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Disaster Prevention and The Tohoku Quake: Making the Most of Lessons Learned

One thing that I've been thinking about regarding the quake in Tohoku is how surveyors could use the information they've gathered from the areas hardest hit to prevent future disasters on that scale from occurring. For example, post-disaster assessments could be used to identify the areas and circumstances in which the greatest casualties and losses occured, and apply that to areas where large quakes and tsunamis are likely to occur (like the area along the Nankai Trough). Furthermore, given a recent modern quake and tsunami of that type and the great quantity of statistical data for each, it should be possible to pinpoint exactly which areas along the coast are most at risk, and to preemptively redistrict areas that are likely to be hard hit. For example, any home owners with holdings in the likely path of a future tsunami could be provided government grants/subsidies as well as assistance in relocating to higher ground in the local area, assessment of evacuation areas and new disaster readiness drills could be conducted to prepare people for the contingencies such a disaster would make necessary, such as education and resources for anyone who commutes by car to make it easier for them to evacuate their vehicles in the event of a tsunami (many of those killed in the March 11, 2011 tsunami were motorists who stayed with their vehicles til the waves struck; had they been more prepared for what to do in that situation, it is likely that they would have survived). I also think evacuation areas need to be better labeled, with signs/maps depicting where they are, and there need to be more widespread safety drills. And: while many of the seawalls were not designed for the waves that they were met with, there is a lot that could be done to reinforce seawalls in areas that face potential tsunamis of similar height/power, though again focusing on better evacuation plans is certain to be the best option regardless.

Update: One thing I want to mention, upon rereading what I wrote, is that these are merely recommendations for improving an existing system. I am not in any way suggesting that the existing system is aimless and without merit; I am merely suggesting that, for a disaster of the strength and magnitude of the March 11th quake and tsunami, greater care is something that should be considered for improving/reinforcing the measures that are already in place. The disaster management infrastructure that greeted the Tohoku quake did a great deal to limit the losses that would have otherwise occured; for perspective, we need to keep in mind that many people live in the area that was affected, and the vast majority were saved from death and injury by the evacuation procedures and warning systems that existed then. It could be said that there is no better earthquake and tsunami warning system in the world than that which Japan has put in place through consistent and repeated investments of the equivalent of billions of dollars in resources and labour hours. There was little more that could be done given the information and resources people had regarding a potential disaster of that type, the Tohoku disaster being in many ways unprecedented. However, out of respect for the people who were among the casualties of the disaster and with an inclination towards continuous improvement, I feel it is necessary for the system that is in place to be re-evaluated and built upon, with the (I feel) realistic goal of casualties that tend towards zero rather than numbering in the thousands for a disaster of similar scale.

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