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Japan earthquake tips: What to do before, during and after

Residents survey damaged roads and toppled houses in the town of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, after a large earthquake in April 2016. | KYODO

Residents survey damaged roads and toppled houses in the town of Mashiki, Kumamoto Prefecture, after a large earthquake in April 2016. | KYODO

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has published a comprehensive disaster guide. It’s recommended that you download it and read it right now (or even better, after you read it, print it out and stick it in your emergency kit). Don’t worry: It’s general enough to apply to the rest of Japan. But for busy people, here’s a summary of things you should know about what to do before, during and after an earthquake in Japan.

Before a quake

  • Know the evacuation routes not only from your home but from your work, children’s schools and the places you visit frequently, and print out maps, since you can’t rely on Google in a disaster.
  • Write down important phone numbers and store them in your emergency kit. In addition to contacts of family and friends, note emergency contacts and the number for your embassy.
  • Prep a supply of water and nonperishable food and be sure to check your earthquake kits for expiration dates annually.
  • A standard earthquake kit includes: a flashlight, a portable radio, batteries, chargers, a can opener, a first-aid kit, blankets, rainwear and copies of important documents (passports, bank details, the deed to your home [kenrisho], etc.) and cash.
  • Develop a safety mind-set. For example, fill your car’s gas tank when it gets half empty; and take note of evacuation signs when visiting new places — and, if necessary, learn quake-related vocabulary and their kanji.
  • Quake-proof your home. Secure furniture (cabinets, bookshelves, etc.) and large electronics (microwaves, refrigerators, etc.) that could fall over during a quake. Japanese hardware stores have a wide array of straps and tools for fastening and securing items.
  • If you are not a Japanese citizen, register at your embassy.
  • Check your ward office's disaster preparedness page (Tokyo wards).
  • Download a quake app. Many Japanese phones now have quake alarms in their system OS. The most widely used quake app is Yurekuru Call (Android) (iOS). It might give a few seconds advance notice.

During a quake

If you’re inside:

  • Drop: Lowering your point of gravity will help you stay steady during a tremor.
  • Cover: Your head and neck are vulnerable to injury as objects may fall off shelves or from the ceiling. If you’re outside in an urban area, be careful of broken glass, bricks or cement falling from buildings. Use your bag, a backpack or purse to protect your head and neck.
  • Hold: Hold on to something to keep yourself in place in case there are violent tremors. Although most earthquakes last only 10 seconds, any one of them could be “the big one” that lasts for minutes and gets increasingly worse.

If you’re on public transport: Follow the same guidelines outlined above — drop (away from the windows), cover, hold. Stay calm and follow instructions from the conductor. If you’re in a car Pull over immediately and away from potential falling debris from trees, buildings, overhead wires or overpasses. Wait in the car if you can. Tune the radio in to emergency reports. If you must evacuate, don’t forget to leave your car doors unlocked and your keys in the ignition in case rescue workers need to move your car. And make sure your car is not blocking rescue vehicles.

After a quake

  • If you live in a coastal area, don’t wait for an official tsunami evacuation. Head to high ground. You can check your portable radio or phone (if it’s online) for updates later.
  • If you’re trapped under rubble, cover your mouth. Bang rhythmically on a pipe or wall, or send a text for help instead of shouting. You’ll conserve energy and oxygen.
  • Be creative with communications. If phone lines are down, try other applications or texting services. After the March 2011 disaster, many people successfully kept in touch with family and friends via Twitter, for example.
  • When evacuating buildings, don’t use the elevators, even if it seems like the shaking has stopped. Keep in mind the likelihood of aftershocks and use the stairs.
  • Turn off your gas immediately (and be careful about flames from lighters until you confirm there hasn’t been a gas leak). If you need to evacuate your home, turn off your circuit breaker.


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