Tuesday, March 19, 2013
OPINION: Consider How To Get Ready For The Big One
TOKYO (Nikkei)--Although it is difficult to know what to make of the government's latest estimate of devastating damage from a once-in-a-millennium earthquake, each of us should think about what we can do to protect our loved ones.
One should not assume that a massive temblor is as unlikely as winning the lottery. A smaller one could still cause significant damage and would have a higher probability of occurring.
Behind the astronomical damage forecast -- more than two years' worth of the national budget -- is the strong feeling of regret among researchers, bureaucrats and others over not having done enough to predict the impact of the March 2011 disaster, thinking it unlikely. That event taught us that once a disaster causes damage, the low probability means absolutely nothing. Researchers realized that claiming an earthquake was beyond their expectations is unacceptable.
Japan has been said to have "the world's leading earthquake prediction system," but it is far from accurate enough to meet the needs of the people. It is impossible to predict when and which part of a huge plate spanning 1,000km in the Nankai Trough will collapse.
Before the 2011 disaster, 70.8% of respondents said a 1-meter tsunami would be dangerous, according to a study by a research team led by assistant professor Satoko Oki of the University of Tokyo's Earthquake Research Institute. But this figure has since dropped to 45.7%.
"Hearing about the record-breaking huge tsunami didn't teach people a lesson, but in fact they have actually become less worried about small tsunamis," Oki says.
Even a tsunami just 50cm high could prevent people from walking. A big quake could destroy wood-frame homes, whose debris would not only block escape routes, but also possibly help fires spread. The latest report stating that up to 1.64 million buildings could be destroyed, and that up to 740,000 could burn down, reflects the current disaster management framework in this earthquake-prone nation.
"If you think that there was one incident in which 20,000 people died, then you can't understand what each of the victims went through," movie director Takeshi Kitano said in a magazine interview with regard to the 2011 disaster. "But it's the same as 20,000 separate incidents in which a person died."
This quote is worth digesting for those of us overwhelmed by the government's record-shattering damage forecast. To prepare for the big one, all of us can start by protecting our families, our loved ones, and our essential assets.
--Translated from an article by Nikkei staff writer Tetsuya Wasa
(The Nikkei, March 19 morning edition)