Guest blogger: Rob Kelton from Intel’s Internal Employee Communications Team
Additional reporting and photography by Mika Nakayama, Ignatius Wu and Kanae Nakatani.
Note from the blog manager: 8 months ago, tragedy struck when an 8.9 earthquake shook up Japan on March 11. Two employees from our Intel Japan site, Jeff and Kanae, shared their experience of what the quake felt like from their offices as well as reuniting with family after the quake. While Japan and our friends there are still rebuilding their lives, news of the offices reopening is heart-warming story. This is the story of the incredible spirit of Intel Japan employees and an international team who traveled to Tsukuba to rebuild two office buildings and reopen them November 7, eight months after they were severely damaged by the disaster.
When the building shook violently and the emergency announcement rang out overhead instructing employees to take cover under their desks, like so many earthquake-hardened employees in Japan, Yukio says he thought “it was just another quake.” But last March’s seismic event off the Pacific coast of Tohoku was the most powerful ever to hit Japan, triggering menacing 133-feet-high tsunami waves, killing more than 15,000, causing a number of nuclear accidents, damaging over 125,000 buildings and wiping out roads, railways and electricity and water supply.
A major quake “This one lasted a very long time,” said Yukio, a customer business operations manager in the Sales and Marketing Group in Tsukuba. (According to the United States Geologic Survey, which monitors earthquakes worldwide, the shaking lasted for a solid 5 and a half minutes). The March 25, 2011 earthquake in Japan damaged Tsukuba J1 and J2 buildings. “Right after the earthquake they had us evacuate the building. When we came back, the ceiling tiles had fallen off, fire sprinklers had broken and flooded the floor and stairwells, soaking computers and offices.”
Thankfully, no Intel employees were badly injured in Tsukuba, or at our Tokyo and Osaka sites. But soon after the major quake, Intel Japan employees fought through debris and traffic gridlocks, while some slept in Intel office buildings because they could not reach their own homes because of damage or non-working elevators. Others had trouble contacting their loved ones because of downed communications—all while enduring the hundreds of aftershocks for days following.
A new home for 400 Nearly 400 Tsukuba employees—who worked for months from home, in the J1 café and finally in cramped, leased spaces—moved into their new state-of-the-art J1 and J2 buildings, equipped with Intel’s first seismic resistant ceiling and fire protection systems.
Lab spaces, a major focus in Tsukuba, have been relocated and redesigned for improved earthquake resistance. Employees will now enjoy a spacious and bright new café, campus-wide WiMAX, and specially-designed earthquake-resistant glass windows. The nearly $20 million revamp also includes new carpet, mobile work spaces, collaboration areas, fire protection piping and ducts, braces, and raised office flooring.
“I am just so pleased that this day has come,” said Kaz Yoshida, vice president of the Sales and Marketing Group and president of Intel Japan, during the opening celebration. “This new work environment could not have been done without the help of so many peoples’ help and support.”
“I am so glad for all of us to be reunited,” said Kanae Nakatani, of Human Resources. “We were all thrilled to walk around and feel the new office. How exciting!”
Kanae, had written a blog post 8 months ago about the tragedy. Here’s what she had to say in the light of the reopening:
*“It has been almost 8 months since the great quake on March 11th, 2011.
Today, we had the Tsukuba office re-opening ceremony at J1 office cafeteria, which is beautifully renovated. We were all thrilled to walk around and feel the new office. How exciting! This gave me one “emotional period” to my post quake phase and wanted to share my personal stories and thoughts.
First of all, I want to express my deepest “thank you” and appreciation to all of the warm comments on my earlier blog. But I especially want to thank everyone for support we received (and are still receiving) from all over the world. That truly encouraged all of us in Japan through the difficult times.
Since the Tsukuba office was severely damaged, we needed to work from home for an extended period of time until the temporary offices became ready for use in early May. Before the quake, we simply chose telecommuting as one of available work styles. But, it was very different when we “had to” work from home with no choice. There were so many issues we did not anticipate, such as: less conversation & interaction with people, much harder to draw the line between work/personal time, kids screaming behind the telecom, unable to attend the telecom due to the planned power outage caused by the damaged nuclear power plant, working in a cold room with layers of clothes to save electricity, etc.
