Shake, Rattle and Roll—Earthquake Preparedness
This month marks the 21st anniversary of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, in which 7,400 people died, prompting a nation-wide reassessment of building regulations. Since Japan is one of the world’s most seismically active countries, minor tremors can be felt an almost daily occurrence somewhere in Japan. Even more recently, Japan experienced significant earthquakes in Kumamoto in 2016 and in Fukushima in 2011. On the up side, the Great Hanshin earthquake was a wake-up call for Japan’s national preparedness authorities, and ever since Japan has been on a mission to improve building codes, earthquake preparedness, and disaster reduction.
Structural Safety-Stringent Building Codes
As a general rule, residential and commercial construction built after 1995 is considered earthquake resistant due largely to the stringent building codes implemented since 1995. Homes built after 1995 are good because of the strict laws.
All buildings are strictly required to have an earthquake-resistant structure. A building cannot get construction approval unless it complies with rigorous standards to make the building earthquake-resistant. Under current standards, buildings are expected to withstand an earthquake of JMA seismic scale of 6 or higher. Nonetheless, concerns remain with respect to older wooden structures.
Common Earthquake-Resistant Construction Methods
There are several common construction methods used in Japan to make buildings as earthquake-resistant as possible.
“Seismic isolation,” which is most commonly used in high-rise buildings to reduce damage caused by flying or falling objects in tremors with a magnitude of 6 or more, decouples the building structure from the base foundation, so that the building itself is not affected by tremors. It uses quake-absorbing devices (isolators) in the building’s foundation, such as laminated rubber, in the building’s foundation, to block seismic motions from reaching the building.
Another common seismic resistance method involves maintaining a rigid structure in the posts, walls, and floors of the main part of the building, which receives the seismic motions. Many buildings have main structural parts, which move flexibly in order to spread the force of seismic motion so it is not concentrated in one particular point. Other buildings are constructed with a “damping structure,” containing damping walls that absorb seismic energy within the building in order to minimize seismic motions.
Earthquake Preparation—What You Can Do
The best news about earthquakes in Japan is that there are many things you can do in advance to keep you, your property, and your loved ones safe. Check out this list of preventative measure you can take to reduce damage. They are fairly easy and not terribly expensive.
- Secure furniture and appliances. Inside your home, secure any furniture, appliances, and other household items that might fly or fall with braces, available at Tokyu Hands. Put down anti-slip pads under furniture to make movement more difficult.
- Keep a survival kit for your family in an easily accessible place. At a minimum, be sure to include basic first aid supplies, flashlights and batteries, a battery-operated radio, canned food, 2-3 days’ water supply, medicine and prescriptions, glasses, change of clothing, and battery chargers for mobile phones.Include important papers and documents in your survival kits, such as passports, foreign residence cards, credit cards, and ATM cards. Keep copies in a separate safe place.
- Know where your evacuation center is. Check your city’s English-language website for the designated evacuation center for your neighborhood. The KCCI website provides English (and other language information) about evacuation shelters and evacuation points in the Kobe area. http://www.kicc.jp/kicc/guide/bosai/index_eng.html
- Stay in touch with family. Decide a way to stay in touch with family member. Check out NTT’s Disaster Emergency Message Dial (171) system which allows messaging services for people in earthquake zones to leave messages for friends/relatives outside the zone. https://www.ntt-east.co.jp/en/saigai/voice171/.Decide a time and place for family members to meet following an earthquake.
- Use earthquake information mobile apps. Program your mobile phones with earthquake information apps that warn of earthquakes and provide other information. For Softbank, check out http://www.softbank.jp/en/corp/csr/disaster/service/. For iPhones in Japan, check https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT202346. For continuing information, bookmark the English Japan Meteorological Agency and a list of English-speaking radio broadcasts such as NHK (693AM).
- Earthquake-proof your windows. Check to see if your windows are earthquake resistant—do they have a fine line of wires holding them together to prevent flying class? If not, you can get sticky film at Tokyu Hands to cover the windows.
- Checkout tax incentives for earthquake improvements. If your residence is not earthquake-resistant, check out available tax incentives and subsidies for people who want to make earthquake-resistant improvements.
- Avoid blocking your exits. Keep large pieces of furniture and equipment away from your exits.
- Use safety latches on cupboards containing glassware, cutlery, books, and other breakable or heavy items. Or, keep them in lower cabinets. The same comments apply to artwork and mirrors, especially over the bed.
- If you are at home, turn off the gas, secure an exit by keeping the door open, and find a safe place away from falling objects.
We would love to hear what other ideas you have so we can add them to our list.