Japan & natural disasters: do I really need to be prepared?

On March 11th 2011, a devastating 9.0-magnitude earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan, triggering a massive tsunami that washed away coastal cities, destroyed critical infrastructure, crippled businesses and claimed almost 20,000 lives.

The tsunami also led to one of the most severe nuclear meltdowns in human history at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant – a disaster which continues to wreak havoc today as government and TEPCO officials struggle to contain radiation and decommission the plant. (There are still reportedly hundreds of tonnes of highly radioactive water flowing into the Pacific Ocean every day).

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami served as a chilling reminder that there is no country, no matter how technologically advanced, that is immune to major disasters. And as beautiful as Japan is, this is unfortunately one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world…

Three Images That Will Make You Want To Be Prepared

The image below illustrates the number of earthquakes of magnitude 6.0 and above that have struck Japan between 2000 and 2009. Japan experienced a mind-whopping 20+% of all major earthquakes recorded during this time…


And this image illustrates the magnitude-6.0 or greater earthquakes that have occurred since 1975 across Japan (source: Cabinet Office of Japan).


And this is a rather terrifying graphic showing the large-scale earthquakes that are anticipated in the near future by the Japanese Government  (Source: Cabinet Office of Japan).


So these three images show a very, very brief snapshot of the risks in Japan specifically related to earthquakes.

But remember, Japan is also susceptible to a whole host of other disasters, from typhoons to tornadoes to severe flooding. Just to cite a few examples from recent years, there were the Hiroshima landslides in 2014, the flooding in Ibaraki in 2015, and the snowstorms in Shizuoka in 2013.

So what does this all mean?

Should you abandon the Japanese archipelago in the hope of finding safer lands? Should you invest in a bunker or move into a fortified cave? Or should you simply refuse to leave your flat unless you have a helmet and 3 day’s worth of supplies?

No, of course not… But what you can do is take very simple steps to prepare yourself and your loved ones for the worst case scenario.



Disaster Preparedness

One of the issues brought to light by the disaster was the level of disaster preparedness within communities. Had families been better prepared, the loss of human life could have been greatly reduced. Although the threat of major earthquakes/disasters is very real and understood in Japan, there is still a strong need for training at the individual/family level.


Existing Disaster Preparedness Programs

PBV has identified the following preparedness programs available:

  • Education in schools: Disaster drills and education, such as practicing how to protect one’s self and evacuate safely while at school. For example, children practice ducking under tables and filing out of classrooms in the event of a disaster.
  • Fire departments: Training events and exercises centered around skills such as life-saving, CPR and first aid. Fire departments also hold simulation events where residents can learn to put out fires using extinguishers and simulate evacuating a burning building (full of smoke).
  • Local government: Provision of disaster-related booklets and information prepared by governmental bodies, some of which are available in city offices, Social Welfare Councils and other community hubs. (E.g. Metropolitan Government of Tokyo).



  • Disaster preparation in schools is insufficient because it only focuses on how to react after a disaster while in school. This does not help children and families create a shared and effective disaster preparedness plan, such as identifying an appropriate emergency shelter where the family can evacuate to. Furthermore, children may not know what to do if they are not at school during a disaster (i.e. no teachers giving directions)
  • Fire department training concerns first-aid and other lifesaving skills and does not include disaster planning for individuals. There is more of a focus on how to react after a disaster as opposed to disaster planning.
  • Local governments provide ample written materials and online information, but little in terms of workshops or classes on how to use this information effectively. Materials are provided and citizens are expected to utilize the materials themselves, requiring a degree of effort, determination and knowledge. Government does not provide the kind of training/workshops where people can make these family disaster plans together for their own household.


PBV’s experience has demonstrated that people benefit from interaction with trainers, engagement and more specific/relevant information.


Why is this necessary?

There are resources in disaster preparedness available to the general public provided by the government and other institutions, such as information pamphlets, hazard maps and PDFs online. This requires individuals to actively seek out information and put together disaster plans on their own, requiring determination, resourcefulness and a degree of disaster-related knowledge. Our research indicates that there are no organizations effectively conducting interactive disaster preparedness planning workshops, where ordinary people can be guided through the process of making their own disaster plans with a trainer.


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