At 2:46 a.m. on March 11, 2011, a 9.1-magnitude earthquake shook the ocean 231 miles northeast of Tokyo, at a depth of 15.2 miles. About an hour after the quake, waves as high as 124 feet spilled in rapid, giant swells over the Japanese coastline, speeding as far as six miles inland and sweeping away vehicles, homes, and severing roads and highways. More than 70,000 people were evacuated to shelters and more than 22,000 people lost their lives. The tsunami disabled the power supply and severely compromised the integrity of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing a nuclear accident on March 11th, with all three cores largely melting in the first three days following the disaster.
Within two weeks of the catastrophic event, NYC Medics put an advance team on the ground to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment of the worst affected areas with a local partner, Tokushukai Medical Assistance Team (TMAT), a local nonprofit disaster relief organization. Responding to a formal request for assistance in radiation crisis management from TMAT, NYC Medics dispatched a team of leading experts in radiological disaster management and preparedness. The special, three-person team, composed of leading risk communication expert, Dr. Steven Becker from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and NYC Medics volunteers; internationally recognized and board-certified health physicist, Dr. Andrew Karam, and board-certified emergency medicine physician, Dr. Katherine Uraneck, conducted a rapid crisis assessment throughout the affected area, focusing on Fukushima prefecture. With the NYC Medics team, Dr. Karam took independent measurements and readings of radiation in the affected areas.