Japan marked the 88th anniversary of the Great Kanto Earthquake on Sept. 1 and is nearing six months since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which devastated the Tohoku Pacific coastal areas. It is impossible to completely protect communities from damage caused by a major calamity, but serious efforts must be made to reduce as much as possible any such destruction.

In the Great Kanto Earthquake, which happened on Sept. 1, 1923 and devastated Tokyo and its adjacent areas, more than 100,000 people died, many of them from fires. After the quake, many fire-resistant buildings were constructed and many parks were built, which would serve as both firebreaks and evacuation sites. In addition, rezoning was carried out and wide roads were built in Tokyo, although efforts fell short of the original plan that envisaged large-scale reconstruction of the capital. Further improvement in the fire-resistant capabilities of buildings should not be forgotten.

The central and local governments concerned, especially those in the Tokai and western regions, must make preparations to cope with major quakes that are expected to come. A strong quake beneath or near Tokyo is anticipated. Major quakes are also expected to occur in the following areas — off Shizuoka Prefecture, off the Kii Peninsula and off Shikoku. It is feared that the three quakes may occur simultaneously or one after another.

The central and local governments need to devise strategies to minimize damage to dwellings, buildings and other structures from these quakes. First, efforts must be made to make existing buildings quake resistant. The work has been slow, so it must be accelerated.

Prevention of damage from tsunami caused by these expected quakes also must be considered. It is necessary to devise a plan to move houses and factories in areas likely to be hit by tsunami to higher ground. A weak point in Tokyo in the event of tsunami are underground shopping malls, and subway lines and stations. Detailed plans must be developed to prevent tsunami from hitting these facilities and to evacuate people to safety when a tsunami hits.

A major quake beneath or near Tokyo and in the Tokai region could paralyze the city’s function as the capital and the main traffic routes such as the Tomei Expressway and the Tokaido Superexpress Shinkansen Line. The central government must choose places where the substitute functions of the central administration will be secured in case Tokyo is severely damaged. Train lines and expressways that will function as substitute routes for the Tokaido Shinkansen Line and the Tomei Expressway must be strengthened.

In the March 11 quake and tsunami, more than 20,000 people died or went missing. In many places, costal embankments failed to prevent tsunami from hitting inland areas. It has been shown that putting too much confidence in such embankments is risky. People have learned that what is most important is to evacuate their homes, schools and workplaces and move to higher ground as quickly as possible when a tsunami occurs.

The March 11 experience has underlined the importance of multiple-redundancy to reduce damage from tsunami. In addition to coastal embankments, high buildings must be strengthened, and highway and rail embankments must be reinforced.

Local governments need to improve escape routes. Authorities concerned, including the Meteorological Agency, must improve the quake and tsunami warning systems. Accurate information on quakes and tsunami must be conveyed to every citizen quickly and without fail. The experience of the March 11 disasters has shown that communication networks covering local governments and citizens can break down. Communication networks resilient to disasters must be established.

In the March 11 disasters, many municipal governments, tasked with playing the central role in helping disaster victims and carrying out reconstruction, were critically damaged and temporarily lost their administrative functions. The prefectural and central governments must prepare to readily take over their functions if municipal governments become dysfunctional. Municipal governments must be ready to cooperate with each other in the event of a major disaster.

In addition to participation in disaster drills, individuals should prepare themselves, such as bracing furniture, storing emergency food and water, and deciding how to communicate with family members and where to evacuate in the event of a major disaster.

In the past, the belief was prevalent that nuclear power plants were safe. But the fiasco at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, which suffered serious damage as a result of the March 11 catastrophe, has proved that it is propaganda pushed by the nuclear power establishment. The possibility cannot be ruled out that quakes and tsunami could cause major accidents at other nuclear power plants. The power industry and the central government should humbly listen to the views and warnings given by seismologists and take more than make-shift measures to make nuclear power plants resilient to major quakes and tsunami.

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