Japan experiences more earthquakes than just about any other country in the world. The earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan on 3/11/11 were widely reported around the world. The loss of life (nearly 20,000 dead and missing) was devastating. This article will discuss how Japan prepares for earthquakes and present two simple and easy earthquake safeguards for visitors to Japan. Those two safeguards are listed at the end of this article and those in a hurry can skip ahead and read them now.
Japan is probably the best prepared country in the world for earthquakes. Safety and security professionals responsible for participants and attendees at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games should take comfort in the measures Japan takes to be ready for earthquakes. What does Japan do to get ready for earthquakes?
Strict building codes. After every major earthquake Japan reviews and if necessary revises its building codes. This habit clearly saved lives during the 3/11/11 disaster. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/03/11/AR2011031106948.html
The city closest to the epicenter of the 3/11/11 earthquake (80 miles) was Sendai, a metropolitan area with four million people. The ground shook violently in Sendai for almost SIX minutes! And numerous aftershocks later that day walloped the city with more shaking shortly after the initial tremor. Yet no major building in Sendai or anywhere else affected by the violent shaking collapsed. True, many buildings had to be vacated and demolished after the quake but thousands of lives were clearly saved by Japan’s strict building codes.
Practice, Practice, Practice. First responders, emergency personnel, and the general populace in Japan regularly practice what to do in an earthquake. Schools and employers conduct training for students and employees to help them survive an earthquake.
Social Capital. In the areas devastated by the earthquake there was almost no looting or civil disorder. The writer confirmed this during numerous discussions with Japanese law enforcement officials and U.S. aid workers who were on site in the most devastated areas during the disaster and during the clean up and recovery. What was reported in the west as scattered looting was really just desperate people scavenging for food and emergency survival supplies in the ruins. There were no civil disturbances after the quake. As people moved into crowded evacuation shelters and stayed there for weeks or months everyone behaved in an orderly fashion (e.g., kept their quarters clean, waited patiently in line for food or supplies, and assisted others in need of aid).
Lifelines & Warnings Not only are buildings constructed to very high standards, but electrical, telephone, water, gas, highway, and other public facilities are built to survive earthquakes and continue operating. Also, Japan operates a vast network of seismic sensors all around the country. Within milliseconds of the initiation of a quake this network identifies the epicenter and magnitude and calculates how many seconds later other areas will feel the tremors, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earthquake_Early_Warning_(Japan). This information is then broadcast out to TV and radio broadcasting stations and even personal cell phones so people have at least a few seconds to prepare. More and more elevators are being equipped to receive these advance warnings and move the elevator to the nearest floor and open the doors even before the shaking begins in that building, http://www.iitk.ac.in/nicee/wcee/article/14_S10-058.PDF. Most high speed trains in the country also receive similar advance warnings and stop automatically.
But What About the Tsunamis? Most of the fatalities on 3/11/11 were caused by the hundreds of tsunamis which battered Japan. Didn’t Japan prepare for tsunamis? The answer is yes, Japan did prepare for tsunamis. And many more people would have died from the tsunamis if Japan had not prepared for them. Tragically, on 3/11/11/ tsunamis many orders of magnitude larger than any in recorded Japanese history battered the coast. Areas that were ready for 15 foot tsunamis were devastated when a 50 foot tsunami arrived instead. Also, many areas that were believed to be safe from tsunamis (e.g., a town 3 or 4 miles from the coast) were inundated by tsunamis which traveled that far inland.
As soon as immediate relief and recovery efforts were concluded the Japanese government began reviewing tsunami risk and today is busily revising plans and preparations for future tsunamis.
HOW SHOULD A VISITOR TO JAPAN PREPARE FOR AN EARTHQUAKE?
There are two easy earthquake preparations everyone in Japan can undertake.The first preparation I recommend is simple, cheap, easy to implement, and can be a life saver. Everyone in Japan should carry a small pocket flashlight. Below is a photo of one I carried when I lived in Japan. It is powered by a sealed LED battery and is still working after five years. A really bad earthquake will knock out electrical service and at night or in a darkened building or subway tunnel a flashlight can help one escape to safety and avoid danger while doing so.
Second, everyone traveling to Japan should install the earthquake advance warning application (discussed above) on his cell phone and know how to understand the warnings. Even though the advance earthquake warning may be only a few seconds that is plenty of time to take basic safety precautions such as covering one’s head for protection from falling objects, moving away from windows which might break and spew glass shards, etc.