Remembering the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 11, 2011 And Efforts to Reduce the Impact of a Similar Event in the Pacific Northwest

Monday, March 11th marks the 8th anniversary of the Great Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, (Sometimes called the Great Tōhoku Earthquake and Tsunami). The dramatic and startling images, covered on live television, are indelibly chiseled into the subconscious of everyone who watched the events unfold in real time, as the most disaster prepared country in the world, faced the wrath of a magnitude 9.1 earthquake, the 4th largest ever recorded and a series of massive tsunami waves.

Earthquake Early Warning

At 2:46 pm on Friday, March 11, 2011, the Japanese Earthquake Early Warning System received an indication of a major earthquake fault rupture, 45 miles east of the Tōhoku region and 231 miles northeast of Tokyo. Within seconds, the Earthquake Early Warning System transmitted a warning message to the people in and surrounding the Tohoku region of Japan, indicating a large earthquake had occurred. People began receiving the warning message, via a cell phone text message, as local television and radio stations began broadcasting the earthquake warning. As a result of the Early Earthquake Warning, elevators in Tokyo moved to the closest floor and opened to allow passengers to evacuate and take protective actions. Factory assembly lines were automatically shut down and the Tōhoku Shinkansen high-speed bullet trains, travelling nearly 200 mph, were automatically prompted to slow and stop, potentially saving thousands of passengers from injury. Just 5-15 seconds after the alert, coastal areas of the Tōhoku region closest to the rupture, began to violently shake, while a more devastating disaster was fast approaching – a series of massive tsunami waves.

The Impact

As of September 2018, data indicates 15,896 people were killed and 2,536 are still missing from the magnitude 9.1 earthquake and resulting tsunami. 58,000 of the coastal citizens who evacuated their homes remain evacuated 8 years later, while 5,623 still live in prefabricated temporary housing. The economic damage from the disaster event is estimated to be near $360 billion. As of Spring 2017, seven cities, towns and villages have been deemed “difficult to return” zones by the Japanese government because of increased radioactivity in those areas, due to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that occurred during the tsunami.

Is Knowing What to Do Enough?

We can never be prepared enough for disaster, nor should we take any of them lightly. Any effort toward disaster preparation will help reduce the impact the event will have upon your family, business and community.

  • Families need to develop a Family Emergency Plan and discuss all types of disaster events (earthquake, flood, wildfire, tsunami, severe weather, etc.), with each other, to determine which actions to take, where you would evacuate to, shelter locations, and how to contact each other, should you become separated in a true emergency or disaster – then actually practice your plan at least once each year.
  • Each family should prepare Family Emergency Kits to be able to be on your own for a minimum of 2 weeks.
  • Make individual Go Kits for each member of the family, as well as your pets, to store in your home, in vehicles and at work, in the event you must evacuate in a hurry.
  • Sign up to receive emergency and disaster alerts and updates through the Emergency Notification System in your community, city and county.
  • Obtain an All Hazard ALERT Weather Radio for emergency and disaster notifications automatically.
  • Take a first aid and CPR class. You never know who might need assistance.
  • Learn protective actions be used during an earthquake to prevent injury, as well as learning, there may be aftershocks, and the possibility of tsunami in low lying coastal areas.
  • If in tsunami inundation areas, learn what to do and where to go while at home, at work and while shopping.
  • Get involved with local community groups that prepare for disaster such as a Community Emergency Response Teams (CERT).
  • Sign up for the Washington Shake Out and practice your disaster plans with your family.

Local, State and Federal Efforts to Reduce Disaster Impacts

Efforts are increasing in coastal communities to build Tsunami Vertical Evacuation Structures, like the Ocosta Elementary School, in Grays Harbor County and the planned Vertical Evacuation Tower, in Tokeland, by the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe.

Unreinforced Masonry Buildings are being identified throughout Washington as local governments are working with owners to assist in ways to retrofit the buildings, preserving the historic facades, while protecting people from an exterior wall collapse during earthquake.

Earthquake Early Warning is being developed and is becoming more robust throughout the Pacific Northwest and in Washington State. Pilot users are being sought in schools, business and industry to begin implementation of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System. Currently Earthquake Early Warning messages cannot be sent to individuals, because the current process to send the warning to individual cell phones is far too slow. Work is ongoing, toward the development of a process that can transmit the warning to everyone, much more quickly and prior to the earthquake shaking at your location.