When many of us started getting really frustrated from the prolonged WFH, there was an Intel colleague in my vicinity who initiated the “quick get together” at the local café (“self-help initiative”). We gathered very loosely here and there in a set 1 hour in every few days. We chatted, checked each other’s situation, laughed and went back to home refreshed to work. It was so nice to “feel” the unity and have the place to “share” the same experiences and the value. I felt that the colleague’s initiative was a natural leadership in that situation in a way when everyone was suffering and feeling isolated – thank you very much for letting me to be the part of it. Plus, IJKK management & GPTW team organized two “Tsukuba get together” for all of us working from home or at the three different temporary office locations. It was also so nice to get reunited and see our peers’ smiling faces once again and confirm each one’s well-being and understand the company’s recovery plan moving forward. When we were isolated, lack of communication tended to create unwanted frustration, speculation, misunderstanding and distrust. Not everything was perfect or smooth in the process, but everyone tried very hard to do the best in the given situation. Thank you very much for IJKK management and EOC team for keeping us updated.
After 8 months, aftershocks have been dramatically reduced although we still have those from time to time, and I am so glad for all of us to be reunited and can finally work again in the same one office. It is now like a bad dream that we worked in the extreme construction noise just on the other side of blue sheet separating us from the construction area.
Regardless of people’s ordeal, cherry blossoms bloomed in our office yard in Spring, fresh green leaves came after that and now we started seeing the colors of leaves.
Something in us probably changed forever after the quake. But, our life has to go on. I took so many things for granted in everyday life. But, I now know that same normal every life is so special. None of us goes on forever and we cannot live alone, and I am now clearer about the priority in my life. Like I wrote in my earlier blog, I am still so thankful for all of the support & encouragement we have been receiving from our friends all over the world. I will still ….. never forget that.”*
The Japan rebuilding team delivers
Soon after the earthquake, Corporate Services (CS) Director Neil Tunmore sent a team of construction pros to Tsukuba because the site only had five CS personnel and they were not experienced in reconstruction. The few who had that experience were already working in Dalian, China finishing up Fab 68.
From a list of 175 CS worldwide volunteers, a small team of 25 CS experts was then formed, called the “Japan Rebuilding Team”. All team members, from across the globe, including Bangalore, Costa Rica, the U.S., and China ,had to get clearance to travel to a no-fly, disaster zone and the U.S. contingent had to register daily with the U.S. embassy, which was monitoring for radioactivity danger every day. The team leader, Tripp, noted, “Our first trip, we brought in a water purifier, hardhats, tools and a satellite phone and stayed in contact with International SOS and the U.S. Embassy.” It was definitely not the “typical business trip.”
“We wanted to give the employees the best environment possible after experiencing the worst event in their careers,” Tripp said.
Tripp says he was amazed at the spirit of the Intel Japan employees. Even while dealing with family matters after the tragedy, they showed up at work during the day, night, and weekends to help keep Intel running (see sidebar for TMG’s business continuity response).
Intel Japan employees also held numerous volunteer clean up events around communities, collected clothing and blankets for people in shelters, and set up classmate PCs for connecting those in tsunami zones. Some participated, Tripp added, “when their very own homes were damaged or destroyed.”
The U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Robinson said, thanked Intel for hiring local construction companies and vendors during a trying time when many of them were affected by the earthquake.
After the earthquake, said Mika of employee communications, many Tsukuba employees felt isolated because they were working from home in a culture that values face-to-face interaction. “When I saw familiar Intel faces over a cup of tea during the time we were working from home, I felt so relieved and appreciated that I had someone or someplace where I could feel connected.”
Now Tsukuba’s J1 and J2 buildings will once again provide that connection.
“When the earthquake damaged the buildings,” said Yukio, “I had been working at the Tsukuba office for 20 years, so it was like my home.”
“Now, this is a very nice new home.”