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[In Times of Emergency] How to Cope When an Earthquake Occurs While You Are in Japan

Japan is known as a country where earthquakes occur more often than in any other country. When an earthquake does hit, though, do you know what to do and how to cope? In case of an earthquake, the important thing to bear in mind is that you need to calm down and act without panicking. Here are steps you must take and ways you can cope when an earthquake happens while you happen to be in Japan.

Earthquakes in Japan

Earthquakes do not necessarily happen everywhere, as they are concentrated in certain areas where the plates (bedrocks that cover the surface of the earth) collide and sink. Japan, which stands over four plates, is a country where earthquakes occur often because of the severe movements of the earth’s crust and the dynamic seismic activity. Out of all the earthquakes that occur around the world, 20% happen in Japan and its surrounding areas. About 1,000 to 2,000 earthquakes that can be felt by the body hit Japan each year, from small ones, up to major earthquakes.
It is said that Japan’s earthquake resistance and base isolation technologies are the best in the world, so you need not worry too much. However, in case of emergency, here are steps to take and ways to cope when an earthquake occurs.

When an earthquake occurs while you are indoors

If there is an earthquake, make sure that you are safe first without panicking. The basic rule is to protect your head, stay away from large furniture and objects that could easily collapse, and hide under a sturdy desk, bed or some other furniture that can withstand falling objects. If it is a major tremor, you might end up getting burned or scalded if you unnecessarily put out a fire, so deal with the fire after the tremors have subsided.
If you are in a building with strong earthquake protection, then do not go outside, but just move to a safe space. If you are in a building with a structure that is weak against earthquake, then calmly go outside by passing through safe spaces. Further, always remember that there is a possibility of power outage and water supply suspension, depending on the magnitude of the earthquake.

When in a lodging facility

When an earthquake occurs, protect your head, stay away from large furniture, and hide under a sturdy desk or bed. Open the door of your room to secure your evacuation route by avoiding having a stuck door that cannot be opened because it has been deformed due to the earthquake. Do not rush out of the building. Follow the instructions of the lodging facility and move while ensuring your safety. When moving after a major earthquake, be careful of shattered glass windows, fragments of lighting fixtures, and other debris.

When in a supermarket, department store and other commercial establishments

Protect your head with your bag and other items and keep clear of display racks and other objects that might fall or collapse. When the tremors are strong, the items on the shelves will fall. Move to the elevator hall, a place that has relatively less items and products around, or to an area close to the building columns. Do not panic, but calmly follow the instructions of the staff of the building. Now, even if the elevator is running, avoid evacuating through the elevator as it might stop due to power outage.

When in a cinema or theater

Protect your head with your bag or some other item, and hide your body in between seats. Once the tremors have subsided, evacuate to a safe place while protecting yourself against objects falling from the ceiling. If there is power outage, then follow the instructions of the staff of the building while depending on the guide lamps and emergency lights. Remember that when a lot of people rush to the exit and stairs all at the same time, people could get injured, so evacuate calmly and do not push people on your way out.

When in an underground space

Protect your head with your bag or some other item and wait until the tremors stop. If there is power outage, then do not move unnecessarily until the emergency lights have switched on. Do not panic and rush to the emergency exit. Get out of the underground by walking while creeping or holding on the walls. Unless there is a fire, underground is a relatively safe place, so try to move and evacuate calmly.

When inside the toilet, bath or elevator

When you are inside the toilet or bath, open the door to secure your evacuation route, and then wait for the tremors to stop. Beware of falling objects. If you are inside an elevator, there is a risk of getting locked or stuck inside, so the basic rule is to press the buttons for all floors and then get off at the first floor it stops at, after verifying safety. If you get stuck inside, then contact the outside world through the “Emergency Call” button on the elevator panel.

When you are outdoors

Even if you are outdoors when an earthquake occurs, the fundamental principle is still to protect your head and your body against falling objects. Here are the ways to cope with an earthquake in different scenarios.

When in an office or business district

There is always the risk of window glass and outer walls of buildings and shops, signboards, and other objects falling. It is dangerous if the tremors are big, so protect your head with your bag or some other item and then move away from buildings as much as possible.

When in a residential district

Concrete block walls, stone walls, utility poles and vending machines could fall or crash down, so stay away from these objects. Even houses might collapse if the tremors are strong. Roads could be littered with falling objects and debris, so move to a safe place while looking around you and over your head, and guarding your head.

When at the coast or river

If you are near the coast or river and you feel strong tremors, then you have to evacuate from possible tsunami. Do not wait for instructions or announcement on evacuation. It is best to go to a safe, high ground and evacuation center, but if there is no high ground, then go up to a building’s third or higher floor. A tsunami comes back repeatedly, so even if the waves recede, you still cannot return to low ground. Further, a tsunami will cause the river to flow backward, so evacuate to a direction that is perpendicular to the river.

When in the mountain or hill

An earthquake could cause the ground to loosen and collapse, so stay away from dangerous spots such as cliffs and steep slopes. Beware of falling rocks too.

When you are moving or in transit

Trains, shinkansen (bullet train), subways and buses will suddenly stop if strong tremors are felt. To avoid injury, bend your body and hold the strap or handrail firmly. In particular, the vehicle could brake suddenly, so be careful. After the vehicle stops, follow the instructions of the conductor.

When the tremors have stopped

First of all, check your surroundings. Make sure you are safe. Windows and doors could become impossible to open when they get deformed, so after the tremors have subsided or stopped, open the windows and doors to secure your exit. When evacuating, do not panic. Evacuate calmly while ensuring the safety of your surroundings. In case there is fire and the area is full of smoke, cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or towel, and bend while evacuating so you will not inhale the smoke.

If there is an earthquake, you have to evacuate immediately. However, please do so in a calm manner, without having to push other people. Try to read this article carefully to better prepare yourself for that rare possibility.

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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