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Earthquake: What To Do When Even a Small One Hits

For those that have never felt the earth move under their feet in Japan, here are a few practical suggestions to keep in mind.

By 3 min read

The Yureru Nihon Retto (lit: “Quaking Japanese Islands”) website published by Earth Quake Research, an organization that amasses data on earthquakes in Japan, recorded at least 238 earthquakes across Japan in 2018. The association even breaks down which prefectures had the most quakes—Ibaraki is the highest with 45 quakes.

Suffice to say, Japan has a lot of earthquakes.

Before we get to what you should do during an actual quake, let’s talk about what to do before one even hits.

Be Prepared

Everyone should know the steps in case of an emergency.
  • Secure taller furniture if possible so that it won’t fall over.
  • Pack an emergency rucksack with canned food, water, matches, lighter, medicine, valuables (passport, residence card, bank book, wallet, etc.), flashlights, portable radio, windup cellphone charger and lightweight clothes. Aim for 3 kg as a maximum weight.
  • Talk with friends and family about what to do during a quake: the safest place in the house, your area’s designated evacuation spot, where to keep emergency backpacks, how to contact family and friends after the quake, etc.
  • Inform your local embassy where you are in Japan (or sign up on its website). In case of a natural disaster, your government may provide support to those affected.

Now that we know how to prepare for an earthquake (or other disasters), here’s a guide to help you figure out exactly what to do during one.

When Indoors

  • Hide under a table or door frame.
  • Avoid windows, as they can break during the tremor.
  • Don’t rush outside in case of falling objects.
  • Check for any flames before exiting the building safely after the tremor.

When Outdoors

  • Be careful of falling objects like signs or broken glass.
  • Stay clear of vending machines or other things that could topple over.
  • If you’re using public transportation, follow staff instructions.
  • If you’re driving a car, pull it off to the side of the road and proceed to designated evacuation routes on foot.

After the Quake

  • Access to the internet or TV may be limited, so use the radio to gather information.
  • Before you evacuate your building, turn off your main gas valve and breaker to reduce the risk of fire.
  • If your building is at risk of collapse or there is a tsunami warning, evacuate to your district’s nearest evacuation site.

How to Stay Connected after an Earthquake

Japanese phones will provide early warnings for earthquakes.

Something everyone in Japan should use after an earthquake is NTT’s Disaster Emergency Message Dial (171) service. It’s only available during emergencies, but it was most recently used during last year’s Kumamoto earthquakes. To use it, dial 171 and follow the instructions to either leave a message or listen to a message.

If you have any questions about what to do when an earthquake hits, take a trip to your city office to ask! I left my local office the other day with a handful of papers and a little more confidence that I can effectively survive an earthquake.


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