Let’s Have a Look at Japan, the Country Best Prepared to Deal With Earthquakes

03 February 2020 Comments Off on Let’s Have a Look at Japan, the Country Best Prepared to Deal With Earthquakes

BY ŞEBNEM TÜRE (PSYC/II) sebnem.ture@ug.bilkent.edu.tr

First of all, I would like to express my condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives as a result of the 6.8 magnitude earthquake that took place in the Elazığ region recently. May stamina and patience be with the injured and with those who lost their homes, now taking refuge in the cold. May life get back to at least slightly normal for them as soon as possible.

But what is normal for an earthquake country?

When an earthquake strikes in Japan, the media there show us people who remain calm. Each time we are puzzled as we see how people are able to return to their jobs and schools after the earthquake and how most buildings remain intact.

Concerning earthquake preparedness, of course the situation in Japan was not always as ideal as it is today. On January 17, 1995, a devastating earthquake of magnitude 7.3, along with subsequent fires, overwhelmed the city of Kobe in the country’s Kansai district.

Approximately 6,400 people lost their lives, and Japan’s economy was deeply damaged. This was one of the worst earthquakes of the 20th century there after the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, which claimed more than 105,000 lives. So, Japan is not only the best-prepared country today; it is also one of the countries that has been most affected by earthquakes in the past. Therefore, it has learned a lot of lessons.

It would not be wrong to say that Japan has made peace with the reality of earthquakes and better normalized its identity as an “earthquake country.” This being the case, I thought it was worth looking into how they have accomplished this over the years, since Turkey too is an earthquake country bounded by major strike–slip fault zones. Although I do not know precisely how much of what Japan does can be adapted for use here, I believe it would be worth giving at least some of these measures a try.

1. As a result of many discussions about the late arrival of emergency aid after the Kobe earthquake, the national laws and organizational structure were changed to allow the country’s Self-Defense Forces to respond more rapidly.

2. Every school in Japan holds earthquake drills on a monthly basis to familiarize the children with what they should do in case of an earthquake. Children also gain experience with simulators in local fire departments that teach them what to expect from an earthquake and what to do when one happens.

After an actual earthquake, teachers and school staff know how to keep calm and, if needed, will help children put on protective helmets and go to muster points. If the school building is safe, children are taught to stay there until an adult comes to collect them. If their homes are damaged or family members aren’t available to look after them, they stay at school.

3. Tough regulations for ensuring the safety of buildings have been adopted. Any new construction must be carried out in accordance with strict rules set by the government. A building has to be constructed with good quality materials, a deep foundation and massive shock absorbers to dampen seismic energy. As an alternative, the base of a building must have the ability to move in such a way as to reduce the shaking effect.

4. A mobile earthquake alarm system uses today’s technology to warn people via a buzzing noise on their phones slightly before an earthquake. Also, many studies of the hit rate of this technology have been conducted in order to improve it.

5. Households and offices maintain earthquake emergency kits containing dry rations, water and basic medical supplies. The country also encourages families to distribute responsibility among their members for checking the items in these kits on a regular basis as well as for accomplishing various important tasks during an earthquake, such as immediately turning off the gas. In addition, hard hats and gloves to be used in the event of a quake must be available in offices and schools.

6. Many public events, training sessions, exhibitions and conferences are regularly held to increase people’s awareness. Japanese citizens commemorate the Great Kanto earthquake on September 1, designated Disaster Prevention Day, by participating in drills and visiting earthquake museums.

7. The country places great importance on requiring all TV and radio stations to immediately give correct information and any necessary warnings about the risk of a quake to the public.