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Let’s discuss the big earthquake that never came

This week’s featured article

CHISATO TANAKA

Across the Kanto region and in parts of Fukushima Prefecture on Jan. 5, alarms suddenly rang out at 11:02 a.m. from cellphones and public speakers.

“Emergency earthquake warning,” the text of the cellphone alert from the Meteorological Agency read. “An earthquake has occurred off the coast of Ibaraki. Prepare for strong shaking.”

But the jolt never came to the region.

The agency had estimated that a magnitude 6.4 earthquake would hit off the coast of Ibaraki Prefecture.

In fact, that quake was magnitude 4.4 and 3 on the Japanese intensity scale. But at the same time, a second quake hit Toyama Prefecture, this one a magnitude 3.9 that also measured 3 on the Japanese scale.

The erroneous warning — and unnerving alarms — came as a result of the two quakes being processed by the prediction system as one event, a statement released by the Meteorological Agency said. The agency said it will further investigate the incident and make efforts to improve the system.

Earthquake Early Warning (EEW) alerts are issued by the agency when its system predicts earthquakes hitting lower 5 or higher on the Japanese intensity scale. Alerts are sent to personal phones, public speakers, radios and televisions in all the regions predicted to experience level 4 shaking or stronger.

The Jan. 5 warning was also sent to 84 loudspeakers in public locations across Shibuya Ward.

After receiving several complaints and inquiries, the ward sent out a message to its residents explaining how the EEW system works and the reasons for sending out such warnings.

On Twitter, users offered mixed reactions to the scare. Some complained about the alert, with user @tetraetra saying the alarm was risky for people with heart trouble, adding, “Who asked for this sound?”

Others, including user @chokoota3, said they appreciated the system and said it was wrong to complain about the warning as it served as a reminder to always be prepared.

In August 2016, a similar false alarm resulted in alerts warning of a quake measuring 7 on the Japanese scale, the most powerful level.

First published in The Japan Times on Jan. 5.

Warm up

One-minute chat about natural disasters.

Game

Collect words related to warning systems, e.g., alarm, siren, prepare.

New words

1) jolt: huge shake, e.g., “They felt a jolt in the office.”

2) erroneous: wrong, e.g., “The document contains erroneous data.”

3) unnerving: making people nervous, e.g., “I heard an unnerving rumor.”

Guess the headline

E_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ warnings leave Kanto jolted, but the big shake never came

Questions

1) According to the article, what did the alarm say had happened?

2) What had actually happened?

3) Was this the first-ever false alarm?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Were you worried? How did you feel when you heard the alarm?

2) What do you do to prepare for earthquakes?

3) What do you think needs to be done to improve the alert system?

Reference

地震大国の日本で生活をする私たちも、常にその脅威を意識しているというわけにはなかなかいきません。警報システムはいざという時に改めて安全を確保し災害にとっさの準備を行うために必要なものです。

しかし今回は誤報におわり、無用だった緊張からシステムへの改善を希望する声も聞かれました。システムの進化を期待しつつ、私 たち一人一人がなにをするべきかも皆さんで話し合ってみましょう。

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