I think by now everyone is aware of what has transpired in Japan. The 9.0 earthquake, followed by a Tsunami and now the ongoing catastrophic problems with their nuclear reactors, that are in “uncharted territory”. What many might not be aware of is that Japan leads the world in emergency management and in earthquake and Tsunami research, as explained in this CNN article Japan prepared well for tsunami . Earthquakes are so common in Japan that modern Japanese buildings often have giant hydraulic shock absorbers as part of the building code. A New York Times article Japan’s Strict Building Codes Saved Lives explains in greater detail the lengths the Japanese have gone to harden their buildings.
One of my CERT (Community Emergency Response Teams) instructors recently said something along the lines of “If this was going to happen anywhere, the Japanese are better suited to handle it than anyone else.” From where I stand, he may be right. What can we learn from the Japanese in general and this event specifically?
The Japanese people themselves take part in emergency management drills. Their culture has the mindset that it is not a matter of IF but a matter of WHEN. I would guess that in general, preparedness is more of a cultural attribute and not an individual one. In other words I think they are preparedness-minded and wouldn’t consider themselves “preppers”. Another thing that I’ve noticed is that there are no reports of looting, not one. In this CNN article No Looting in Japan it is noted that: “Looting simply does not take place in Japan. I’m not even sure if there’s a word for it that is as clear in its implications as when we hear ‘looting,’” said Gregory Pflugfelder, director of the Donald Keene Center of Japanese Culture at Columbia University.
This event proves that there are some things, no matter how well prepared you are, that you are going to lose; your preparations, your home, in some cases your entire neighborhood and sadly in some cases your life or the life of a loved one.
There are those that may say that this event is too big to prepare for; look at all of the death and destruction. It is not my intent to minimize the tragedy that is occurring even as I write this. It is my intent to say that we do not prepare for the worst-case scenario, we prepare in spite of it.
I wrote in Developing A Preparedness Plan that the worst-case scenario things that will affect the largest number of people have the smallest chance of happening. That unlikely event happened for Japan and is affecting the entire nation to some extent or another. Yes there were entire neighborhoods demolished but the worst outcome in this event only affected a small percentage of the overall population of Japan.
Again please do not misunderstand, I am not making small the tragedy that is ongoing, nor am I saying that the lives lost are inconsequential. I am saying that the majority of the people that are affected are survivors.
Because there were so many people affected, the stores quickly ran out of supplies. There were accusations of panic buying and of hording many Japanese Struggling to Find Food and Water in Disaster Area . There may be some reports of this kind of behavior but I have also seen many pictures of very calm, wounded and yet dignified people. If the same event were to happen here, I am afraid we would not show the same grace that Japan has.
Government has shown that they cannot handle an event of this magnitude. This is not a knock on the Japanese government. They were and are better prepared then most, including the response to Hurricane Katrina. (On a side note, did you know that in the US, the state government has to invite the federal government to come and assist? So the blame for the slow response to Katrina doesn’t solely lie at the feet of the Bush administration, local, state and federal all share some.)
What can we learn?
There are some things that I have learned and there are some things that have been affirmed for me.
I believe it is each individual citizens responsibility to prepare for our families. Those of us who are able should be prepared, so we are not a draw on the resources of those that need them at a time when they are needed most.
I have said before that in the majority of situations, “battening down” is a better option for most people than bugging out. What happened in Japan shows the importance of having a fully stocked BOB (Bug Out Bag). Having a BOB at the ready with the ability to feed, water, clothe and render first aid for at least three days could make all the difference.
We can learn that when community is put ahead of the individual, even in disaster, there can be grace. This reminds me of the first church. Sadly I think that we are more apt to see riots such as this Drunken St. Patrick’s Day riot in New York.
I also think that we can learn that even in the worst-case scenario there is always hope. I want to ask that everyone who reads this say a prayer for the people of Japan. They have many difficult days ahead.
Lord I pray that you bless them and begin to heal their wounds. Amen