The Definitive Guide
Japan is on high alert at the moment. On “Earthquakes in Japan” I talked about “the big one.” It’s the earthquake that all Japanese people remember. It was on March 11th 2011 and it had a magnitude of 9.1 and caused upwards of 289.5 billion pounds worth of damage. With floods, mudslides and damage to the Fukushima nuclear power plant, it’s easy to understand why Japan is still dealing with the aftermath 9 years later, in 2020.
Seismologists have been warning that Japan is overdue for another big one and apparently the signs that it could be right around the corner are here. A government panel said on Tuesday, that an M9 quake and a subsequent 30 meter high tsunami could hit Hokkaido (Northern Japan). They said it is difficult to calculate if and when it will occur, but pointed to the fact that massive tsunamis have happened in the region every 300 to 400 years with the latest happening in the 17th century.
Needless to say I’m a little uneasy about it. I have had my fair share of earthquakes while living here and the little ones aren’t exactly enjoyable experiences. The thought of an M9 with a side of 30 meter tsunami has me uncomfortable in my own skin.
It’s funny, when I first arrived in Japan my attitude towards natural disasters was “bring it on!” I was mindlessly looking forward to experiencing my first “real” earthquake. I had experienced one in the UK. It sort of made my house shake a bit and caused literally pounds of damages. One or two garden gnomes and a decorative pink flamingo lost their lives to the great wobble of the UK, but Japan has real ones. Having gotten a taste of about a dozen little quakes I have since become a bit of an expert on what to do if a big one hits.
It’s big news in Japan at the moment and we are getting a lot of warnings to be prepared for worst case scenario. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to put together a full guide on what to do just incase, and help more people get prepared.
Before the quake
1 Make sure you have plenty of water, rice and pasta. I’m sure that the recent world wide crash course in survivalism has taught us all is the value of water and pasta. We should take this time of relative calm to stock up in advance and not to panic and stockpile ensuring that there is plenty of supplies to go around. Plus we won’t need to shank a MF for a scrap of toilet paper.
2. Make sure you check for hazards in the home. If you have a particularly large, heavy book case that isn’t fastened to the wall now might be a good time to secure it. Similarly, it might be a good idea to secure that prized set of dining glassware sitting precariously on display on the top self. Make sure you move anything that can fall well away from your bed.
3. Identify safe places in your home. Under a heavy table, against an inside wall, away from windows, large mirrors, and hanging picture frames. A lot of deaths in the 2011 earthquake/tsunami were blunt force trauma cases so make sure you have a safe place to be just in case.
4. Have a First aid kit and disaster supplies. A lot of the places I stay in have an emergency supply kit. They usually contain:
- Manually chargeable torch
- Rubbing alcohol wipes
- Sewing kit
- Aluminium shock blanket
- Bandages and gauze
- Manual can opener
- Fully charged external battery with necessary cables to charge devices
- Hand cranked radio
In addition to first aid and essentials, it’s also a good idea to have a go-bag handy containing:
- Change of warm clothes including waterproof mac and three pairs of socks
- Bottled water and a few snack bars
- Toothbrush, dry stick deodorant, wet wipes
- A form of identification
- Air filtration mask (preferably N95)
- Medication and painkillers
- A toilet roll
Your go bag might differ depending on where you are in the world. Items essential for your survival might be different. For example, if you are away from civilization then a REEHUT portable camping stove for heating food and water for coffee could come in handy.
Personally, I keep my emergency kit in my go-bag which is located inside my hallway coat closet. It’s on the way to the front door.
5. Make sure you have an emergency plan. Have a rendezvous point for family members or flat mates should you get separated. Contact an out of location family member or friend to organise shelter with them in advance should the worst happen.
6. Educate yourself on your location. Make sure you know where your emergency services are located. Knowing where your local hospital, police station, fire service and emergency evacuation shelter can be a literal life saver. Don’t rely on Google to tell you, you might not have access to your phone if the internet goes down. I’d also recommend downloading your maps offline and having a physical map handy
DO NOT STAND IN DOOR WAYS! There is a massive misconception that doorways are structurally stronger than the rest of the house. If you live in a wooden shack this might be true otherwise get under the table with one hand on the leg of the table and the other free ready to move with the table should you need to.
