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Friday, March 11, 2016

How To Survive An Earthquake in Japan

So… what with today being the fifth anniversary of the March 11, 2011 9.0 Magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami (and subsequent near-nuclear meltdowns), I thought I would take a look at what you should do in case of a strong earthquake while you are in Japan.

One of the first forums I looked at was for, in which a person asked that question - what do I do?

The FIRST thing that struck me, was that the question on this forum was asked on March 9, 2011, with a few answers provided on March 10, 2011… and nothing more after that. Let's hope it helped or wasn't required.

See for yourself HERE.

The timing is freaky awesome. Like holy crap, awesome.

One of the more poignant responses was from an Australian who simply stated to not worry because: "It's probably over before your initial shock & confusion settles."

I am sure that person responding meant that the earthquake one usually experiences would be short, without too much of a concern required on the part of the person in the quake.

Another person responding - also from Australia - stated that for visitors in Japan, "… that most of the accommodations we stayed in had evacuation manuals and torches." (Editor Note: we'll assume the manuals were in English or at least easy-to-understand drawings like in a set of Ikea instructions… and torches implies flashlight and not something you might require to help you find a pitchfork in case of a Frankenstein's monster sighting)."

Continuing: "Some places we stayed in also had what seemed to be 'prefrab bathrooms' which seemed to be built on a flexible platform. I suspect that the bathroom may be a safer place to be. We experienced a tremour (6. something) in Tokyo back in 2007 and did take us by surprize. We weren't sure what to do... first instinct was to run and scream. I opened the hotel door to see what the other patrons were doing and people were just walking around as if nothing was happening. As for being outdoors at the time.... not sure what the procedure would be?"


No one ever told me what I should do in case of an earthquake in Japan… and while I experienced a lot of little ones, and a couple of bigger ones that scared the crap outta me, I had left Japan before the big nasty ones in 2011, and the other big nasty one far to the west of me in Kobe in 1995.

The Tōhoku earthquake of March 2011 was a 9.0M, while the Kobe one was a 6.9M (on the modern scale).

Depending on where one is when outside, the obvious thing is to try and remove yourself from an area where glass from houses or high-rise structures could fall and cut you to ribbons.

The Japan National Tourist Association offers the following handy-dandy chart on what you should do in case of an earthquake. The advice holds true whether you are a tourist or a worker:

You'll notice that the part above regarding your vicinity to the coastline is extremely important. Don't believe me? Simply google March 2011 tsunami and watch a video. There is some horrific footage… you'll see people running, and then the water hits them… and then… well, you can assume that they are dead.

Okay… so an earthquake has hit… now what?

1) Get under a solid table or desk, or move to an area where you won't have debris fall on top of you. I have heard that standing in a doorway is good, but not if it's one where people are running at you trying to get the hell out of wherever they are. However… at home… a good solid doorway can be an effective survival tool.

2) Stay in the building - especially if the building you are in is a fairly new construction. Newer buildings and public buildings have been constructed to withstand earthquakes - up to a certain point. 9.0M earthquakes… holy crap… that's huge!

3) If outside, get to a place where falling glass or debris can not hit you. This seems like common sense, so make sure you have common sense.Besides I already wrote about this paragraph's ago.

4) Evacuation shelters. You need to find out where the heck those are in your neighborhood… and it's a great idea to find these sort of things out in advance of needing to know. While the Japanese will try and speak English to you, in the event of an emergency, all bets are off, as panic will take over.
At an evacuation center, should the need arise for you to not go back to your hotel or place of residence, then you can get a place to sleep - and probably a blanket, food, water, restrooms, and it will be the best place to get current emergency/disaster information. It will probably be in Japanese, but maybe someone will be able to explain things to you in your language. For tourists… it sounds stupid, but you should carry two dictionaries: Japanese to Your Language; and Your Language to Japanese… communication is, after all, a two-way street.

There are various Apps you could add to your personal electronic device that would alert you should there be a big earthquake. I'm not pushing one App over another. Check out that sort of stuff yourself if you are interested.

The Japan National Tourist Organization also offers details on certain websites that can help you better prepare in the event of a disaster.

In the event of an earthquake, it is always possible that internet service could be disrupted… so plan accordingly.
  • Google Person Finder - HERE - it allows you to confirm safety of others when communication has become troublesome.
Again… this might work. It depends if they have a phone… it depends if the internet is working… if the phone isn't damaged… if the phone is fine and the internet is fine, then you should just be able to make a call, right?
  • Japan National Tourism Organization - It's a what to do in case (add in your disaster here) happens while you are in Japan. It's pretty damn good. Click HERE.
What the hell? Why didn't I know of this site before? Oh yeah… the Internet as we know it didn't exist back then… holy crap… how old am I?

  • The Earthquake Survival Manual… now… despite the fact that the Japan National Tourist Organization says the link has English and Japanese PDFs available, the actual link directs you to a Japanese site, where it says 404 エラー… a computer term for ERROR page. Holy crap.
Anyhow… I found a neat survival guide put out by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government - in ENGLISH. Click HERE

Here are 10 Things to Do In Case Of An Earthquake - we all know you just want the gist of things:

1) Protect yourself and your family… get under a solid desk or table.

