The dangers of being in Japan right now are unclear. The threat of a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima power plant is ongoing, and British newspapers are full of references to “another Chernobyl”. The situation is clearly serious, and the tsunami damage huge. But the mood among British consultants still in Tokyo does not seem to be one of panic. “Headlines about panic are nonsense,” said Andrew Sheppard, an architect in Davis Langdon & Seah’s Tokyo office on Wednesday.
Arup is one of the biggest British consultants in the country, with 59 staff. It said today that it was not planning to evacuate them, but is keeping the situation under review and all staff are working from home. Although Tuner & Townsend have left the country due to nuclear fears, the disruptions to trying to work in Tokyo are generally much more mundane.
Sheppard says there have been communications problems. Leaving aside damaged phone lines, he explains why:
“Most people in Japan, especially those migrant construction labourers from Tohoku, typically have a mobile phone that is also their only connection to the internet. So the mobile phone system is being overloaded not only by phone calls but by people using their device to search the net.”
Construction work, like all work, will also be disrupted by the grim task of burying the dead, Sheppard thinks.
“Anyone who has lost relatives will want to arrange and participate in funeral arrangements as soon as possible, with all the difficulties that that entails in the devastated region. They will not return to work until that is completed,” he says.
There is also a faint sense that people in Japan don’t welcome the sensationalist tinge to coverage overseas. A Japanese engineer working for Aecom tried to extinguish fears of mass disruption in Tokyo. “Everybody is just normal, because we are so far from the earthquake,” he said.