DO NOT RUN OUT OF YOUR HOUSE! Weather you live in a house in the country or flat in the city, there could be falling debris. Shards of glass, bricks, roofing tiles, neon signs (the last one almost got us during a monsoon last year), if it is above you, it can fall on you. If you have to leave your house the best option is to wait until the coast is clear and calmly exit making sure to check your surroundings.
DO NOT LISTEN TO ANY EMAILS OR WEBSITES CLAIMING THE “TRIANGLE OF LIFE” IS HOW TO SURVIVE AN EARTHQUAKE. There is a particularly dangerous chain mail/whatsapp mail/ FaceBook message that is going around giving incorrect information about what to do during an earthquake.
DO NOT USE ELEVATORS. I mean what else is there to say, don’t freaken use them!
What to do after an earthquake hits
1 Run your bath immediately. After a sizable earthquake it is common practice for water company’s to shut off supply’s to limit water loss and contamination. This water can be rationed and using buckets can be utilised for washing, poring down the toilet for Flushing, bathing, and drinking if you run out of bottled water.
2. Be prepared for aftershocks. An aftershock is a general term for earthquakes that happen after a main shock, and is part of the faultlines “readjustment process.” They can happen for months after a main shock however, they do diminish over time.
3. Check your home for structural damage. chipped paint and small cracks on the walls that appear over time aren’t nessiceraly a problem. However, After an earthquake they could be a cause for concern. Check to see if doors and windows can no longer open and close properly. Check above doorways for cracks. Check to see if there is any cracks in tile work above a concrete floor. If this is true for any of these cases your foundations may have been compromised.
4 If you have to leave your home be careful. When opening cupboards or moving from room to room. Things might have been displaced or broken. Grab your go-bag and First aid kit and leave the building keeping an eye on your surroundings.
5. Check on others. After a large earthquake it might be hard to take other peoples situation into consideration. Shock is common after earthquakes, that’s why shock blankets are in most emergency earthquake kits. It’s important to check on others within your household including animals and when safe, check on your neighbours.
6. Check for gas. Until you have checked for gas, do not light any matches or turn on any lights. If you smell gas open windows and doors and vacate the property until the necessary authorities have told you it is safe to re-enter.
7. Watch/listen to the news. Local news could give you vital information on the circumstances and might order residents to evacuate. Sinkholes, mudslides and more incoming earthquakes may be reported.
8. When driving. Carefully slow to a stop and Turn off the engine, Remain in the car until the earthquake has stopped, listen to the news on the radio for further information.
9. Use the disaster Prevention information Website for info on roads, bus services, trains, Flight and shipping info.
Here are a few things I would recommend purchasing if you plan on living in a country that can’t stay still.
When it comes to a first aid and small essentials kits, it’s important to keep it as small and light as possible to make it easy to carry. You definitely don’t want your survival kit getting in the way. I recommend the Lizipai earthquake survival kit. It’s small, cheap, and has everything you would need plus a few more things that could definitely come in handy in any survival situation.
As far as a go-bag is concerned, your personal situation will dictate the kind of bag you need. You should think of it as a bag that you could grab right now and leave without taking anything else. Take a second right now to think of everything you need to survive outside in your local environment, make a list and purchase the appropriately sized backpack (no your iMac and Star Trek box set doesn’t count). Make sure everyone in your household has their own.
I recommend downloading Survival Manual. It is a free offline mobile phone app that can help you in all manner of scenarios. Seriously, everything you can think of. Whenever I get a new phone I download it, and it stays on my phone for the life of my device. Then, I download it again on my next phone hoping I’ll never have to use it. Everyone should download this because You never know.
If you live in Japan I would also highly recommend downloading Yurekuru Call. Literally meaning “the coming quake” it sends you alerts directly from the Japanese Meteorological Agency’s earthquake early warning system (mouth full) and allows you to choose what level or magnitude you wish to be alerted to. The system is also a lot faster and reliable than the governments cell service warning system (which quite frankly, scares the absolute crap out of me. More than the earthquake!)
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared because anything can happen. Even if you don’t live in Japan or even if you don’t live in a country that suffers from natural disasters. Right now might be a good idea to get your backup plan ready. You never know when a global pandemic, earthquake, sinkhole, fat guy with a bad haircut, flood, murder hornets, or a tornado, can go and mess everything up.
Here is a list of numbers for you to call if you need help during an emergency in Japan.
119-Fire, ambulance, emergency rescue
0570 000 911-Japan Help Line