Tomoko Konma felt the ground shake severely when she was waiting to enter an art gallery in Tokyo. Seeing a nearby building shifting and swaying, she feared she would die. After she watched the news on her cellphone, however, she regained her composure.
"I knew Tokyo wasn't the quake's epicenter. If it were, the situation could have been worse," she said. "Then I remembered things that we shouldn't do after an earthquake. For example, people shouldn't stay inside buildings or run blindly. They should go to open spaces."
Japan is prone to earthquakes because of its location near the juncture of two tectonic plates. Japanese people have a lot of knowledge about and experience with earthquakes.
This type of disaster training worked well in the quake's aftermath. Konma recalled many people wore safety helmets as they emerged from buildings and carried emergency packets. Women changed from high heels to flats. The TV news showed primary school students wearing earthquake-resistant cushions on their heads. These cushions are normally kept on chairs.
Japan has established an effective disaster-preparedness system. In cities, public facilities that can be used as sanctuaries such as hospitals, government offices and emergency shelters are located in nearby areas. In addition, the Japanese Government has constructed venues that can help sustain minimal city functions in the event of an emergency. It has also renovated old buildings to make them more earthquake-proof. Residents in each community are assigned an emergency shelter, and are provided with maps showing routes to their shelter.
Each year, on the anniversary of the Kanto earthquake on September 1, 1923—the deadliest in Japanese history—Japan holds a disaster preparation day. Many organizations including government departments, communities, schools and companies conduct earthquake drills on that day. In addition, local governments, companies and families usually prepare necessary food as well as cooking and drinking devices for unexpected situations.
Japan's disaster training played a significant role in limiting harm during its latest earthquake. Shuzo Ishidate, General Manager of the Beijing-based Shiseido China Research Center Co. Ltd., was in Tokyo at a business conference when the quake occurred. Within minutes, the participants opened the door as the building swayed to create an escape route. Once the swaying stopped, all of them ran to the laboratory to cut off the power supply there. "All Japanese had put safety helmets on, while foreign participants were adrift at the moment," he said.
Since 2000, more and more companies and communities in Japan have adopted the Business Continuity Management (BCM) system based on experience from the Kobe earthquake in 1995 to facilitate post-quake relief and recovery.