Learning from the Great East Japan Earthquake

Posted by Karl Lundgren on

6 years ago on March 11 a magnitude 8.9 earthquake shook the very fabric of the Japanese people and the world for that matter.  The quake, which was felt at distances greater than a 2500 km radius, struck off the northeast coast of Japan.

The quake itself and the resulting tsunami killed over 20,000 people.  Each year we pay our respects to those that lost their lives and those that continue to struggle in the aftermath of this disaster.  Those wishing to make a donation to the continuing relief efforts may do so through the Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.

It's frightening the similarities between this quake, now known as the Great East Japan Earthquake, and the projections of what the Big One will look like in BC.  It is predicted to occur at roughly the same distance off the coastline.  It is predicted to be roughly the same magnitude at 9.0.  Even the geological landscape is similar.  These similarities mean we can learn a great deal from this tragic event.  


So What Can We Learn from the Great East Japan Earthquake?


1) The Big One's Impact Will Stretch Farther Than Most of Us Could Possibly Imagine

The Great East Japan Earthquake was felt at a greater than 2500km radius.  To put this in perspective, here is a map that shows the approximate projected epicentre of The Big One and what a 2500km radius looks like around it.

The Big One could be felt as far away as Northern Mexico and parts of western Ontario, yet people in Northern BC commonly and smugly comment on how safe they feel.  We all need to realise that this is an event that will impact the entire continent in one way or another.  It may not happen in our lifetimes, but it will eventually happen.  It's not something to fear, but it needs to be part of our culture and way of thinking/preparing.  Making fun of people for having an earthquake plan or an earthquake kit needs to stop and greater pressure needs to be placed on those that refuse to prepare as they will be the ones that cause an extreme strain on our emergency personnel in the event of a major earthquake. 


2) Liquefaction Will Occur  

Liquefaction describes a phenomenon where saturated soil substantially loses strength and stiffness in response to shaking.  Liquefaction will occur in select areas across Coastal Vancouver Island, the BC Lower Mainland and pretty much the entire Southern BC Coastline.  As urban sprawl continues in the BC Lower Mainland, liquefaction becomes more and more of a concern.  In fact, it's a severe concern for municipalities like Richmond, Delta, and Chilliwack.


3) Tsunami Waves Almost a Certainty

There is an extremely high risk of tsunami waves similar to those that occurred in Japan that will cause significant damage to western Vancouver Island, Haida Gwaii Islands, and southeastern Alaska.  The BC Lower Mainland may also be impacted by tsunami waves, but certainly not to the same extent.  If you haven't already, educate yourself on how tsunamis work and what tsunami evacuation routes exist in your community.


4) Vancouver Island Won't Sink 

A popular belief perpetrated by fear and misinformation on social media and in the news is that Vancouver Island will sink in the event of a major earthquake.  In my extensive research I've come across no scientific evidence to support this claim.  The main island of Japan has a similar rocky geological makeup to Vancouver Island and it didn't sink nor did any significant parts of it sink.  Furthermore, the quake of 1700 didn't sink Vancouver Island either, so why would we expect the next one too.

Liquefaction, which many quote as the reason Vancouver Island will sink only applies to saturated soil, but Vancouver Island is primarily hard rock.  Now don't get me wrong, liquefaction will cause plenty of problems on Vancouver Island, but the island itself will not sink.


    5) Surviving the Earthquake is the Easy Part

    Unfortunately, people die during major earthquakes.  It's a difficult subject to talk about, but an important one.  Of the over 20,000 people who tragically lost their lives in the Great East Japan Earthquake over 90% of them were a result of the tsunami waves and survival aftermath not the initial quake itself.  Many stood by and watched as the water levels slowly rose, not realising the water would continue to rise.  By the time they realised they were in danger it was too late.  These are accounts I've read from many survivors recounting the terrible events that destroyed their communities.

    It's important that if you live in a tsunami-risk zone and a major earthquake occurs, grab your earthquake kit and follow the tsunami evacuation routes to higher ground immediately.  Have a household emergency plan that involves everyone meeting at a specific and safe evacuation point.  This way, if you aren't together at the time of the quake you won't waste valuable evacuation time looking for each-other.  You just head straight to your meet point at your designated safe location.

    BC Tsunami Notification Zones

    Less than an hour after the earthquake in Japan, the first of many tsunami waves hit the coastline.  The tsunami waves reached run-up heights of up to 128 feet (39 metres) and travelled inland as far as 6 miles (10 km).  You can use this as a framework for your own evacuation plans.


    6) Displacement and How It Makes an Earthquake Kit a Necessity!

    Our company mandate is to educate people regarding emergency preparedness and to help them get prepared by having supplies on hand in the event of a major earthquake.  People often ask us, what good a kit will do in the event of a major earthquake?  To answer this I want to talk about displacement.  Following the Great East Japan Earthquake there were more than 500,000 people left homeless and left to survive on relief efforts and what they had on their person following the quake.

    Take another example closer to home.  A recent study by VC Structural Dynamics LTd, determined that should a quake happen in the next 50 years, 30% of Victoria's buildings will suffer so much damage they would collapse or have to be demolished.  When the structural integrity of your home, apartment, office building, etc, is compromised you will be left displaced and you'll need to survive with only the supplies you carry with you.  You will want to have a kit that has basic items you'll need without being too bulky.

    Displacement puts an overwhelming strain on relief camps that will be set up following a major earthquake in BC and there may simply not be enough supplies available for everyone.  If you have your own basic supplies in an earthquake kit you will be able to survive with no aid until emergency personnel are able to get the situation under control.  Basic items such as:

    • Water and food for 72hrs to a week
    • Radio for listening to emergency broadcasts
    • Hooded rain ponchos to keep you dry
    • Tube tents to create shelter
    • Mylar blankets or sleeping bags to stay warm at night
    • Waterproof matches to make a fire
    • Flashlights and candles for lighting.
    • First aid kit to infections caused by minor injuries.
    • Duct tape, army knife, nylon utility cord, work gloves, etc, in case you need to improvise.

    It's important to have a household emergency plan and an emergency preparedness kit.  You also need to check the supplies in your kit for expired and no longer working product on occasion.  We offer a free water and food ration tracking service where we'll track the expiry dates for you and notify you a few months before your items are set to expire.  If you purchased your earthquake kit through us you're already enrolled in this program.





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    • Eugene, we’re an online company, but you’re welcome to visit our home-office by appointment to view the product before purchasing. Email us at info@earthquakekit.ca to set up a day and time to swing by.

      EarthquakeKit.ca on
    • Do you have a store in Vancouver where we could look at the merchandise?

      Eugene Mensch on

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