Japan’s disaster lessons aren’t just about expensive hardware
By Jessica Alexander
Ten years after the Great East Japan Earthquake (GEJE), I have come to understand that the success of the country's risk approach has as much to do with community readiness and human connection as it does with visible feats of structural engineering.
What stood out to me, though, was the minimal damage as a result of the earthquake itself – a 9.0 shake so powerful that it shifted the Earth off its axis by about 6.5 inches and could be felt 230 miles away in Tokyo – a testament to Japan’s long investment in advanced seismic engineering and its strict and rigourously enforced building codes.
A preparedness mindset
Within days of my arrival in Japan in 2019, I understood that its approach to risk was not just technological, but philosophical, embedded into people’s everyday lives. Part of what made Japan unique was this mindset – instead of viewing disaster risk reduction measures as an expenditure, something that took money away from other needs, it was considered an investment – a way to prevent the arrival of future needs and costs altogether.
Build on what exists
Disaster awareness is hardwired into the population from an early age. Built into school curricula since kindergarten, many adults told me that their children were the most risk-informed of all of their family members. September 1 is designated as Disaster Prevention Day – a memorial to the 140,000 estimated victims of the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake. Along with countrywide emergency drills, survivors of past disasters answered the question, “If you could go back to the day before the disaster, what would you do?”, helping to bring urgency to what otherwise might seem like theoretical preparations.
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