Following the Great Kanto Earthquake and the Sendai Earthquake, societal changes increased in order to prevent the great loss of life that occurs with these unavoidable natural disasters. The greatest improvements that have greatly reduced the amount of casualties are better infrastructure and early warning systems.
Japan has made the commitment to install earthquake-resistant buildings even though they can cost 10-20% more. Having deeper foundations for buildings, reinforcing them, and having the building materials more able to flex with oscillations instead of crumbling have greatly reduced the amount of building collapses during high-magnitude earthquakes. Shock-absorbing technology has greatly improved the longevity of buildings and their ability to survive the side-to-side surface movement during earthquakes. An important addition is the inclusion of smart technology that can turn off gas as soon as an earthquake tremor is detected, reducing the probability of fires.
Japan is much stricter with their building codes than the United States is because they’ve endured so much more tragedy surrounding earthquakes. Testing of earthquake-resistant houses and buildings on giant “shake tables” are a testament to Japan’s efforts to reduce the deaths caused by earthquakes.
Japan currently has an incredible information database and tracking system when it comes to earthquakes and tsunamis. When an earthquake is detected, every cell phone gets an alert while sounds blare throughout cities. Every Japanese person, trained when they were in school, knows to exit buildings as soon as possible if safe, but to otherwise hide under door frames or sturdy furniture like desks. The immense amount of training, monitoring, and information collection required is stunning, but is necessary to give people as much chance to prevent injury or death as possible. The Japan Meteorological Agency also calculates tsunami impact and predicted heights based on float data and the concentrated effort of the Pacific Warning Center and sends out warnings to coastal areas that may be affected.
Aside from technology that allows for almost instantaneous warning, the Japanese population is extremely well-educated on earthquake and tsunami science and protocol. This has been the effort that has saved the most amount of lives, as everyone nation-wide already knows how to react once the sirens start blaring. Despite the incredible systems Japan has already put in place, following the Sendai Quake, even more comprehensive data bases and models have been proposed. Along with these proposals, a more pronged effort to encourage disaster-risk assessment on local community levels as well as individual levels has been suggested in order to make the general populous more aware of hazard areas.
The efforts of Japan have been determined and on-going. Natural disasters are more of a concern for Japan than most other countries, but there is certainly something to be learned from their example. Why should there need to be a disastrous event that takes tens of thousands of lives before other developed countries begin to take these precautions? With climate change already rising sea levels and stronger hurricanes predicted, perhaps we too should be taking Japan’s approach of preparation for future disasters instead of hoping for the best and dealing with the consequences later.