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.
On 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.
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.
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?