Had any other populous country suffered the 8.9 magnitude earthquake that shook Japan on Friday, tens of thousands of people might already be counted among the dead. So far, Japan’s death toll is in the hundreds, although it is certain to rise somewhat.
Over the years, Japan has spent billions of dollars developing the most advanced technology against earthquakes and tsunamis. The Japanese, who regularly experience smaller earthquakes and have lived through major ones, know how to react to quakes and tsunamis because of regular drills — unlike Southeast Asians, many of whom died in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami because they lingered near the coast despite clear warnings to flee.
Communities along Japan’s coastline, especially in areas that have been hit by tsunamis in the past, tend to be the best prepared. Local authorities can usually contact residents directly through warning systems set up in each home; footpaths and other escape routes leading to higher ground tend to be clearly marked.
In the country that gave the world the word tsunami, Japan, especially in the 1980’s and 1990’s, built concrete seawalls in many communities, some as high as 40 feet. In addition, some coastal towns have set up networks of sensors that can sound alarms in every residence and automatically closed floodgates when an earthquake strikes to prevent waves from surging up rivers. Ports are sometimes equipped with raised platforms.