Japan’s Earthquake Warning System

Japan is prone to earthquakes and although most of them are small, they are quite common with announcements popping up on the TV screen alerting us to the most recent quakes. From time to time, a big one will come such as the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995 or this year’s Noto earthquake. As frightening as these earthquakes were, neither compared to the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 which killed 142,000 people.

While we can’t predict with much accuracy when or where the next big earthquake will hit, scientists say Japan’s Tokai region is due for a big one. With this is mind, the country has been preparing itself with earthquake drills, strengthening its buildings, and selling emergency earthquake kits. Until now, all that remained was some kind of early warning system to give us a chance to dive for cover.

Earthquake Early Warning deviceOn October 1st, the Japan Meteorological Agency launched its Earthquake Early Warning system, which notifies people in Japan of an earthquake as it happens. Depending on how close you are to the epicenter, you have between zero and 20 seconds before it hits. We’ll be told via radio, TV, or if you buy one, a fancy little device that looks like a Tomy Toys tape player.

How it works

I try not to watch much TV, but there’s not much else to do with a sleeping baby on your lap, so I happened to be watching a program about the new early warning system. Two guys did a survey of people in the street, asking them what they’d do if they had ten seconds advance warning of a quake. Some of the answers were pretty dumb, such as phoning family members to warn them, or getting dressed. In fact, the two guys did a trial run of all the suggestions and timed them. Only three were possible to complete in the ten-second time limit. If I remember rightly, those were turning off the gas and getting under a table, grabbing a futon to wrap yourself in, and getting out the front door.

They then invited two families to try. The first family was a young couple with three small children. It took them about thirty seconds just to get out of the house. The second family included a rather old lady who, even though it was just a drill, had a panic attack and just ran around in circles!

Surely some people would benefit from just a few seconds, particularly doctors performing operations (and their patients – ouch!), train drivers and workers performing hazardous tasks. Machinery, elevators, conveyor belts and other mechanical things can also be shut down to minimize damage or injury.

Saving lives?

Athough it has its limitations, perhaps Japan’s Earthquake Early Warning system can save thousands of lives. If you had 10 seconds notice before an earthquake hit, what would you do to save yours?


  1. ジェイソン (Jason)

    Did you feel the 3.0 last night at 9:35?

    You beat me to the punch on this topic. I had something in the queue, but haven’t had time to edit and finally release the post. I like the direction that Japan is going with this warning system, and it’s certainly more effective than most of the warning systems that are found elsewhere in the world. That said, if I only had 10 seconds to prepare for a monster quake, I’d make sure my wife was out of the house and her family was close behind.

    We can always repair a house, but we can’t always repair people.

    • Nick Ramsay

      I look forward to your post on it!

      No, I was at work, and maybe too far away to feel it, though I’m sure they’ll be another along soon so I’m not too disappointed 😉

      Another TV show I saw last week discussed the year 2030 and some of the scientists were saying that maybe we will be able to repair people! Now won’t that be fun?! 🙂

  2. La Flor

    one of the reasons not to go to japan is everything that can go wrong in the nature. that’s why my boyfriend and i have changed our mind and are not going to live there for a whole year. especially after this sumer’s minor problem that did kill some people.
    scary and unpredictable.
    hope you do have at least one gold fish!!

    • ジェイソン (Jason)

      I’ll admit that the typhoons and earthquakes are a bit worrisome sometimes, but all in all, Japan is a great place to live, work and raise a family. Accidents do happen, and they’re not limited to Japan only. There are many places in the world that are ill equipped to handle some of the things Mother Nature throws our way.

      That said, hopefully you’ll be safe wherever you call home 🙂

  3. Mike

    I only experienced one or two earthquakes while I was in Japan. They are scary, but I think you have a much greater chance of getting killed in a car wreck or hit by bus than being killed in a earthquake. Take a chill pill people!