Photo:David McKelvey on Flickr

Hope for the Best, Prepare for the Worst: How to Survive an Earthquake or Tsunami in Japan

Like so many of you who are reading this, I truly love Japan. In the 9 years since I came here to live for the first time, I have developed a deep and unbreakable connection to this place and its people. I can’t ever foresee a scenario where I would want to live anywhere else.

Yet, as anyone who has been here any length of time will tell you, living in Japan also carries with it risks that may not be so prevalent in one’s country of origin. I was born in Scotland, and whilst we no strangers to adverse weather, the worst a Scot could ever expect to encounter in his homeland is perhaps an aggressive blizzard or a feisty hurricane.

In Japan, natural phenomena can be far more devastating.

I refer of course to two of nature’s most awesome and destructive spectacles: earthquakes and tsunamis.

The tragic events of March 11 2011 are still etched painfully in the minds of almost all of Japan’s people, and will be for quite some time to come.

A religious statue stands amid the debris left by last Friday's tsunami in Natori, Miyagi prefecture. Many Japanese will turn to Shinto and Buddhist rituals as they cope with the disaster stemming from a powerful earthquake.

I was fortunate enough to be in Hong Kong on a different working assignment at the time when the Tohoku quake and tsunami struck. With casualties of over 10,000, it is served as a harsh reminder of just how powerless we sometimes are, in the wake of such forces of nature.

And yet, many in Japan also expressed a sense of relief. Relief that whilst 10,000 is a huge loss of life, the reality is that had such a destructive quake hit any other, less-prepared country, the death toll would have been exponentially higher.

Tragedies like Tohoku and also the Great Hanshin Earthquake that devastated Kobe in 1995 show not only the force of nature’s wrath, but also the amazing spirit, compassion and preparedness of the Japanese people.

Photo : Masahiko OHKUBO on Flickr

Recent news reports of mass whale beachings, strange cloud formations and other such things have the people of Japan on edge once again, worrying that another such cataclysm may be just around the corner. Hopefully that is not the case and by the time this is published, you are safely tucked up in your nice warm apartment enjoyed a cup of tea as you read this.

However, vigilance, organization and preparedness have saved countless lives in Japan in recent times, and following the same system may also, in the fullness of time, save your life too.

So today I will be provided you with a basic guide as to how to prepare for and what to do when the worst happens. Hopefully you’ll never need the information I’m about to give you, but it’s worth having nonetheless.

Upon moving into your new apartment in Japan, one of the first things you need to do is to prepare a disaster survival kit. In the event of a large earthquake, tsunami or volcanic eruption there is every chance that several daily things we take for granted may no longer be available. Power, communications, water and gas, even basic food supplies may become unavailable for an indefinite period.

Having a fully-stocked disaster survival kit will help to offset if not completely alleviate some of these problems in the immediate aftermath of a quake.

Photo : David Pursehouse on Flickr

An effective, basic, disaster survival kit should contain the following items:

1) Flashlight: This will help you to see around if street lighting goes out, or if you become trapped inside a building or underground.

2) Batteries: Keep at least 6 or 8 batteries packed in your kit to replenish your flashlight and any other electrical items you may need.

3) Portable radio: In the immediate aftermath of an event, emergency radio broadcasts will keep you informed of what to do, and also keep you aware of any potential aftershocks.

4) Lighter and Matches: These come in handy both for starting a fire, where necessary and also as a short term light source.

5) Candles: Flashlights may run out of batteries, so keep a few candles in your pack too just in case.

6) Thick Cotton Gloves: It is very possible that you may have to clear debris, or sift through broken furniture or rubble to find necessary items. Keep a good, well-maintained, clean pair of gloves in your kit, so you don’t need to worry about shards, splinters and other sharp objects when you do this.

7) Waterproof Tarpaulin: Hopefully you will be able to find suitable shelter in the immediate aftermath of a quake, but in the event that you do need to spend an extended period outside, a tarpaulin to protect you from the elements is essential.

8) Canned or Otherwise Non-Perishable Foods: Again, in the midst of a disaster, it is unknown just how long it could take before you will have ready access to fresh food again. Experts recommend packing at least 2 or 3 days of food in your kit, and replenish this at regular intervals.

9) Extra Clothes: As with food, experts recommend at least 2 or 3 days of clean clothes too. Remember to pack a mix of warm and cold weather clothes as you never know what the weather will be like when a quake strikes.

10) First Aid Kit: Having a fully-stocked first aid kit at home is just common sense, whatever the circumstances. However in a time of crisis, such a kit may not just save your life, it may enable you to save others too.

11) Pens and a notepad: Being able to keep track of things on the fly by writing them down is an invaluable asset in a time of crisis. And who knows, if you survive a particularly big disaster, your notes could form the basis for a best-seller someday!

12) Drinking Water: The average persons needs to consume 2-3 litres of water a day to stay healthy. So make sure you keep at least 5 or 6 litres per person at the ready.

Once you’ve prepared your disaster survival kit, put it in an easily accessible place that is unlikely to be obstructed by a quake. Make sure that everyone in the house knows where the kit is kept.

Whilst not essential to your survival kit, I also recommend keeping a ready supply of cash, painkillers and other non-prescription meds and of course your passport, ID card and other essential documents in a place that can be easy accessed if you need to leave the house in a hurry.

Now that you have a properly prepared kit, there are 2 other essential steps you need to take. Firslty, pay a visit to your local ward office or community centre and find out where the nearest tsunami or earthquake shelter is. In most cases it will be a nearby public school or other large municipal building. The government in Japan takes earthquake prevention very seriously and as such public buildings are probably the safest places to be in times of disaster. It may also be a good idea to have a chat with someone from the local police or fire service, as they can give you disaster prevention information specific to your district.

Photo : Kevin Jaako on Flickr

The final essential step, is to prepare yourself and your home. Make sure you know the fastest way to exit your home, and also make sure you take the necessary steps to make your home a safe an environment as possible. Never leave electrical appliances plugged in when not in use. Always turn off the gas when you aren’t cooking. If you have any electric or kerosene heaters at home, make sure they are the kind that automatically switch off should they be tipped over.

This may sound quite blindingly obvious, but just these small steps can save lives.

I hope this short article has proved useful to you. I hope you never need the information here in, but if you do, be smart, be safe.

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