Japan Apple Stores as Disaster Headquarters

I’d like to think that many companies were as generous as Apple Japan was during the recent earthquake/tsunami disasters, but I’m not sure how they could be. With Apple’s unique store setup (room for lots of people, fast internet, urban location) making them ideally suited for being disaster relief headquarters, the Apple execs went quite a bit beyond just providing food, drink and a roof.

I certainly feel for everyone involved in the tragedy, and am glad the company that I’ve given quite a bit of money to over the past 25+ years didn’t use the disasters as a way to promote its own philanthropy, but rather as a chance to serve those that usually serve them.

Below are excerpts from an Apple employee in Japan:

Full disclosure: I work at Apple as a manager at one of its stores in Japan. The earthquake hit while I was working on the first floor of one of their stores. As the entire building swayed, the staff calmly led people from the top 5 floors down to the first floor, and under the ridiculously strong wooden tables that hold up the display computers.

7 hours and 118 aftershocks later, the store was still open. Why? Because with the phone and train lines down, taxis stopped, and millions of people stuck in the Tokyo shopping district scared, with no access to television, hundreds of people were swarming into Apple stores to watch the news on USTREAM and contact their families via Twitter, Facebook, and email. The young did it on their mobile devices, while the old clustered around the macs. There were even some Android users there. (There are almost no free wifi spots in Japan besides Apple stores, so even Android users often come to the stores.)

That’s pretty fantastic for Apple to be their only lifeline. I can only imagine how packed those stores were. He goes on to list a few things that Apple did, including:

1. Because the trains and phones were down, almost everyone who worked in Tokyo was stranded deep in the city. All the hotels were booked, the roads were jammed, so hundreds of people were instantly homeless. Apple told all of their staff – Retail AND Corporate – that they could go sleep at the Apple stores. The Senior managers at the stores had been notified earlier and unbeknownst to we Jr. Managers, had gone out to stock up on food and drinks after the very first quake hit.

This was a godsend because by 11pm (118 aftershocks later) all food and drinks were sold out at every store within walking distance. And when I say walking distance, I mean 3-4 hours of walking distance. (Tokyo is a big city.)

And they allowed family to stay with them:

2. Once staff let their families know that they were not only safe but how comfortable we were (break room refridgerators stocked with food and drink, etc), family members began asking if they could stay at the Apple stores as well. Of course Apple said yes. One business team member’s stranded mother walked 3.5 hours to be with her daughter at the store. When she arrived, the Apple store staff gave her a standing ovation (“Warm Welcome”) like they do for customers during a new launch.

His girlfriend’s employer wasn’t quite as generous:

And lastly, as I write this now 3 days later, even though the Japanese government says everything is fine, nuclear plants continue to explode. And we still haven’t even gotten the 7pt aftershock that is predicted to come this week, nor the nuclear/acid rain that is predicted to fall within the next 3 days. I hate to say this, but things may only get worse before they get better.

I’ve been calling my girlfriend at work, asking her to come home, but because the Tokyo government hasn’t said anything, her company won’t let her leave. On the other hand, my manager at Apple called me to let me know that Apple will support any decision I make regarding leaving the country or the area, and that a job will still be waiting for me if I decide to come back.

Nice work, Apple Japan.