Japan is a country lauded for its emergency preparedness, and yet, as the world has seen in terrifying and scary images since the 8.9 earthquake struck last Friday, there are limits to what us humans can do in the face of Nature.
The Damage Could Have Been Much Worse
There a couple of provisos here: the damage could have been much worse, like that we saw recently in China and Haiti; also the Japanese emphasis on preparedness has been in the southern part of Honshu island, after the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake that burned down more than sixty percent of Tokyo and killed 145,000 people. This quake struck of the coast of north-east Japan.
And Yet, The Best Laid Plans….
From The New York Times:
“I’m still in shock,” said Ivan G. Wong, the principal seismologist of URS Corporation in Oakland, Calif., contemplating Japan’s efforts to resist earthquake damage and its parallels to building standards in this country.
“This is really the best analogue we have for the United States,” he said, and “I’m just flabbergasted by the amount of damage we’re seeing.”
Mr. Wong noted that the Pacific Northwest is at considerable risk of a strong earthquake from the Cascadia fault, which lies off the coast under the seabed. And while the coastal zone of the Northwest does not have as much residential and business development as that slammed by the Japanese tsunami, the earthquake risks farther inland along the Pacific Northwest could well end up sustaining severe damage, he said. Nearly a thousand Oregon schools built in the last century have poor earthquake resilience, and many vulnerable dams protect urban areas in the region. Oregon is moving to shore up its schools, but the program is not slated for completion until 2032. The federal government is working to address dam issues, but the pace is deliberate, he said.
“Steps are being taken, but there’s a lot of dams, there’s a lot of fixing that needs to be done,” Mr. Wong said. “We’re decades away from being able to fix all our dams.”
So really, how do you prepare for a tsunami? Nature can provide such enormous disasters that it seems impossible to protect against them.
But it is still important to be prepared, to do all that we can. Yet is this happening?
Complete Lack Of Preparedness In America
The reality is that in most parts of the country, simple ideas like having a plan for reuniting family members in case of a natural disaster, and keeping supplies like clean water and basic medications at the ready just don’t happen.
Why do Americans not take being prepared more seriously?
Again, from The New York Times:
Dr. Redlener, the author of “Americans at Risk,” about why the United States is not prepared for megadisasters and what we be done about it, said the biggest problem is a failure to go so far as even Japan has to protect its citizens from natural disasters.
“We seem to not have the ability or the willingness to do that right now,” he said. “At a time when states are facing $175 billion in deficits and the federal government is trying to deal with very compelling issues of long-term debt and deficits, the likelihood of our being able to mobilize the resources to significantly improve disaster readiness is limited.”
And yet there are few issues as important. In a telephone press conference on Friday, W. Craig Fugate, the administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said, “The lesson that you learn from this is that earthquakes don’t come with a warning. And that’s why being prepared is so critical.”
So yes, nature’s power is awesome, but it’s still a good idea to follow Japan’s example and be as prepared as humanly possible.
For more coverage of the Japanese earthquake, click here.