The tsunami that rocked Japan last night will be a tragedy of great proportions no matter what: Hundreds are presumed dead, and the damage to infrastructure and private property will be devastating. But the truth is that it could have been much, much worse. Many earthquake-hit Japanese buildings have stayed standing, orderly evacuations have been carried out across the nation, and emergency rations await the stranded.
In fact, out of anyplace in the world, Japan may be the nation best prepared to be hit by a huge earthquake and tsunami — here’s why: It’s all about the strict building codes, good engineering, and preparedness education. These three things have lead to literally millions of lives being saved.
The Telegraph reports:
Damage to buildings in Tokyo was slight as a result of Japan’s stringent building regulations that ensure that skyscrapers sway in during a quake, but don’t collapse. Buildings are made earthquake proof with the aid of deep foundation and massive shock absorbers that dampen seismic energy. Another method allows the base of a building to move semi-independently to its superstructure, reducing the shaking caused by a quake.
To repeat, building codes ordain that structures be built this way.
Furthermore, Japan ensures that every schoolchild participates in elaborate monthly earthquake drills, and the fire department is enlisted to help teach them what it actually feels like to be in an earthquake. Which is why the Telegraph reports that, as a result, “television footage from school and offices in Tokyo during Friday’s quake showed workers and students behaving with extraordinary calm and composure as buildings shook violently, sending files tumbling from desks and books from shelves.” The reporter was flabbergasted by the masses of children calmly forming lines at muster points, donning protective helmets.
Finally, Japanese law ensures that there will be emergency rations in public buildings in the event that an earthquake strands people there.
This Al Jazeera video shows the absolute devastation that Japan’s preparedness helped the people survive:
All in all, the measures Japan has taken to protect its population — despite any grumbling of construction firms about higher costs, we see now why strict building codes are so, so important — should be applauded and emulated. It’s why Dave Ewing tweeted the following in response to the quake and tsunami:
The headline you won’t be reading: “Millions saved in Japan by good engineering and government building codes”. Buts it’s the truth.”
Indeed — it helps that Japan is a rich, industrialized country, but the government of every nation should go to such lengths to protect its citizens.
UPDATE (3/13): The death toll is rising in Japan, and the tragedy is even greater than initially presumed to be — but it has been confirmed: Japan’s strict building codes nonetheless saved countless lives.