Sunday, March 20, 2011

Excellent project management cools nuclear power plants

I received a very interesting e-mail from a Cadence Project Management colleague in Japan tonight. He told a story about the heroic efforts of Tokyo firefighters cooling down the stricken nuclear reactors. He showed how they used good project management techniques to accomplish their goal. He mapped the project to the Cadence project life cycle.
March 12, Think phase:
On the day of the earthquake, they put out 52 fires in Tokyo. On the following day, without being asked, they started to prepare their contribution to the cooling of the reactors. They took the lead on this based on the established fact that they are the top firefighters in Japan.
March 13, Study phase:
They identified several alternatives on how to send a lot of water flowing into the plant.
Their concerns were the following;

  • How do they make a lot of water flow into a building taller than 20 meters?
  • How do they get a continuous flow of one thousand tons of sea water to fire engines?
  • How do they make the fire engines continue to work for long time while unmanned?
  • How do they keep the firefighters safe from radioactivity on site?
March 16, Research phase:
They evaluated alternatives. They performed simulations of three alternatives on river in Tokyo.
They chose two alternatives: One using a fire engine with a 22m long folded pipe. The other using a fire engine with a 40m long extension ladder. They established a way to extend a 350m long hose by a machine without hands. This reduced radioactive exposure to the firefighters.They established a way to work fire engines without firefighters except for breaks to supply fuel.
They confirmed their criteria of radioactivity and way to measure and control exposure to it.
  • Preferred level: 10 units/person per mission.
  • Maximum level: 30 units/person per mission.
  • Maximum level: 100 units/person total.
  • They established roles to measure radioactivity and to alarm of over-exposure.
March 17, Plan phase:
They received an offer to go to the plant. They had to change and refine alternatives on site because the wind was too strong for the extension ladder and there was too much debris and rubble to use the machine to extend the 350m long hose.
They chose the fire engine with the 22m long folded pipe They developed a procedure to extend the 350m long hose by hand and executed it while measuring radioactivity next to the plant. They all confirmed that the plan would succeed.

March 19, Execute phase:
They successfully executed the plan. bThe result follows:
  • More than one thousand tonnes of sea water flowed into the reactor.
  • They achieved a rate of three tonnes of sea water per minute for 13 hours.
  • Radioactivity started decreasing immediately after water starting flowing.
  • Maximum of radioactivity of fire fighters was 27 units and almost of them are less than 10.

 March 20, Close phase:
After their mission, Three commanders were interviewed on TV. They explained the above-mentioned mission.
My colleague was impressed in the answers to reporter's questions after their explanation.
It took three times as long as usual for fire fighters to don their protective clothing since they really understood the danger of radioactivity.
The commander was concerned for the families of the firefighters although the firefighters had high motivation.
The commander apologized to and appreciated his firefighters' families.
One commander said to his wife "I will go to the plant and I shall return," and his wife replied:
"I believe you. Be a savior of Japan."
My colleague and I were both reminded of the movie "Armageddon".
He is proud of them as Japanese.

Below is a link to a newspaper article explaining more about this story:


  1. The planning in a crisis is impressive (let's hope it continues to show progress). I'm even more impressed by the "needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few" (to use a geeky reference) Risk Analysis that the workers have been using. Truly the definition of Heroes.

  2. Have you been watching the latest developments here where they are getting old men to volunteer in the clean-up since their chance of developing cancer before they die is much lower?