Earthquakes are a fact of life in Japan. Only one month ago, a 7.2-magnitude temblor and a number of aftershocks struck the Tohoku region, killing 13 in Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate prefectures and leaving 10 still listed as missing in Miyagi and Akita prefectures.
For many foreigners, especially those from countries where there are few quakes, the prospect of being caught in one can be terrifying. To help alleviate that fear, The Japan Times offers tips on how to prepare for and deal with the inevitable temblors.
How quake-resistant is the building I live in?
Since quake-resistance standards were tightened on June 1, 1981, buildings whose blueprints were submitted to authorities before then employed older standards.
Be aware that real estate agencies will only tell you when a building was completed, which is typically a year to a year and half after the plans were submitted.
How should I prepare for quakes?
Secure furniture to walls with braces easily found at Tokyu Hands or other DIY stores. They also sell emergency kits containing small flashlights, canned food, water bottles, a radio and other useful items for several thousand yen.
You should also check the emergency exits in your buildings. Make sure you know where to switch off the gas supply to your apartment.
Get an evacuation map available at local government offices. The evacuation sites will have fresh water, food and medical supplies.
Also make sure your family members know where to meet after quakes. Parents with young children should ask officials at their schools where they would be evacuated to.
What are the dos and don’ts when quakes strike?
Avoid elevators, which may break down and trap you inside. Turn off the gas. Stay away from objects that may easily fall or break. Get under a table and cover your head. Open as many doors as possible to secure an escape route.
What if I am outside?
Walk in the middle of the street. Drivers are advised to pull over to the side and stop, exit the vehicle, and leave it unlocked with the keys inside.
What is the best way to communicate with my family?
Mobile phone e-mail is best because the messages usually get through even during disasters, unlike telephone calls.
The emergency messaging service 171 may also be helpful. Dial the number from a fixed-line phone or mobile phone to leave messages on a fixed-line phone. However, the instructions for use are in Japanese only. For more information about the 171 service, contact your local NTT service provider.
If you have schoolchildren, you should ask their schools about communication methods.
For information, local governments have free brochures — many of them in English — on how to deal with quakes.