Queries on QUAKES 4: What have we learned from past earthquakes?
Welcome to Day 4 of Queries on Quakes! Today we look into the lessons that humanity has learned from some of the most devastating earthquakes and Tsunamis in recent times.
Lessons from the January 12, 2010 Haiti earthquake (excerpts)
by Roger Bilham on nature.com
Roger Bilham, was one of the first seismologists to visit Haiti after lthe Jan 12 earthquake in 2010. He calls for UN enforcement of resistant construction in cities with a history of violent tremors.
“Many more cities lie in the path of damaging earthquakes and some of them, like Port-au-Prince and Tokyo (devastated by an earthquake in 1923), are capitals whose destruction could paralyse an entire nation. Kathmandu, Tehran, Istanbul and Srinagar are notable for their seismic settings and for the uneven application of appropriate building codes. Most islands in the northern and eastern Caribbean owe their existence to seismic processes on or near the edge of the Caribbean Plate. It is a matter of WHEN, not whether, future earthquakes will shake the cities on these plate boundaries.
The catastrophic earthquakes that have occurred since 1999, in Turkey, Taiwan, Sumatra, Kashmir and Sichuan, demonstrate that elementary engineering guidelines for earthquake resistance in crucial civil structures (schools, hospitals and fire stations,) have been alien concepts to local authorities, or have been ignored. About 80% of all schools collapsed in the Port-au-Prince area, and a similar percentage in the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Police stations and jails must be added to this trilogy of crucial structures. Never before have more than 4,000 criminals been loosed into the mayhem of post-seismic recovery, as occurred this year in Haiti, which also lost a substantial fraction of its police force…
The future global burden of local earthquakes could be significantly reduced if minimal construction guidelines were mandated in all the world’s cities, and especially in those with a history of previous earthquakes. The projected doubling in world population means that we are constructing more buildings now than at any time in our history. In recent earthquakes, buildings have acted as weapons of mass destruction. It is time to formulate plans for a new United Nations mission — teams of inspectors to ensure that people do not construct buildings designed to kill their occupants…” Read more
Sherider Anilus, 28, and her daughter, 9-month-old Monica,
sit on the spot where her home collapsed during the January 12, 2010 earthquake
in the Fort National neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Lessons learned from the March 11, 2011 Tohoku Earthquake by Clara Moskowitz, AmazingPlanet Senior Writer, LIVE SCIENCE
1. Lessons learned on the Science of Earthquakes
The Tohoku earthquake was very large and unanticipated by many seismologists. Part of the reason scientists weren’t expecting such a strong quake in Japan was the fact that a quake that powerful had never before been recorded, and seismic predictions based on the known record of earthquakes in Japan did not forecast such an event. According to James Mori of Kyoto University’s Disaster Prevention Research Institute: “The lesson is that 400 or 500 years of historical records is not enough.”
The quake, a whopping 9.0 on the magnitude scale used to rate the severity of earthquakes, struck off the east coast of Japan’s Tohoku region on March 11. The temblor, the strongest ever to hit Japan and among the five most powerful earthquakes ever recorded, caused a massive tsunami wave that reached heights up to 133 feet (40.5 meters). More than 22,000 people were reported dead or missing.
“The fact that tens of thousands of people were killed was really a shock,” Mori said. “I think people thought that such kinds of events wouldn’t happen in Japan with all the work put into earthquake research and hazard mitigation.”
In the wake of the Tohoku quake, researchers hope to make significant improvements to earthquake models and forecasting, both for Japan, and for the entire planet. They have a wealth of data to work from, as no other large earthquake in history has been recorded by as many instruments with as much precision, said John Anderson, a seismologist at the University of Nevada. “At last we have a very well-recorded mega earthquake, and the data is extraordinary,” Anderson said.
2. Lessons on Disaster Response
In addition to shedding light on the science of earthquakes, the experience of Japan is shaping ideas of how best to respond to disasters. While Japan has in place a high-tech warning system to alert the public when an earthquake is imminent, it didn’t work as well as it might have on March 11, 2011.
- The warning was issued just eight seconds after the first wave of the earthquake was detected, Mori said. It sent a message to 124 television stations and 52 million phones. It automatically caused bullet trains to stop and elevators to halt.
