, although it was possible to keep records for all entries by outputting them to Excel format, it was impossible to tally such data within Sahana for the entire period of deployment.

During this deployment, Sahana was used in a limited capacity for collecting information on the supply needs of the evacuation shelters. It can be said that the system deployment would have been more effective if it was used to facilitate such processes as inventory management, the integrated sorting of supplies depending on the destination of the supplies, and the delivery of supplies from the prefectural government to the local municipalities.

Regarding the List of Supplies

During this deployment, sufficient consideration was not given to the needs of the users (delivery workers and evacuees) when determining the supply item categories to be entered. For this reason, some confusion arose during the actual delivery process.

In future deployments, it is necessary to conduct a thorough vetting process to determine what categories of supplies would actually be needed during such sustained relief efforts, well in advance of deployment, so that there will be no confusion for the user when requesting or delivering such supplies.

Additionally, since the screen display for the tablet computer terminals would display the entire predefined supply catalog, which included some supplies that were temporarily unavailable, there were cases where requested supplies could not be delivered.

It is preferable that the request execution screen only displays those supplies that can currently be delivered.

Considerations for Future Use

While timely assistance is provided based on the Disaster Relief Act, in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, there is also the need to tally the cost of relief efforts after they are complete. As of writing, the time consuming process of tallying such costs (involving such things as verifying how many evacuees were housed at which evacuation shelters for how long, as well as the total amount of supplies distributed) is currently underway.

It can be said that there is further potential for this system if future development takes into account the application of this system in managing the fundamental data for such tallying and reporting processes.

At the same time, it can be said that there is a risk in consolidating all data collection to Sahana for information sent from disaster victims during times of disaster. The occurrence of technical issues or cases of operator difficulties could lead to situations that prevent such issues from being properly identified and reported to the necessary parties. In such cases it would be necessary for officials, such as municipal workers to make routine visits, etc., in order to follow-up on any possible situations.

While it is true that the need for such systems are the highest, in the immediate aftermath of such disasters, the fact remains that lifeline utilities, such as electricity and telecommunication lines must be restored for the system to be effective. Furthermore, another critical factor is how fast the data entry terminals can be prepared and distributed. It is conjectured that integration with satellite telephones would prove effective.

【Yamagata Prefecture】


Due to the occurrence of the nuclear power plant accident in Fukushima Prefecture many residents were forced to evacuate to Yamagata Prefecture.

Sahana was deployed with the aim of managing and tracking the information of these evacuees. It must be noted, however, that the scheme used to support the evacuees changed drastically compared to that anticipated during the planning phase, during the deployment period, rendering the deployment of Sahana ineffective.

Deploying Sahana

The Yamagata prefectural government support team assumed the principal role of deploying Sahana to manage information about evacuees coming from outside of Yamagata Prefecture, and IBM Japan provided assistance to customize the system.

Although the Yamagata prefectural government had a predetermined support plan to handle such disasters, they were forced to deal with unexpected circumstances due to the unanticipated number of evacuees arriving from Fukushima Prefecture, with the occurrence of the nuclear power plant accident.

While the Yamagata prefectural government initially collected and tallied data sent from local municipalities using Excel for evacuees received from areas outside of Yamagata Prefecture, they also continued to search for more efficient data management systems.

After several options were explored, it was decided that Sahana, the usage of which IBM Japan had proposed, would be utilized to track the evacuees. Sahana was selected based on its adequacy for usage in managing a victims' list and its track record of being deployed in disaster relief efforts in Indonesia.

Testing was conducted at a single evacuation shelter for several weeks, after which IBM performed further customization of the system based on feedback received.

Starting in early May, evacuees were transferred from public evacuation shelters (housed in schools, gyms, etc.) to hotels, guest houses, and rented private sector housing (referred to as "secondary evacuation sites"). Under this secondary evacuation scheme, Sahana was officially deployed from early June to September.

Unlike the public facilities that were initially used, it was found that the various hotels, guest houses, private sector apartments, etc., widely varied in terms of Internet connectivity and computer usage conditions. Additionally, difficulties were faced in recruiting individuals capable of operating the system, resulting in very little utilization of the system to track evacuees.

Although the government also considered utilizing Sahana to act as a tool to communicate with evacuees housed in private apartments (by sending SMS notifications to the registered cell phone numbers of the evacuees), since the cell phone companies would only allow SMS communication between individual cell phones, this proposal did not come to fruition.

Planned Usage

  • By using PC terminals deployed in the individual evacuation shelters, the victims would be able to access the Yamagata Prefecture's version of the Sahana website and enter information into the evacuee list and update their status as to whether they were present in the shelter or not.
  • A staff member of the Fukushima prefectural government would track and verify the whereabouts of the evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture.


Due to the late deployment of Sahana in Yamagata Prefecture, the system to support and house the evacuees had already changed from what had been expected during the planning process of the deployment. This discrepancy rendered the deployed system ineffective for the purposes of usage under actual relief work conditions. Had the system been deployed at a much earlier stage, it would likely have proven to be much more useful.

Considerations for Future Use

As multiple systems that manage information on disaster victims already exist, such as the National Victims Information System (Hinansha Joho Shisutemu) operated by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, difficulties were encountered in trying to integrate such information with Sahana. In the future, if the national government adopts the usage of Sahana to construct a single, integrated "national system," it can be said that such a system could contribute greatly to the streamlining of relief efforts and restoration work in the disaster affected areas. At the very least, it is vital that data interfaces be maintained between the separate existing systems.

According to staff members performing interviews, interviewees desired a system that allows users in the field to input data and to view it as needed, in order to understand what is occurring in which location. Additionally, features that allow users to notify relevant parties of a situation by sending alerts to user specified recipients would also be desirable. Such a system should allow users in the field to track the movements of others, while maintaining enough flexibility that it can also be used to perform clerical work required for reporting duties stipulated by the Disaster Relief Act.


The Sahana Japan Team would like to thank Sahana members in Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate Prefecture, and Yamagata Prefecture, in addition to those who offered their cooperation in conducting interview surveys.

The Sahana Japan Team would also like to express its gratitude for cooperation provided through “Collaborative Research Efforts Conducted with Kwansei Gakuin University 2011” in conducting “The Report of Field Research in Tohoku Region by Using Sahana.”

2012 Sahana Japan Team

1) In this document, cities are written as “-shi,” villages are written as “-cho” or “-machi” in order to respect the correct pronunciation in Japan.

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