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What to do in an Earthquake in Japan

Emergency personnel carrying wounded people from the wreckage

First you feel a little, almost imperceptible, movement. Just as you start to dismiss it as a figment of your imagination, it very quickly turns into a definitely noticeable, all engulfing oscillation. Yep, “that’s undoubtedly an earthquake” you think to yourself, before the arresting panic of helplessness sets in. What to do? Should you run or hide – every second counts as you feel the earth move ever more violently, and you’re RIGHT IN THE HEART OF IT.

Try not to take a tumble, if you feel the earth rumble

In light of the recent events unfolding in Kyushuu, it is extremely important to know how to protect yourself during an earthquake. According to the latest Statistics out of Kyushuu, at least 41 people have died, and there are more than 3,000 reported injuries so far. Currently, more than 44,000 people have been evacuated from their homes due to the disaster.

The question in Japan is not IF an earthquake will strike your area, but WHEN.

As we saw during the most recent series of earthquakes, which absolutely pounded the area in and around Kumamoto this past weekend, there’s no warning, and it can happen anywhere in Japan at any time. 

There really are no safe places and no accurate way to tell where the next major earthquake will hit.  If you think that a little shaking will just leave you feeling shaken, but not stirred, we have news for you:  A Major Earthquake is not to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination.  Here’s a graphic to illustrate what being in an earthquake of this magnitude actually feels like.

As you can see from the graphic above, being in anything over a Level 4 on the Shindo Scale (which is a more modern and arguably more accurate way of measuring seismic intensity compared to the old Richter Scale) is not a lot of fun, despite the cartoonishly overemphasised expressions above.

While there isn’t a whole lot that could be done to predict the likeliness of an earthquake (let alone 3!!) in any given area at any given time, here are some tools to help you be a little more prepared for such a situation:

Where to get information:

Yurekuru Call (iOS, Android). This is an indispensable app connected to the Japan Early Warning System, which is capable of sending immediate warnings to your phone, should an earthquake occur.  This will give you at least a few seconds preparation before the earthquake actually hits.
Disaster Emergency Message Dial (171).  This service allows people to record their voice to send messages to family and/or loved ones from – or to affected areas.  Here’s how to use this service. Click Me
Japan Meterorological Agency (JMA).  A great source of current information on natural disasters, severe weather, and other such phenomena in Japan.
Google Person Finder. Click Me.  If you’ve lost touch with someone in the affected area, try searching through this, and/or register your whereabouts.
Free Wifi Spots. Click Me. Japan’s three major Telecommunications companies are providing free wifi services in the affected areas for people to update their friends, family, or loved ones on the situation. The WiFi access point is named “00000JAPAN” and is available free of charge regardless of a person’s existing phone carrier.

So much for preparation.  Should you ever find yourself in the middle of a major earthquake, these crucial steps will give you a better chance of survival.

What to do during an earthquake

  1. Take Cover under anything stable (such as a desk or table) to prevent being hit by falling debris/furniture.
  2. Don’t blindly rush out of a building, as it will be quite difficult to walk, and the potential for being injured by debris from nearby buildings is very high, as is the chance the building itself, or parts of it might collapse.
  3. If possible, turn off the Gas, and all appliances connected to it to prevent fires and/or Gas leaks.
  4. Open the room and front doors to create a possible escape route and thus prevent from being trapped inside, if the layout of the building shifts.
  5. Pack (and keep) an emergency bag/backpack including your passport, dry food, water, medicine, basic medical supplies, torch/flashlight, batteries, and some spare clothes. Grab it as soon as you get the earthquake early warning through your mobile phone, and try to keep it with you at all times.
  6. Familiarise yourself with the Earthquake Shelters and Evacuation Routes in your city.  Usually the International Centres will have this information on their website, and handouts in the office.  Here’s the information for Nagoya, for example.

An Earthquake like the one(s) striking Kumamoto can happen anywhere in Japan at any time, which is why the old saying: 備えあれば憂いなし, (sonae areba urea nashi), which means, “be prepared and have no regrets”, or in plain English – Better safe than sorry, still holds true – especially in Japan.
You may think that you don’t need an emergency bag at the ready.  Well, you might be lucky and never experience what is happening in Kumamoto right now.  You might never be in a serious earthquake (we hope), but chances are that a 6.0 or higher earthquake will happen again in Japan at some point in the (near) future.  Do you really want to take any chances being unprepared for such a disaster?  備えあれば憂いなし.  I can’t emphasise this enough.
Events such as this remind us that no matter how much we overestimate our own dominance over nature, we should never ever underestimate the raw power nature holds, for it will always find a way to show us just how unpredictable and potent it can be.

If you’d like to help with the relief efforts through donations, here are some organisations accepting donations for Kyushu right now:

Financial Aid:

*Note: Please consult the organizations’ FAQs carefully before donating. Japan Daily has no official relationship with any of these organizations.

On a personal note, working in the media can be a lot of fun and quite rewarding in certain ways, however, when stories and images such as the ones from the recent Kyushu earthquake and subsequent devastation flicker across your screen in the newsroom, it can also be quite heartbreaking, to say the least.  We’d like to say that our hearts and minds are with all the people affected by this tragedy.  We know that the Japanese people are quite strong, and will rebuild.  We sincerely hope that the series of powerful earthquakes has stopped, and the worst is now behind them.

The Japanese have an amazing spirit – smiling despite this adversity.

We will keep you updated on this story, and are going to feature some personal stories from people in the heart of the affected areas soon.  Stay tuned!

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