Earthquake Preparedness: Japan Style

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  • I was awakened one morning by a voice alarm coming from my phone: “Jishin desu! Jishin desu!” it said, and yes, there indeed was an earthquake.
    That was my first strong earthquake experience in Japan, and it was also a first that a voice alarm superseded the silent mode on my mobile phone. It is with this occurrence that I began to understand how serious Japan is when it comes to earthquake preparedness.

    Japan and earthquakes

    Japan – despite its technological advancements – remains a country greatly affected by strong earthquakes. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami are the testaments to the persistent threat of natural calamities in Japan, particularly those caused by earthquakes. To handle such threats, Japanese people have devised remarkable strategies in reducing, if not totally eradicating the damages brought about by earthquakes.

    Historically, Japanese pagodas have been capable in countering the effects of strong tremors; in fact, hundreds of such pagodas remain standing despite dozens of high-magnitude earthquakes in Japan within the past centuries. The concept of the “shinbashira” or central column has been proven effective in balancing the structures’ movements, preventing collapse. Modern buildings including the Tokyo Sky Tree still make of use this ingenious construction methodology.

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    Explanation (in Japanese) of how “shinbashira” prevents collapse of a pagoda during a quake

    New quake-proof techniques include “levitating” the buildings to essentially separate the living spaces to the ground, ultimately isolating people from the ground-shaking.
    Preparedness in the event of earthquakes is not limited to quake-proof buildings. Japan utilizes advanced communication technology in alerting the nation about an imminent earthquake. This important task is a responsibility of the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) based in Chiyoda, Tokyo. With thousands of seismometers spread all over Japan, JMA analyzes data and transmits information to appropriate locations when tremors are detected. This alert is called Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) which is stated in standard format as: “緊急地震速報です。強い揺れに警戒して下さい。” meaning “Earthquake early warning. Prepare for strong tremors.” This message is transmitted to both media coverages and mobile devices.

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    Operators of railways, particularly the shinkansen are also alerted to apply emergency brakes to prevent any derailments during the strong earthquakes.

    At schools, offices and other workplaces, regular earthquake drills are performed to prepare citizens for an evacuation in the event of an earthquake. Earthquake grab bags are also provided and contain essential items (e.g. drinkable water, preserved food, candies, insulator, etc.). These bags are to be used when people become trapped.

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    Conclusion

    Until an ultra-sophisticated mechanism is invented to totally prevent seismic activity at the deptyh of the Earth, nobody is 100% sure to survive a strong earthquake; but while prevention is perhaps a thing of future, preparedness definitely boosts our chance of survival.