Fukushima: stick to the root

According to the US Geological Survey, a magnitude 6.9-earthquake struck Japan on November 21. The quake hit off the northeastern coast near Fukushima Prefecture (Figure 1). “Almost 80,000 households suffered from initial blackouts” and “a handful of light injuries were reported”, CNN (Tokyo) said. Honestly, such slight damages caused by such a strong earthquake did not surprise me since I was taught from a young age that Japan has a great resilience to earthquakes.


Figure 1 A map showing the epicenter of an earthquake recorder off Japan on Nov. 21, 2016. (Source)

My impression about Fukushima

My impression about that Japan has a great resilience to earthquakes was learned from Chinese media. From the comments of the media, Japanese reaction to earthquake is always in time, fast and well-organized resulting in less loss which is usually ascribed by Chinese media to the well design of constructions in Japan. However, I realized that in addition to the design, a series of factors determine the resilience of a city to earthquake.

Factor 1: Government Regulations and Politics

In 1924, earthquake resistant construction regulations were introduced requiring a minimum thickness for wooden beams, braces and reinforced concrete. Later in 1950, the Building Standards Act was carried out and in the following years, the standards have been improved several times.


Figure 2 A building with exterior earthquake retrofitting in Japan (Source)

Besides, a book Disaster management and civil society: Earthquake relief in Japan, Turkey and India introduces that Japanese government also set up emergency disaster relief center within the National Land Agency and Self Defense Forces (SDF) which can effectively and instantly deploy rescuer operations right after the earthquake to minimize the loss.


Figure 3 Emergency teams head towards rescue operations in Japan (Source

Factor 2: Disaster Assistance and Compensation

How fast the economy can be recovered determine the economic resilience of the city. According to Ministry of Finance Japan, reinsurance premiums which are paid by the government to reinsure the earthquake insurance liabilities are collected and managed in the Special Account that will pay out to private insurance companies when massive earthquakes occur.

Factor 3: Local Communities

Local communities learned many lessons from the history and naturally became experienced in preparing for earthquakes or coping with the aftermath. For example, the private schools or local communities sometime collaborating with the local fire department regularly organize activities to introduce to children about how to survive from earthquakes, such as familiarizing them with the sensation of being in an earthquake through taking them into earthquake simulation machines (Figure 4).


Figure 4 Visitors are experiencing earthquake simulation machines in Ikebukuro Life Safety Learning Center (Source)

Relocating VS Rebuilding

Relocating and rebuilding are compared in various ways including economic status, population, local ecology, natural resources, short term cost and long term benefits, etc. Relocating is the fastest way to settle down the victims and it effectively avoids the damages of aftershocks or even the threats from the future earthquakes. However, relocating is more practical for a city with a small population, scarce natural resources, and poor economic base and ecological environment. Relocation of a big population produces huge costs and likely creates conflicts between new comers and locals. On the other hand, the cost of rebuilding sometimes could be high but the other values need to be paid attentions when analyzing if rebuilding is worth. In this case, Fukushima has a big population, good economic base, and acceptable ecological environment; obviously, victims are not willing to give up all these values, and what they will focus on is rebuilding the city with a high resilience to the earthquakes.



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