Ever since the late evening of Thursday March 10th leading into Friday the 11th, the story of the Japanese tsunami and aftermath has dominated our headlines. We constantly see images, both professional and amateur, as well as the latest news updates. It’s both alarming and upsetting. It’s also a sobering reminder that something like this can strike close to home, especially if you live on either the east coast or west coast.
The news first broke this past Thursday night or very early Friday morning. A powerful earthquake in the Pacific Ocean just 100 miles east of Japan’s northern coast caused a tsunami that hit the coast of Japan, especially the city of Sendai, really hard. The quake measured 9.0 on the Richter scale and is the seventh-highest ever recorded. Replays of the wave’s crashing caught on amateur video has left many shocked. Some who were up during the early morning hours were able to see live footage of the wave as it was travelling towards the west coasts of the Americas. The destruction to the Japanese coast and surrounding areas has been in the news daily. The statistics of destruction and human loss are growing. Many anticipate the final death toll to reach around 20,000.
Another shocking thing about this disaster is that it comes more than six years after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean which claimed a total of almost a quarter-million lives in many countries. That ranks as the deadliest tsunami in history. I’m sure many of us still have images of the disaster fresh in our minds.
Those living near the west coasts of the Americas had the least damage to deal with. Hawaii was hardest hit but there was no loss of life and damage was minimal. Even the west coasts of the Americas had their own damage to deal with but the most damage individual areas faced was one or two million dollars. We were pretty lucky. Nevertheless one thing citizens living on or near coastal land need to remember is that a tsunami can strike at anytime. Where there’s a coast by an ocean, sea or lake, there’s a tsunami danger. The big question is do we know how to take action?
For one thing, warning systems are an excellent start for prevention. First part involves network sensors to detect threatening waves. Second part involves a communications infrastructure to issue timely alarms to permit evacuation of coastal areas. This can beneficial since the tsunami from days ago was distant enough from the Americas to allow ample time for warning. Although beneficial, they are imperfect as in the case for Japan in this instance. Tsunamis can come as fast as 600 miles/hour and the earthquake epicenter for this tsunami was 100 miles east of the coast. This wouldn’t allow for ample time to save enough property or enough lives. Nevertheless new advances in warning are still yet to come. After the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, an Internation Early Warning Programme was proposed immediately after and it resulted in the Indian Ocean Tsunami Warning System. I’m sure after the Japanese tsunami, there will me more pressure to follow through on the Internation Early Warning Programme and propose for more technological advancements.
Technological devices are also helpful. One such is the DART buoy: DART standing for Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis. These buoys are held in place off coast to detect possible tsunami threats along with a Bottom Pressure Recording package to detect pressure changes of the tsunamis. The United States has 39 DART buoys in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and The Caribbean Sea. Since 2009, other countries have started to use DART buoys for tsunami detection. Another such is a tsunami warning system like the Pacific Tsunami Warning System based in Honolulu which records seismic activity in the Pacific Ocean. Although not every Ocean earthquake causes a tsunami, the computers assist in analyzing the tsunami risk of every earthquake that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and the adjoining land masses.
Then there’s also local preventative measures. Some are natural, like mangroves, coastal vegetation and coral reefs which helped to cause the least damage during the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Others are constructed like seawalls and floodgates. Japan has constructed some seawalls that are as tall as 15 feet to protect populated areas. Seawalls may have to be expanded in the wake of the most recent tsunami. All Pacific Rim countries have organized evacuation routes and practice evacuation procedures. In Japan, such preparation is mandatory for government, local authorities, emergency services and the population. Vancouver even has some disaster relief routes. There’s even preparation information and a program from BC’s Ministry of Safety and Solicitor General. It’s up to the governments to inform the public at risk to be informed how to take action.
The tsunami in northern Japan is a chilling and sobering wake up call to those who live on or near coastal areas. This will undoubtedly leave many questioning if such a disaster can happen to them and how would they respond. This will also leave government agencies time to question whether they have the right technological means to detect warnings necessary for alerts and possible evacuations. Hopefully none of us will have to experience what those in northern Japan are dealing with right now.
WIKIPEDIA: Tsunami.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami>
WIKIPEDIA: Tsunami Warning System.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tsunami_warning_system>
WIKIPEDIA: International Early Warning Programme.Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Early_Warning_Programme>
WIKIPEDIA: Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunamis (DART).Wikipedia.com. 2011. Wikimedia Foundation Inc. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deep-ocean_Assessment_and_Reporting_of_Tsunamis>