For more information on Earthquake Early Warning and/or how to become a Pilot User of the ShakeAlert Earthquake Early Warning System, please contact:

Chuck Wallace – WA ShakeAlert EEW Coordinator, wallace@crew.org (360) 280-8278

Maximilian Dixon – WA State EMD Earthquake Program Manager, Maximilian.Dixon@mil.wa.gov (253) 512-7017

Bill Steele – PNSN, Director of Outreach & Information Services, wsteele@uw.edu (206) 685-5880

Tsunami Awareness & Preparedness in Cascadia Region

CREW is committed to raising awareness of the tsunami risk in the Cascadia region while promoting mitigation and preparedness. Many lessons have been learned from the March 11, 2011 Great East Japanese (Tohoku) earthquake and tsunami – these also apply to the seismically-similar Cascadia Subduction Zone.

The following links provide additional information on ongoing awareness and preparedness activities in the Cascadia region:

Washington State

  • In a Seattle Times, CREW Vice-President John Schelling and CREW Treasurer Tim Walsh express the importance of ongoing awareness activities along with the scientific information needed to better quantify Cascadia’s risk.
  • Washington Emergency Management Division has more information on how to prepare to hazards in Washington state.
  • Project Safe Haven, completed in 2011, developed vertical evacuation options for the counties of Pacific and Grays Harbor.

Oregon

British Columbia

For more information on earthquakes, tsunamis, and how to prepare, please visit our pages on Earthquake Information, Risk Reduction, and read more in our Products and Programs.

If you have any questions, please Contact Us.

2014 Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference

See CREW Board Directors present the Cascadia Subduction Zone Scenario Update at the 2014 Partners in Emergency Preparedness Conference.  The conference theme is “Experiencing Private – Public Partnerships”.
CREW will be presenting on April 23rd from 9:30-11 AM.
Registration and location information.
Event Date:
Tuesday, April 22, 2014 – 08:30 to Thursday, April 24, 2014 – 16:00

New Earthquake Mitigation Video “Preparing Portland Schools” Released

PORTLAND, OREGON —Preparing Portland Schools” is a four-minute documentary film about the earthquake safety retrofit of Alameda Elementary School in Northeast Portland written, directed, and produced by three Grant High School students during summer 2013. With a backdrop of retrofit project construction at Alameda and a soundtrack composed and performed by one of the filmmakers, the film explores the risk posed to Portland schools by a major Cascadia earthquake and the steps that can be taken to make historic buildings safer. Critically, it adds a missing piece: a student view of earthquake safety and school modernization. The film includes short interviews with Carmen Merlo, Director of the Portland Bureau of Emergency Management and Mike Kubler, President of Cascadia Region Earthquake Workgroup (CREW).  “It’s not that much time.  It’s not that much money. It can be done”, said Mike Kubler.  “We can make the building a safer place.”

The film was made possible with financial support from CREW via a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). It was created under the aegis of the Hollywood Theatre Studio at Grant High School, a partnership between the public high school and the not-for-profit Hollywood Theatre, which supplied cameras, editing equipment, and a creative advisor for the project. CREW President Mike Kubler is a local emergency manager and a Portland Public School parent. School safety advocate Ted Wolf served as project advisor and coordinator.

The newly released video can be found on YouTube: Preparing Portland Schools  Other free materials to help Cascadia residents, schools, businesses, and emergency managers become better prepared for future earthquakes are accessible online at CREW..

Filmmakers:

  • Alex Pozarycki – Grant High School (GHS) class of ’13 now a student at Evergreen State College in Olympia
  • Noah Puggarana – senior at GHS
  • Harrison Soltvedt- senior at GHS &
  • Emilie Currin, creative advisor; affiliated with Pacific Northwest College of Art

New USGS Online Course – “A Practical Guide to Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest”

The USGS has posted a new online course titled “A Practical Guide to Earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest”. The first part of the course provides an overview of the earthquake hazard in the Pacific Northwest and relevant recent earthquakes globally.  The second part summarizes tools available that facilitate earthquake response. The entire course can easily be viewed in about an hour. To view this, go to http://earthquakes.usgs.gov under “Featured Items” (click on item #4) on the right side of the webpage.