Tue | Sep 18, 2018

Preparing for the inevitable - With 200,000 earthquakes each year, Japan has lessons for Jamaica

Published:Sunday | November 12, 2017 | 12:00 AMGlenda Anderson
A section at Japan Meteorological Agency headquarters in Tokyo that monitors real time volcanic activity across the country.
Japan Meteorological Agency headquarters in Tokyo is the heart and soul of the country's weather system and disaster management.

TOKYO, Japan:

Tokyo weather forecasters have predicted a 70 per cent chance of a major earthquake hitting the country in the next 30 years.

This is news which has bolstered a sustained public campaign on what to do should the earthquake happen soon.

Japan, a series of islands in the Pacific Ocean, sits on a major fault line which sees the country particularly vulnerable to quakes and shocks.

Locals can still recall the three major earthquakes that have struck in recent times - 1995, 2011, and 2016, all magnitude scale seven, the largest recognised in Japan.

In 2011, the earthquake happened on the ocean floor, moving tectonic plates over a vast area. In 1995 and 2016, however, it was the result of an active fault which saw damage concentrated over a small area.

Takashi Nakajima, instructor at the Honjyo Bosai-kan (Life Safety Learning Centre) operated by the Tokyo Fire Department, says that 20 per cent of magnitude six earthquakes that happen in the world happen in Japan, prompting the country's no-nonsense approach to disaster preparedness.


Simulation Exercise


Still, there have been massive destruction and heavy casualties. A simulation exercise and information session on Friday, October 20, for journalists on the 2017 Pacific-Caribbean Journalists' Programme at the life train centre in Tokyo, highlighted renewed focus on the role of the youth in creating awareness and sustaining efforts in preparing for disasters.

Schools and community groups rallied to create awareness and exit plans with volunteer teams often staffed by high-school students. Regular community drills and updates are also conducted.

A series of measures were pitched at the individual level, and though this was not mandated by local authorities, persons were encouraged to fortify their own homes with simple adjustments.

For example, persons can use braces and straps to secure large furniture to the wall, install special locks on furniture doors so that contents would not be tossed out, and placing rubber mats under furniture.

Nakajima said that in the 1995 earthquake, of the 6,434 persons who were killed, 5,000 of that number were crushed by falling furniture.

With 200,000 earthquakes annually in the country, it is not something the agencies are taking lightly.

Forecasters at the Japan Meteorological Agency's earthquake department say there is year-round 24-hour monitoring with teams of 11 persons working night and day.

Nobuhide Nonaka outlined a system which gives local residents just seconds to respond to earthquake alerts.




"Whenever an earthquake is sensed by humans, the system will make a command. Sensors are placed at 300 places across the islands with earthquake montage machines at 4,000 locations," he said.

Using the data, analysts determine the size and place of the earthquake. It takes two minutes to make a decision and within no more than two minutes to disseminate information to the television - crucial timing to get out of the way of a disaster you really cannot see coming.