Seamless info flow key to Japan’s disaster management
WITH GIGANTIC monitors displaying data, together with a battery of analysts to decipher the statistics, the weather monitoring rooms at the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) appears to take a cue from the deck of Starship Enterprise.
An alarm goes off and there is a hush in the room, as personnel take 'battle alert' positions. An earthquake was detected in the seas north of the country. In a matter of minutes, the location, intensity, and all related data appear on the screen; this one was 2.4 on the Richter scale.
Beyond the realms of this seemingly science fictional fantasy, the agency's 5,200 staff closely monitor weather conditions, from precipitation in the air to movement of the tectonic plates and volcanic activity.
The critical element in effective disaster preparedness and management is the getting real-time warning and information to the end user: the people and communities at risk.
The agency has close to 1,600 seismometers and nearly 4,400 seismic intensity metres installed across Japan, which monitor seismic activity and earthquakes.
Shinji Watanabe, chief technical officer at Office of Observation System Operation, said information on seismic intensity is relayed within 90 seconds of any earthquake striking,
Tsunami warning, Watanabe added, is more detailed.
"We give periodic details like estimated time when the tsunami can hit (and) the projected height of the waves," he informed.
The agency also monitors activities of 110 active volcanoes and issues periodic bulletins. JMA disseminates daily and weekly weather forecasts and shares early warning and severe weather information with aviation authorities and maritime interests.
According to the chief technical officer, information dissemination to the media and citizens, has been given priority in JMA's mission statement.
To get information across real time, there is a direct link to all major television stations in Japan.
In the event of a major natural disaster, a ticker at the bottom of the television screen will be activated. The state-run NHK television interrupts its broadcast to make the announcement.
Effective reaction to the information by the citizens, though, goes beyond the news flash; it boils down to the mindset, education and training for disaster preparedness, which is a long-term and continuous process.
Treading that road, Watanabe said, requires collective effort and cooperation at all levels.