- calculations of the earthquake’s likely strength based on the initial wave turned out to be wrong because the earthquake increased in power over time. Consequently, the system underestimated the severity and extent of the temblor, and the warning was not sent to places like Tokyo, which initially seemed too far to be affected, but actually was. “That’s just one of the inherent problems of the system and something that has to be dealt with,” Mori said. Furthermore,
- the tsunami warning, which followed the earthquake warning, did not reach many coastal residents who had already evacuated, or whose televisions and radios had stopped working due to power outages sparked by the earthquake.
- Despite the fact that the tsunami hit 30 to 60 minutes later than the earthquake, many people had no warning of this more dire threat. [History’s Biggest Tsunamis]
In the future, better alert systems are needed to send out updated information to the public before and during an emergency, the experts said. Read more…
I cannot begin to imagine how this woman was feeling.
Realizing she’s lost everything and everyone… Why am I the only one alive?
Lessons learned from December 26, 2004 Indian Ocean Earthquake & Tsunami
1. Lessons learned on Science and Technology: as outlined by the Interim Report of the US Subcommittee on Disaster Reduction
(note: adjusted article’s wording for ‘global’ application)
- It can happen. A tsunami of this size can devastate life, property, infrastructure, and economic balance for generations to come.
- It can happen somewhere else. For example: The tectonic setting off the northwest coast of North America is very similar to the conditions that gave rise to the Sumatra earthquake. For the past decade scientists in the United States have known of this dangerous situation. Now, government officials and others responsible for public safety and security must build on existing efforts to address the risks and improve public recognition of this threat.
- It can happen quickly. In the case of the USA–Because of the proximity of the tsunami-generating earthquake zones off the coasts of the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and the Caribbean, there will be fewer than twenty minutes in some cases to develop, broadcast, and respond to a warning.
- Disaster is not inevitable. Tsunami risk assessments, mitigation practices, warning systems and procedures, public awareness, and warning response training must be developed and maintained for all coastal areas in the world that are subject to the tsunami threat. Read more
Perhaps this is where his home once stood. Imagine how it felt for the survivors to see the amount of damage on property and the magnitude of the loss of human lives. Image Source
- Effective coordination, partnership and stewardship are necessary to reach all children affected by an emergency
- Children and communities should be provided with the knowledge and skills needed to identify warning signs, and prepare for and better cope with disasters
- Effective emergency response requires the right person at the right place at the right time
- Providing the right supplies in the right place at the right time can go far in addressing emergency needs
- Reliable information is essential in order to target the most vulnerable, and plan, monitor, coordinate and be accountable to stakeholders
- Adequate funding and adaptable financial and administrative procedures are necessary for rapid response to sudden onset emergencies
“Thanks to generous support, UNICEF’s tsunami programmes have achieved a great deal and continue to build on results for children and women. At the same time, it is acknowledged that programmes could have been even more successful. Applying the lessons learned from tsunami successes and shortcomings will obviously not happen overnight, but the process is well under way with encouraging results in recent emergencies. Above all, UNICEF remains open to modifying the way it works and committed to the principle of continuous improvement.”- UNICEF, Info Source
Indonesian workers at Sukarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta load UNICEF boxes containing aid supplies into a truck headed for tsunami-hit Aceh province on December 31, 2004. Image Source
Here are some videos I have gathered to share the lessons scientists, humanitarian agencies, governments, and humanity in general have learned from some of the deadliest earthquakes and tsunamis of our time:
1. The Wave That Shook the World on NOVA
The tsunami of Dec 26, 2004 took the lives of at least 250,000 people across more than a dozen countries, it has also energised science to seek a better understanding of these killer waves. There isn’t just one wave, there are several waves and they don’t follow a particular pattern
In the wake of the tsunami – what have we learned about this catastrophe? Why did it occur? And will we be better prepared the next time. The wave that shook the work on NOVA.
Here is one of the things learned… What went wrong?
All the critical elements needed for a warning system.. no contact points, no organisation, no warning systems…we were unfortunately flying blind.
2. The Asian Tsunami, National Geographic’s Seconds from Disaster
Here are also some videos taken by actual survivors:
3. Learning from Japan’s TSUNAMI
What should one know and do to protect one’s life. With this documentary we will examine startling footage and hear the testimony of survivors…
Here are what some of the survivors of the 2011 Tsunami in Japan advise us:
- When there is a tsunami warning, escape to high ground.
- Do not leave a safe spot until the tsunami warning is lifted.
- When an earthquake comes and there is a tsunami warning (even just an advisory)…and even if there’s no warning – set to high ground after a large earthquake. Your life is the most precious thing.
4. Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11
The Nature of Things with David Suzuki
“Out of this tragedy Japan has the chance to re-examine its values, its goals, its mindset, to develop a blueprint for its future. The Chinese written character for crises is made up of two parts: Danger & Opportunity. The tragic conjunction of a huge earthquake, a giant tsunami and a nuclear meltdown provided Japan’s moment to look at where it might go in the future…Question is: which path will it take?”– Dr. David Suzuki
One year later, as Japan grapples with the aftermath of the triple disaster – earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown – David Suzuki travels to the country to learn how the people most affected are responding. Featuring dramatic footage of the tsunami never seen outside Japan, Journey to the Disaster Zone: Japan 3/11 is a testament to the strength and discipline of the Japanese people.
For David, it’s a very personal journey, as he explores the impact of the earthquake and tsunami and sees whether the Japanese people are re-thinking their nation’s approach to nuclear energy – and the entire idea of a high-consumption lifestyle. “I found lots of ideas bubbling to the surface, focused on sustainable communities, food and energy,” Suzuki says.
Here are some highlights of “The Nature of Things” feature:
1.“The Tohoku earthquake was in many ways a lesson in humility, revealing the limits of seismic science that so far, can neither predict when earthquakes are going to happen, how powerful they will be, nor, in this case, the severity of the after affects like tsunamis,” says Dr. David Suzuki. The shifting plates in the northeast created gigantic cracks a meter wide in places in the sea floor, displacing the ocean and setting off the mammoth tsunami that destroyed the coast and triggered the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima.
2. In the town of Nasu in Tochigi prefecture, Suzuki meets citizens who have organized themselves to deal with the problem of radiation contamination. He visits a radiation testing station where residents can bring in their garden vegetables to confirm that they are safe to eat. Dr. Yasuyuki Fujimura of Nihon University has spent years studying the effects of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant disaster and is leading the grassroots movement in Nasu to monitor radiation levels. “Even though we are 95 km away, the wind blew this way and the radiation levels in this area were the same as in Fukushima city,” says Fujimura. “It’s up to us to protect the future of our children.” Suzuki observes that the public response to the Fukushima crisis is also restoring power to communities. He asks Fujimura if this is Japan’s moment to change direction. “That’s certainly what I want,” says Fujimura. “Otherwise, all that we have lost will be wasted.”
3. Dr. Suzuki interviewed several Japanese experts in clean and renewable energy Alternatives, one of them was Prof. Hiroaki Niizuma of Tohoku University, a geothermal expert.
Steam power is a vital component of the geothermal energy found in hot springs all over Japan. In the town of Motoyu, not far from Tokyo, water from hot springs 110 meters underground are used in public bathing facilities, to heat homes, and melt ice and snow on the roads in winter. Prof. Hiroaki Niizuma of Tohoku University is a geothermal expert. Rather than looking for a nationwide solution to Japan’s energy needs, he would like to see more small-scale, community-driven energy resource alternatives. He says: “ it’s not just a matter of saving energy, but thinking about how we use energy, and about our lifestyle. “3.11 has made us rethink how we humans live together with nature. I think it’s a turning point for us,” he says. “It’s a chance for us to very slowly change the direction of our civilization…in a way that we can coexist with the environment.”
4.“I believe the shift in thinking in Japan today is not just about energy, but is a psychological and spiritual shift by mothers and fathers realizing what the bottom line is for human existence. Mothers have been particularly vocal, saying, “Please give us clean water and air, and safe food. As long as we have that we will be okay.” For me, that is the most important message of 3.11.” –Shinichi Tsuji, Professor of Anthropology, Yokohama City
Check this out: “Earthquakes: Learn From The Past, Prepare For The Future” on Discovery Education
Art by Haitian artist Frantz Zéphirin
In his paintings “leaning over the disaster, spirits and gods, struck [by the event], meet, connect, and merge to find a solution to the problem of Haiti.” Zéphirin feels that the earthquake can act as a catalyst to produce deep and positive change. He also wants to convey a message about treasuring ecological wealth and fighting deforestation. He wants to point out through his paintings that while houses and buildings were crumbling, the trees remained intact and resisted. From repeatingislands
“As a scientist, I have spent a lifetime attempting to deconstruct nature
but if I’ve learned one thing
it’s that nature outfools
our most foolproof of technologies
and its power knows no restraint.
It’s the truth that confronts us all.”
– Dr. David Suzuki