2) Turn off the gas, oil heaters as soon as you feel an earthquake - and should a fire break out, put it out quickly.
Uh… if point #1 was to get under a table or desk… how am I to turn off any oil and gas thingies? Should this be point 1?

3) Don't run out of the house - See point #1… or should that be point #2?

4) Open a door to ensure an exit - because doors and doorways can become deformed in an earthquake, it is recommended you open a door quickly to ensure you at least tried to create a way out.
Again… point #1 said I should go and hide under a table… Okay… so shouldn't this order be: point #4, and then point #3, followed by points #1 and #2?

5) When outside… protect your head from falling objects and keep away from dangerous objects. Self explanatory, I think. Unless you have a hardhat on, maybe you need to try and protect your head with a briefcase, purse or backpack. Even your hands on your head will help… though it may make things difficult when you are trying to push your way past a group of children. That was a wee joke.

6) When in a public place, follow their lead. Don't panic. That's when things go stupid.

7) Park your car - Driving is not allowed during restrictive times. I'd say the same holds true for bicycles, but it wasn't mentioned.

8) Be aware of falling rocks, landslides and tsunami. Despite the PDF calling tsunami a tidal wave - a tidal wave is an archaic and incorrect term when referring to a huge wall of water about to crash down on you. It's a fricking tsunami. Anyhow… depending on where you are, there are other dangers besides the earthquake… it's what has the earthquake shaken up?

9) Evacuate an area by foot - not car - carrying only what you need. Car travel could snarl up emergency rescue traffic.

10) Get the facts - not rumors. In an emergency, everyone has a bloody opinion. Few people have the answers. Find the proper officials to get those answers… but avoid doing one on one's… they have work to do, so wait until there is an official announcement.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government does say (on the pages afterwards) when to do things in case of an earthquake:

0-2 minutes:
Get under a table
Open a door (again in that order?!)

2-5 minutes - Handling Fires:
There are three opportunities to put out a fire:
1. when you feel the tremor;
2. When a large tremor stops;
3. Immediately after the fire starts
Stay calm
Before leaving a premises: turn off the main gas main and all electrical breakers.

5-10 minutes - Make Sure Your Family Is Safe
Now, you can make sure everyone is safe…
Put on your shoes.
Find supplies for an emergency - uh… you do have an earthquake preparedness kit don't you?

I really love the part about putting on your shoes… dammit… I could already have cut the crap out of my feet when I was moving around trying to put out fires or turn off the gas and the electrical breakers!

That, my friends, is why I wore my shoes in my apartment in Japan. Then again… I had carpeting.

10 Minutes to 12 Hours - Check on the neighbors and help each other
It provides basic societal information:
Help the neighbors;
make sure the elderly and handicapped are okay;
Go help others put out fires;
Go work with others to rescue people in need;
Beware of aftershocks.

12 Hours - Day 3
Use the water and food you brought
Get correct and non-misleading emergency data and information
Do not enter collapsed buildings
Help and cooperate with others
Follow the Emergency Shelter rules
Continue to care for the elderly and handicapped
(I would add something about properly moving the dead to avoid a possible disease outbreak. Also, it freaks out the kiddies.)

After Day 3
Rebuild your community.
Apparently by this time, residents and companies and the government will be on hand to help rebuild the community.

The implication is that in the event of an emergency, they will have everyone rescued within three days. A nice dream. It may indeed happen.

But how the hell are you going to rebuild a community a mere three days later?

I suppose it depends on the scale of the earthquake disaster.

Five years later, and Japan is still negligent in rebuilding the lives of people affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government guide also provides descriptions of what you might feel during various strengths of earthquakes.

What's noticeable, is that the guidelines for earthquake preparedness pretty much only goes up to 7.0 Magnitude… You'll note that the Kobe earthquake was a 6.9 on the modern scale, and the 2011 quake was a 9.0.

Basically, and it's kind of true, once you get OVER a 7.0 Magnitude earthquake, it's a big one and things are going to be difficult for everyone.

The same basic advice is good, but it will be more difficult to achieve.

The point is… if you are living in Japan, find out some of the basic information - like where the local Emergency Shelter is. Will someone come and take you there or should you make your way there yourself? What sort of items should you have in an emergency preparedness kit… and where will it be handy for you to grab?

Plastic bottles of water - trust me - you won't give a crap if the water is cold or hot during an emergency. Contact Lens kit including saline and closure. Toothbrush and paste if you must. Again… that will be the last thing on your mind. Medicines… you need to have a week's supply of pills socked away in case of an emergency. Seriously… what if you are bi-polar? Have a heart condition?
What about that C-Pap machine for your sleep apnea? If you need it, as I do, then that becomes a priority for you once you evacuate from your premises - though not at the risk of life or limb.
Bags of chips… dried foods - a can opener if you must. Band-aids and bandages. Batteries and a flashlight? Baby formula, diapers… leave the cigarettes and booze behind.

What else? Your suggestions are welcome. I'm going from my own brain knowing I've never had to go through this and don't have an emergency kit.

Be good to each other,
Andrew Joseph

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