The Kumamoto Earthquake and Tokyo Olympics Security: What You Need to Know

FreeImages.com/Michal Zacharzewski
FreeImages.com/Michal Zacharzewski

By now most people around the word who follow the daily news are aware that the Japanese island of Kyushu has been struck by a series of strong earthquakes which have caused at least 41 fatalities. The series of earthquakes began on April 14, 2016. The city of Kumamoto has been hardest hit but other cities over a large area of Kyushu have also suffered damage and seen injuries from the earthquake. Foreign security and safety officials who will work in Tokyo during 2020 Olympics can learn from the recent earthquakes in Japan how they can prepare for a possible earthquake during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

Of all the countries in the world Japan is the best prepared to handle an earthquake. That is because so many earthquakes occur in Japan. Some of this preparation is detailed in an earlier post on this blog. But earthquakes are unpredictable and each one is different so foreign security and safety officials responsible for the Olympics should implement their own preparations for an earthquake during the games.

Learn the Plans Already in Place

First, foreign officials responsible for Tokyo Olympic security and safety should reach out to the organizers of the Tokyo Olympics well before the games and learn what plans are in place in the event the event is disrupted by an earthquake or series or earthquakes. The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics will have plans in place for response to an earthquake. As this article demonstrates the Japanese government is already planning for a natural disaster during the games. Foreign Olympic security and safety officials should even now contact to the Tokyo Olympic organizers and Japanese officials responsible for safety during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics to help in planning for an earthquake.

Teach Everyone Earthquake Survival Basics

Second, foreign safety and security officials at the 2020 Olympics should ensure the people for whose safety they are responsible are informed about the plans for response to an earthquake. Many foreign athletes and spectators know nothing about how to survive and earthquake and its aftermath. Effective education in earthquake survival can save lives and prevent injury.

Know How to Contact Your Olympic Team Colleagues and 

Others After an Earthquake

Third, foreign safety and security officials at the Tokyo Olympics should have a concrete plan for contact with everyone for whom they are responsible after an earthquake occurs. It is likely the Tokyo Olympic safety officials will have a procedure for confirming the location and status of Olympic participants and spectators after an earthquake. Participation in that plan would likely be the best option. Implementation of a secondary communication plan should be considered. In any event, a robust communication plan or plans should be in place and and everyone should know how to contact their colleagues after an earthquake during the Tokyo Olympics.

Secure Emergency Food and Water

Fourth, emergency supplies of food and water should be confirmed. Again, the Olympics organizers or the Japanese authorities will likely have emergency supplies of food and water arranged but foreign security and safety officials responsible for Tokyo Olympic security should be aware of those plans and their role in implementing them. The Japanese plans for food and water supply after a quake should be reviewed to ensure they will meet the needs of foreign athletes and spectators. In the first days after the earthquakes in Kumamoto the Japanese news carried reports of shortages of food and water in several locations affected by the quakes. These shortages do not show lack of quake preparation by the Japanese authorities; instead, they illustrate the inherent difficulty of responding to humanitarian needs after a serious earthquake. Foreign Olympic security and safety officials at the Tokyo Olympics should review whether or not they want to independently prepare additional emergency supplies of food and water.

Ensure Access to Communication After the Earthquake

Fifth, emergency communication should be secured. Even during the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns in 2011 surviving cell towers equipped with backup power allowed sporadic cell phone communication. Tokyo Olympic safety and security officials should determine what plans are in place for back up power, etc. for the cell phone networks serving Tokyo Olympic venues. If they seem insufficient they should ask the Tokyo Olympic organizers for more and better preparations to ensure critical cell networks continue to operate after an earthquake. On the same point, athletes and spectators should be encouraged to always carry a cell phone and a backup battery or charger while they are at the Tokyo Olympics. Cell phones can also warn of an earthquake shaking up to a minute in advance as noted in the blog post linked above and this article.

Plan Alternate Transportation 

Sixth, be ready to cope with the disruption of transportation resulting from an earthquake. According to the April 16, 2016 edition of the Japan Times, “The region’s transport network suffered considerable damage: one tunnel caved in, a highway bridge was damaged, roads were blocked by landslides and train services halted, media reported. Kumamoto airport was also closed.” As of April 16, 2016 the Japanese official broadcast network NHK reported that the Kumamoto airport was closed indefinitely, train service to and from Kumamoto and nearby areas was suspended until further notice, and most major roads to and from the areas damaged by the earthquake were closed or could handle only limited traffic. Should similar disruption occur during the Tokyo Olympics security and safety officials should have several back-up plans for transportation out of Japan.

Always Carry Emergency Cash

Seventh, everyone who travels to Japan for any reason should always carry at least Yen 15,000 in cash (approximately US $150.00) at all times. Much more than in most European countries or the U.S. Japan is a cash society. Also, an earthquake will likely disrupt electronic payment networks and credit cards, etc. could be useless for days after an earthquake. Access to some cash can make daily life after an earthquake easier and more comfortable.

Don’t Worry About Civil Disorder

The eighth and final event to prepare for actually requires no preparation at all. No one need worry that the earthquake will cause civil disturbances, looting, an increase in crime, or other types of threats to personal safety. Japan has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the world (more on that in a future post). Furthermore, time and again the Japanese people have shown their responsibility and sense of civic duty during disasters by responding in a safe and orderly manner. The writer was in Japan during the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdowns and he can attest that in almost all cases civil order was maintained and no one took advantage of the disaster to loot or commit other crimes. In 2003 a simple blackout in New York City led to temporary and dramatic increases in crime. This type of civil disorder is very rare in Japan.

Author: Ed Shaw

I am a retired FBI Special Agent (25 years) who lived in Japan for a total of fifteen years and speaks Japanese. At two different times during my career with the FBI (first for five years and then for four years) I worked at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo, Japan and represented the FBI to all Japanese law enforcement, security, and intelligence agencies. While in Japan with the FBI I handled everything from international fugitive and spy investigations to sensitive reviews of U.S. government national security issues. My assignments took me to all parts of Japan. After nine years I am well-acquainted with how Japanese law enforcement and intelligence agencies work, their objectives, their bureaucratic habits, and most importantly how they interact with their foreign counterparts. Tokyo has been selected as the site of the 2020 Olympics. Each Olympic country participating in the games will have security officials looking for the best way to assure the safety of its athletes and other countrymen visiting Tokyo. The purpose of this blog is to share with those security officials the best way to ensure the safety and security at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *